Pathological | Susan Rukeyser

The first pill was my last.

I was out of town, visiting someone gravely ill. Someone I loved. I didn’t feel well.

My throat was stuffed with knives. My head, hot cement. I was impatient for health. The Walk-In doc guessed sinusitis and prescribed a quick fix. He pressed a sample into my palm: “Free.”

I tossed back the pill before dinner. Immediately, an itch. Ears swelled shut. My throat.

In the mirror I fell into black pupils. The gravely ill person I loved didn’t understand.

At the ER, my knees hollowed. Fluorescents became stars. A red cart wheeled in. “Anaphylaxis is a beautiful word,” I wanted to say. Couldn’t.

Adrenaline brought me back. I felt high, speedy, ready to go. They made me lie still. A nurse swung back the curtain to change my IV bag. She made conversation: “Allergies are irrational, the body’s overreaction to something that’s not really a threat.”

I considered this too deeply. Overreact, that’s what I do. I didn’t say it out loud.

It probably wasn’t even sinusitis, said the ER doc who signed discharge papers. Just a cold. Drink fluids, rest. “Think good thoughts,” he said. “Don’t borrow trouble.”

The gravely ill person I loved tried that, at first. But he did not recover. He resisted for as long as he could bear.

Death almost drew me under, too, a shell tugged from the beach. Gentle overwhelm. How it will be, one day. Nothing to fear, nothing to fix. Until then I try not to overreact. I suffer the small sicknesses, stay grateful for luck. Grateful for deep breaths. Never again a thoughtless swallow.


Susan Rukeyser writes stories because she can’t stop. Believe it, she’s tried. Most of them are fiction. Her work appears in The View from Here, Necessary Fiction, PANK, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Mom Egg, Atticus Review and elsewhere. She won the Hippocampus 2011 Contest for Creative Non-Fiction. She explains herself here: www.susanrukeyser.com.

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About TOSKA

Nonfiction for the restless soul. Published online quarterly.

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