Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Through Infirmity of the Flesh"

This poem came out of the June, 2016 Creative Jam. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] shiori_makiba and [personal profile] technoshaman. It also fills the "permission" square in my 6-1-16 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo fest. This poem has been selected in an audience poll as the free epic for the September 6, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl making its $200 goal. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features awkward interpersonal dynamics, emotional angst, graphic consequences of drug abuse, messy medical details, wrangling over how to separate inmates from hazardous contraband, and other tensions. This poem is plot-relevant, so skipping it would leave a gap in the storylines. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Through Infirmity of the Flesh"

When Travis came back
from his day off, he found
the prison buzzing with tension.

Evidently Warden Daley had
taken to harassing Shiv again,
which made no kind of sense
to anyone who wanted to keep
their hide in one piece, and he
had gotten some of the guards
involved in the action too.

Travis took one look at
his supervisor's scowl and
decided not to ask about it.

Instead, he went over to
the private wing to see who
wanted breakfast in the cafeteria
and who was eating in today.

Harley wanted the company, so
Travis walked him to the food line.

He followed suit with the others,
walking them over or fetching a tray,
as he worked his way through the wing.

Shiv's cell was quiet when Travis got there.
He knocked gently on the door. "Shiv?"
he said, poking his head into the room.

The boy was bundled on his bunk
and barely looked up. "What?"

"I heard about yesterday. I'm sorry that
things went south when I wasn't here
to help," Travis said. "Do you want
breakfast here, or in the cafeteria?"

"Here," Shiv said. "I'm tired of people."

"Okay, thanks for telling me,"
Travis said. "I'll get you a tray."

He went back to the cafeteria and
grabbed one of the premade trays --
something they called Ham Blast
was the only one with meat in it,
which Travis hoped was edible.

Shiv took it wordlessly and
retreated back to his bunk.

Travis soon returned to help
oversee the cafeteria, keeping
a careful eye on the traffic flow.

Verne watched him back,
which made Travis wonder if
someone was planning trouble.

It was Jimar who worried him
the most, though, not even out of
the private wing a week and there he
was, weaving and wobbling on his way
from his table to the water fountain.

Poor kid couldn't keep clean
if his life depended on it.

Travis pushed himself away from
the wall and went to intercept him.

Suddenly Jimar crumpled.

Travis dove forward, trying
to catch him, and managed to keep
him from hitting the corner of a table
but couldn't break the fall completely.

"How do I help?" someone asked,
and Travis replied, "Get the first aid kit."

Even as Travis started checking
for injuries and settling Jimar
into a secure position, he called
the infirmary to report the problem.

"I'll send a team," said Dr. Bloch.
"Search for punctures."

"I know the drill," Travis said
as he shucked up Jimar's sleeves.

The man's forearms were spotted
with old bruises, visible even through
his toffee skin, and a couple of bandaids
with Dr. Bloch's messy scrawl on them.

Familiar with Jimar's tricks, Travis
looked closer, and soon he found
the unauthorized puncture at the edge
of a scar where it would show less.

Then he frowned and rubbed
a thumb over the tiny dots.

"Hey doc, does Jimar have
freckles?" Travis asked.

"No he does not," Dr. Bloch said,
his voice sharpening. "Are you
seeing a rash of little purplish spots,
possibly localized to one arm?"

Travis checked. "Yeah, he's
got some on his shoulder, but
it's mostly around the needle mark."

"That's a purpuric rash, probably
from contaminated drugs," said Dr. Bloch.
"I'm calling an ambulance. Keep him
breathing until help arrives."

"Okay, uh ..." Travis said
with a sinking sensation.

"Vanburen!" barked Dr. Bloch.
"This kind of emergency can
escalate very quickly. You have
one job: ABC. Get on it!"

That spurred Travis into motion,
although Jimar's vital signs seemed
weird in ways he couldn't define.

Then he heard, "Get offa me 'fore I
bounce you agin' this wall," and Kincade
thumped down beside him without waiting
for permission. "Case you haven't noticed,
this kid's about to stroke out on us.
You wanna push, or blow?"

The first-aid kit had arrived,
and it would have a CPR mask.

"I'll blow," said Travis.
"Are you trained for this,
or should I get another guard?"

Who all had their hands full
keeping the idle gawkers back,
but Travis had to ask.

"Been a while since my first lessons,
but yeah, I lost a guy once and took
a community class," Kincade said.
"Haven't lost another since, and
why d'you think I don't like my boys
using the heavy shit like this?"

"Okay," Travis said, groping around
as he tried to recover the pulse
that he'd just lost track of.

"Ayup, there he goes,"
Kincade said grimly.
"We best get to work."

"I'll blow, and you follow
my count," Travis said as he
grabbed the mask and started.

It was hard, ugly work trying to keep ahead of
whatever was shutting down Jimar's body,
but Kincade had a good idea of what
he was doing and he kept pace as
Travis gasped out instructions.

Still, Travis was seeing spots
by the time the infirmary team arrived.

They counted along for a few beats
to catch the rhythm, then said, "Move!"
and pushed both men out of the way.

Travis sat back on his haunches
and took deep, grateful breaths
of air that he didn't have to share.

Kincade looked so sad that Travis
worried about him, but Travis was
no shrink and knew better than
to get in over his head by asking.

The ambulance crew arrived
not long after that, quickly
scooping Jimar onto a gurney.

"I'm training in addiction support and
I know this patient," said Nurse Espinoza.
"I'm coming with you." He trotted along as
they hustled Jimar toward the ambulance,
eyes following them until the doors of
the cafeteria closed behind them.

The crisp pop of hands clapping together
drew everyone's attention from the doors.

Francis Elliott, the Catholic chaplain,
raised his voice so everyone could
hear him say, "Ye know how through
infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel
unto you at the first.
I will be leading
a mass for the sick just after lunch.
Everyone is welcome to attend;
there will be interfaith options
for those who are not Catholic."

That broke people out of their shock
and got them talking again, the guards
checking schedules and the inmates
mulling over their points budget.

"Hey, Kincade, you did a great job,"
said Nurse Scott, white teeth flashing
in a brown face. "I know that you've
been in here a while. Do you want
to renew your CPR credentials?"

"Ain't on the class list, I checked,"
Kincade said, shaking his head.

"Dr. Bloch has instructor status, so
he could run a class," said Nurse Scott.
"That ought to be worth a lot of points."

Kincade looked at Travis.

Recalling the minor argument with
some guard that had preceded
Kincade's arrival, Travis said,
"I'll put in a word for you. It's
prosocial behavior, I'm sure we
can get permission somehow."

"Ah, right now I've got bigger fish
to fry," Kincade said, looking at
the corner where Lincoln was
focused on a handful of inmates.

Oh right, they'd have to do
another major sweep for
contraband materials after
Jimar's public demonstration
that stuff was still getting in.

"I should get back to work,"
Travis said, pushing himself up.

Kincade did likewise, and then
promptly shoved the nearest guy
against a table, pinning him under
one hand while frisking him
efficiently with the other.

"Awright, boys, this is a shakedown,"
Kincade said. "Anybody got candy,
you best cough it up right now."

"Mr. King, would you please refrain
from trying to do my job for me?"
Lincoln said in a crisp tone.

Travis really hoped that Lincoln
wasn't about to pick a fight with
Kincade, because Travis knew
that he himself was no match for
the big black man and that Kincade
was entirely capable of cleaning
his clock if he tried it.

Kincade turned around slowly.
"You see these boys linin' up
to fork it over for you?" he said.
"Cause I don't. Now which do you
care more about: savin' your face,
or gettin' the goods before some fool
shoots it up and we need another bus?"

Travis froze, listening, waiting,
the whole room breathless as well.

Lincoln sighed. "All right,
you can help," he conceded.
"Verbal interactions only, you
keep your hands to yourself,
and you and I will discuss
this issue later in my office."

"Yes, sir," Kincade said
with a firm nod.

"Everyone else: there will be
a one-hour amnesty, starting now,
for controlled substances only.
After that, severe penalties apply."
Lincoln said. "Mr. Vanburen, you
are closest to the supply closet,
please bring out suitable bins
and a roll of hazard tape."

Kincade looked at the clock.
"Think we can finish this, and
breakfast, before mass?"
he asked Lincoln.

"I will coordinate with Father Elliott
regarding the timing, and everyone
has permission to attend," said Lincoln.
"Additionally, mass for the sick will be
free of point cost for the general population,
and discounted for the private wing. I'll send
someone to check on the latter in case
they want to come out for the session."

"That's big of you," Kincade said,
then returned to his task.

Travis fetched a pair of
clear plastic bins and a roll
of hazard tape, leaving behind
the evidence tape.

"Ditch everything you have,"
he advised the inmates who were
glumly giving up their contraband.
"Dr. Bloch thinks the tighter security
is causing contamination of supplies
brought in by desperate measures.
Anything could make you guys
really sick, including scoots."

Around him, the inmates cast
uneasy glances at the patch of floor
where Jimar had collapsed, and
fragments of cigarettes began
to appear among the packets and
paraphernalia of harder drugs.

Travis made a mental note
to check with Shiv, although
the boy's supplier of choice was
currently Dr. Bloch for perfectly safe
and permissible nicotine suckers -- he
hadn't been busted for anything recently.

There was nothing more that Travis
could do for Jimar, but at least he could
try to prevent the same thing from
happening to anyone else.

* * *


Jimar Alvarez -- He has toffee skin, brown eyes, and black hair buzzed short in an attempt to make its loose nap less obvious. There are scars from defensive wounds all over his hands and forearms, including a particularly large machete scar on the outside of his left forearm and a horizonal slice clear across his left palm. His heritage is black and Hispanic. Because of that, he doesn't belong directly to Kincade or Sanquez, they kind of share him. Both of the senior gangsters feel a bit protective of Jimar because he's so vulnerable. He is currently serving time along with them in the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln.
Jimar has an addictive personality. He has had problems with alcohol, various narcotics, softer drugs, food, and oxygen. Yes, really, he caught a bad chest infection once and it took the hospital weeks to wean him off the supplemental oxygen. He cannot seem to stay sober for very long, no matter what the penalties. Jimar uses whatever he can get to self-medicate for some serious emotional problems left over from childhood abuse -- his father attacked his mother, Jimar intervened, and both of them almost died. That's how Jimar wound up spending the rest of his childhood in the foster care system. He is actively terrified of his father, and his relationship with his mother is not good because she still loves the man despite all that violence. A Microfyne blanket might help.
Qualities: Good (+2) Friends in the 'Hood, Good (+2) Gangster, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Addictive Personality

Kincade King -- He has brown skin and black eyes. He has black body hair, but his head is completely bald. He has prison tattoos over much of his front, his left arm, and a little on the right. Across his collarbones is a large banner saying "Lord Have Mercy" and his belly says "Warrior." Originally an enforcer, Kincade worked his way up to boss. His gang outside deals primarily in protection services and the occasional side of revenge-for-hire. He is currently serving time in the Nebraska State penitentiary in Lincoln, where he leads most of the black inmates. Kincade grew up in the inner city and has little education. He has quite a sweet tooth, and loves chocolate. He also appreciates cars, with a good grasp of models and mechanics.
Qualities: Master (+6) Gangster, Master (+6) Tough, Expert (+4) Leadership, Expert (+4) Strength, Good (+2) Adaptable, Good (+2) Car Fan, Good (+2) Favor Trading, Good (+2) Strategic Thinking
Poor (-2) Uneducated

Hanh Espinoza -- He has tinted skin, black eyes, and short curly hair of dark brown. His mother is Vietnamese and his father is Mexican, so Hanh is mixed-race and first-generation American. He speaks English, Spanish, and Vietnamese. He loves ethnic fusion, especially in cooking.
Currently Hanh works at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln, gaining experience and earning money to put himself through school. He is a Licensed Practical Nurse with the rather thoughtful plan of taking a cheap basic degree and then beefing it up by earning certification in multiple specialties. He recently completed a three-month paramedic course and has just signed up for one on addiction care. Between work and school, he has little time for socializing. He gets most of his contact with coworkers and classmates, and has no romantic aspirations at this time.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Compassion, Good (+2) Ethnic Fusion, Good (+2) Prison Nurse, Good (+2) Stamina
Poor (-2) Work-Life Balance

Francis Elliott -- He has fair skin, hazel eyes, and gray hair going bald on top. He works as a chaplain at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Omaha. In addition to prayer services, he offers substance abuse support and counseling on various topics. Although Catholic by training, Francis respects other faiths and enjoys interfaith work; he is skilled at finding ways to include everyone in his services. His body is stiffening with age, which makes it harder for him to move around.
Qualities: Master (+6) Chaplain, Master (+6) Nonanxious Presence, Expert (+4) Cosmopolitan, Expert (+4) Pastoral Counseling, Good (+2) Addiction Recovery, Good (+2) Cute Art Collector, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Interfaith Work, Good (+2) Quick Thinking
Poor (-2) Stiff Movement

T-American insignia for interfaith chaplains typically offer a choice of many different symbols so that people can indicate which traditions they have studied to serve.

Dasante Scott -- He has milk chocolate skin, brown eyes, and nappy black hair buzzed almost down to the skin. His heritage includes African, American, and Scottish. As a teenager, he worked odd jobs. Dasante earned a scholarship to become a Nurse Practitioner, and currently works at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. His quick thinking and knack for connecting people with opportunities have made him adept at filling in whatever needs to be done.
Qualities: Good (+2) Cheerful, Good (+2) Connecting People, Good (+2) Jack of All Trades, Good (+2) Prison Nurse, Good (+2) Strength
Poor (-2) Light Sleeper

* * *

"Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first."
-- Galatians 4:12-19 King James Version (KJV)

See a recipe for Ham Blast. It is essentially a breakfast version of Shut-Up-and-Eat-It.

(Some of these links are gross.)
Internal bleeding and clotting problems show symptoms such as a purpuric rash. They can be caused by certain drugs, or by contamination of drugs. Pesticides can also cause this, as some are designed to kill vermin by attacking the circulatory system. This is why smuggling drugs into a prison by hiding them in bags of agrochemicals is a very bad idea, but the Peckerwoods are not the sharpest marble in the stack.

ABC is short for Airway, Breathing, Circulation: the order in which to check a victim's vital functions when beginning first aid. There is further information for treating illegal drug abuse and allergies or other adverse drug reactions. While some reactions are minor (dry mouth, itchy eyes, etc.) and can be treated at home, anything with a rash or fainting should be considered serious and expert care is advisable. It can be difficult or impossible for novices to distinguish what is or is not an emergency in these cases.

[personal profile] gingicat has pointed out the usefulness of an Automated External Defibrillator.  These are more common in T-America than here, available in most places where large numbers of people gather; the first aid station of a mall or park usually has one, and it's not rare to see them on walls next to the larger types of first aid kits.  Most medical establishments have them.  Alas, even with T-America's better justice system, technology in a prison tends to lag behind, and Warden Daley has been undermining the infirmary on purpose because he is a giant douche.  Ordinarily nurses would have an AED available; here they don't.  >_<

[personal profile] gingicat and an anonymous reader have both pointed out developments in CPR science which are changing some of the parameters.  Current recommendations focus on maintaining chest compressions and not ventilating too much.  Here is a specific reference from the American Heart Association and their page of CPR resources.  I'm always watching for new information, but I'm not quick to change stances where I've got solid data already.  The key is to check the credentials of the source -- watch for your new material from the most reliable experts -- and look for reasons why  things are changing.  This is why CPR is one of those skills you have to renew periodically.  I would bet that what Kincade learned originally is effective but what he gets from Dr. Bloch now will be cutting-edge and thus somewhat different.  T-America is serious about closing the feedback loop in science; their Best Practice protocol requires confirming it with actual studies.  And yes, I appreciate it when readers chime in with expert knowledge, it makes my writing better.  \o/

Mass for the Sick is a Catholic practice; mixed communities may have interfaith options. Here are some readings commonly used in ministering to the sick and those who worry about them, along with instructions on praying for the sick.

Interfaith work is openly inclusive. There are guidelines for worshipping together, designing a multifaith prayer service, and the spiritual care of nonreligious people.

This is the prison chapel. All the furnishings and decorations are movable, so the space can be customized for any religion. Cabinets along the back provide storage for materials. The tables are currently folded up along the wall and the chairs are laid out. Christianity is the prevailing religion in Nebraska, with Catholics and Lutherans the most popular denominations.

Evidence of infractions and inmate possessions are customarily stored in clear plastic tubs. The same tubs are useful for containing soiled or hazardous materials. Different types of tape and labels indicate the contents such as Hazard, Biohazard, and Evidence.

(Some of these links are gross.)
Blocking safe routes inevitably leads to people using unsafe routes, as happens with refugees. With drugs, a dangerous cascade can occur; for example, cutting off supplies of prescription opioids redirects people to heroin, and cutting off the heroin drives people to even worse drugs. Because people do not understand the compelling nature of addiction, efforts to fight it are often misguided. Addicts are in so much torment that having their limbs rot off hurts less than being sober. Jimar is that kind of desperate.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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