"A poem for her"

A 17-year old adolescent female presented to a psychiatric emergency room with excitement, confusion, and psychotic symptoms.*

Act one: it started on a typical spring day
remarkably free of symptoms

despite everything
she knew her name
she knew where she came from
she could still feel the heat of the sun

she was too thin too fat too
quiet too loud too idealist too
practical too delusional too
grounded too flat too
emotional too
much of a girl
for them to take
that day

on the drive to the emergency room
she cradled her head in the crook of her arm
she sang a song to her elbow
she talked to friends
that no one else could see
she laughed out loud
cried inside
her skin hurt real bad

After brief exposure to haloperidol and olanzapine she developed fever,
rigidity, waxy flexibility, autonomic instability.

Act two: her hand accepted the pills
her hand flew to her mouth
the pills flew to her gut
she was surrounded by white walls
and white sheets
the colors shot out of her
before her heart could compensate
she fell
something that was whole
bit by bit

her body was no longer hers to own
a bruised temple
shaking, burning
foundations rattled to the core
she was alternately
wax and

Approximately six weeks after the onset of the illness, multiple laboratory
tests, and evaluation at three different hospitals, the condition was
effectively treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Act three: it ended when she was hooked up
plugged in
the smell of antisceptic hovered gently in the air
like so many tears unshed
the sheets were cool and white
wrapped against flesh
flesh wrapped around
bone around muscle
around blood
warm hands placed
cold electrodes on her temples
soothing voices spoke
with no words behind the cadences

Mengele's ghost stood at her bedstand
electricity flowed benign
into her mind
violent current shot benevolent
into her
and she was no longer
too much girl for them to take

deep down somewhere
where the electricity did not reach
she still knew her name
she knew where she came from
she knew she was more than a "condition"
she knew she would yet
feel the heat
of the sun

by leah ida harris
September 2002

* Texts in italics taken from "ECT Treatment of Malignant Catatonia/NMS in an Adolescent: A Useful Lesson in Delayed Diagnosis and Treatment,"
Journal of ECT, June 2002.

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