The breakdown of a staph infection disguised as a poorly delivered lesson from the universe'

By Tanvi Kiran Kulkarni

I. At first, a tiny redness on my thigh taped and shut underneath a giant bandage. Then a slow infestation. All my insides turned out, falling inside a plastic bag my mother holds in front of my face. My hands and feet and face, swollen- almost disappearing. A burning in my eyes, the house inside my chest set on fire. Slowly, my knees giving away. Clumps of hair falling out as if leaving the war-site; pulled out from their homes- weak, fragile, now useless.
Little bacterial soldiers within three days victoriously marking a map on my back and my stomach, hidden inside three layers of clothing and hot hot hot delirium.

II. As my blood pressure continues to drop steadily, the nurse barges into the ICU and puts me on Levophed. I am a wavering and wilting leaf, wires sticking out of my body like straws out of a coconut. I have never been tried to kill before. My brother’s body in the reclining seat in the ICU folded and awake in the shape of a little teardrop. A wound nurse takes off the bandage and reveals an inch and a half long hole inside my thigh. A tunnel for the staph bacteria to walk into my bloodstream- guns blazing. Raid. Invade. Colonise. I have seen this story before. It takes a village against another, and I survive. First, the skin goes. All of it sheds and grows back like a snake. Like a town rebuilt from its ashes. Then the nails. Then the hair.

III. The nightmare continues. History has taught me this before- our bodies never forget. There remains a stain for months. Remembrance of the violence. Then there is another. And then another. And then another. As if with each new boil and each new painful night, the colony of the bacteria giggles a loud, belching laugh. “More”, it seems to say. My body remembers to fight, whatever little of it is left inside. Each fight a tiny revolution. I am one against so many of them. But it has always been this way. Always the meek against the strong. Always. Even inside my own body, under my nose.

IV. To survive something is to ask often and in vain- why? To survive something is to live it every day. To feel, like the Phantom Limb, your body forgetting its escape to a place of apparent safety. A missing piece of time and a missing part of your life unaccounted for. To survive something is to wonder often too- what if I had not? To be told, “It is a miracle you survived,”, but wonder often what this is supposed to teach you. To be painfully aware of how the world moves on while you are still here- a little bit of skin hanging loose from your thigh and painful abscess on your buttcheeks and discarded gauze-pads with blood and pus and a six-month old body that is battered by a purple bacteria that looks like soft woollen yarns my Aaji is going to knit a sweater out of. To survive something then, is to look at this body of yours and know that in its luxury of youth, it has rebuilt itself into a liveable city. To look at the youth of your body. To run and dance and jump and twist and bend and pant and have your body say, “Let’s go again”. To remember: I am quiet here. I am safe here. I can sleep now. I have lived through it all, new skin and new toenails and new hair and new fears and new prayers and all.

Tanvi is a 22-year old writer and dancer from Pune, India. She published ‘Small Wild Epiphanies’- a collection of her prose and poetry a little over three years ago, and her work can be found in Jamais Vu Magazine, The Local Stew, Sutradhar India, and Irshaad Poetry, among others. She looks up to poets like Mary Oliver, Ada Limon, and Louise Glück in her desire to use the written word as a way to navigate chronic illness, intergenerational socioemotional and cultural patterns, and her own individual voice. In her free time, she can be seen reading, painting, cooking, or practicing falling in love with the world.

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