Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "That Ability to Comfort"

This poem is spillover from the September 18, 2018 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from rix_scaedu. It also fills the "comfort food or item / feeding someone" square in my 3-1-17 card for the Disability Bingo fest, and the "nurture self-worth" square in my 9-1-18 card for the Cottoncandy Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by a pool run by [personal profile] ng_moonmoth. It belongs to the Skink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series. It immediately follows "Only the Finest," so read that first or this won't make much sense.

Warning: This poem features the aftermath of injury-activated superpowers, so there is some angst and tangential medical references.


"That Ability to Comfort"

[Sunday, May 29, 2016]

Skink woke in a wide, soft bed
that definitely was not his.

The familiar scent of
the hospital surrounded
him, though, and that helped.

Then the memories came
flooding back, and he tried
to scramble out of bed.

A hand on his shoulder
held him in place.

"Easy, Skink, lie still,"
Rizal said gently.

Skink looked around.

He was in a hospital bed with
Rizal in the easy chair beside him.
The smooth sage-green walls and
wooden finishings were soothing.
Outside the window, green trees grew.

"What happened?" Skink said.
He could remember the earthquake,
and running to the emergency department,
where he had helped out, and then ...

"You restored parts of seven people,
then passed out on the floor and
nearly gave me a heart attack,"
Rizal said, frowning at him.

"Oh," Skink said. "I'm sorry.
I didn't mean to scare you."

"Let me run a health check,"
Rizal said, leaning over him.

"Okay," Skink said easily.

He was fine until Rizal reached
for the brachial pulse instead of
the radial, and Skink realized
that his hand was gone.

"What-what-what--" he gasped,
trying to flounder upright.

"Relax," Rizal said, pressing him
back into the bed. "There was no way
to reattach the original. Your hand is
growing back, although for a few hours,
we thought it might not this time."

Skink stared at the tiny bud
rounding the end of his wrist,
the fingers no more than bumps.

"How long was I out?" he whispered.

"All evening and all night," Rizal said.
"It's Sunday morning now." He glanced
at his vidwatch. "Ten fourteen."

Skink whimpered. "That's a lot,"
he said, "and it still hasn't ..."

"... finished regrowing, yes,
I know," Rizal said. "We think
you exhausted your superpower
and your physical reserves. As long
as you get plenty of rest and fuel,
you should recover presently."

Skink's stomach growled.
"Food would be good," he said.
"I need to replace what I lost."

"Okay, how are you feeling?"
Rizal said. "That influences
what you should be eating."

"Tired. Dizzy," Skink said.

"Queasy?" Rizal asked.

"Not ... really?" Skink said.
"But not settled either."

"We can deal with that,"
Rizal assured him.
"I'll be right back."

He left the room, then
returned a few minutes later
with a steaming cup in hand.

"Here, start with this," Rizal said.
"If the bone broth agrees with you,
then you can have something solid."

Skink tried to chug the whole cup,
but Rizal gently pried it away from him.

"Small sips, please," Rizal said. "Give
your stomach some time to wake up."

Skink had learned that listening to Rizal
was a lot less unpleasant than doing
whatever popped into his own head.

"Okay, I'll slow down," Skink said,
and Rizal handed him the cup back.

Skink sipped at the bone broth.
One of the hospital's dietitians had
turned him onto that as a source of
amino acids and other nutrients
good for rebuilding lost tissue.

"Thanks, this helps," Skink said.
The familiar flavor was soothing.
"I am sorry that things went too far
yesterday. I'll take more care next time."

"There isn't going to be a next time!"
Rizal snapped, glaring at him.

Skink cringed. "You're dumping me?"

"No, of course not," Rizal said.
"I meant that you're not going to do
more than one patient at a time.
It's just too dangerous for you."

"But it worked," Skink said.
"I helped seven people
instead of only one!"

"And then you fell over,"
Rizal said. "You could have
died, and if you had, then I
would've been partly responsible."

"What happened isn't your fault,"
Skink said. "You didn't suggest
doing more people, I did."

"I made the cut," Rizal said.
"That's enough for me. I will
help you to heal other people, but
I won't help you to hurt yourself."

"I didn't mean to make you angry,"
Skink said in a small voice. He
hated the idea of doing without
Rizal now that he knew what it
was like to have good support.

"I'm not angry, I'm terrified,"
Rizal said. "I'm serious, Skink,
when you collapsed you were
barely even breathing."

"Oh, that," Skink said.
"It's the lizard medicine.
My body can slow down
to conserve resources."

"Well, that would have been
nice to know," Rizal said sourly.

"I'm sorry," Skink said. "I didn't
realize you didn't know, and I
didn't think to tell you about it."

Rizal sighed. "Party foul,"
he said. "We just don't know
enough about superpowers
in general, let alone yours.
It's easy to make mistakes."

"If it helps any, I've learned
a lot more about my abilities
since I came here," Skink said.
"You think of things differently
than my people do, so we've
discovered different aspects."

"Well, after you recover, we
can sit down together and try
to fill in any gaps," Rizal said.
"You'll have plenty of time to think
about it, because you're not going
back to work for at least a week."

"It doesn't take me that long
to regenerate!" Skink protested.

"Normally, no, but your hand is
growing back a lot slower than
it usually does," Rizal said.
"You exhausted yourself.
You need time to heal."

"But a whole week --
Skink whined, appalled.

"You need it," Rizal said.
"I'll be right here with you."

"You're really not dumping me?"
Skink said, looking over at him.

"Of course not," Rizal said,
patting his shoulder. "You're
my friend as well as my partner.
I'm worried about you, Skink,
not planning to abandon you."

"Oh. Good," Skink said.

"You really can't do this shit
again, though," Rizal said,
nodding at the hand bud.
"Next time we might not
get so lucky on recovery."

"I guess ... seven may have been
pushing it too far," Skink admitted.
"What about doing somewhere
between one and seven?"

"I don't like it," Rizal said.
"I think it's too risky." Then he
sighed. "But it's your body."

"This is really important to me,"
Skink said. "I have to make up
for all the bad things I did."

"That does not obligate you
to risk your life in the process,"
Rizal said. "What would
your advocate say?"

"To take care of myself
so that I can take care of
other people," Skink said.

"Then you have a good one,"
Rizal said. "Remember that you
are worth more than just what
you can do for others, though."

"I guess," Skink said. "I just
wish that I could do more."

"Tell you what," Rizal said, "stop
grousing about medical leave, and at
the end of the week, we'll ask a doctor
whether it's safe for you to try treating
more than one patient at a time."

Skink nibbled the rim of the cup.
It was empty, and he was still hungry.

"Okay, I'll try that," he agreed.

"Looking for something more?"
Rizal said. "How's your stomach?"

"Mostly settled now that I have
some food in it," Skink said.
"More would be better."

"How about this?" Rizal said,
pulling a box out from under
the long futon nearby.

It seemed to be full of roots.

"What are those?" Skink said,
frowning down at the things.
"I don't recognize them."

"These are a present from
your Australian admirers,"
Rizal said, handing him one.

Skink turned the woody thing
in his hands. "I wonder how --
oh! There's food inside!"

A faint scratching sound
brought his appetite roaring
to life, and Skink scrabbled at
the bark before he thought
to try twisting the root.

It came apart in a shower
of sawdust, spilling several
fat white grubs onto his lap.

Even the smallest one was
the size of his forefinger, and
the others were even bigger.

Skink pounced on the nearest one,
stuffing it into his mouth. It tasted
like almonds, although the texture
reminded him of scrambled eggs.

He scarfed down the other two
as fast as he could. They were
so rich, full of fat and protein
and wonderful earthy flavors.

"I'm glad you like them," Rizal said,
passing Skink another root. "I think
they're the grossest thing I've seen."

Well, that meant Skink didn't have
to offer him one, which was great,
because that left more for himself.

He twisted open the next root
and gobbled up the fat white grubs.

By the time Skink got to the bottom
of the box, he was stuffed and
starting to feel drowsy again.

"Let's get you cleaned up,"
Rizal said, clucking over
the mess of sawdust and
splinters all over the bed.

He bundled up the bedspread,
which collected most of the frass,
and brushed off the few bits that
had landed on the bedsheets.

"I guess I didn't realize how much
of a mess I was actually making,"
Skink said. "I'm sorry about that."

"It's okay," Rizal said. "I'll just get you
a fresh blanket and dump this one in
the laundry closet. Don't worry about it."

"I appreciate it," Skink said. "You
always take such good care of me."

Soon Rizal came back with
a clean blanket and tucked it
around Skink. "There you go."

"Thanks," Skink said. "I feel better."

"Food, like a loving touch or
a glimpse of divine power, has
that ability to comfort," Rizal said,
cupping a fond hand over Skink's cheek.
"Get some more rest, you still need it."

Skink snuggled into the blanket
and soon he fell asleep.

"... ate every one of them,
and rooted in the box looking
for more," Rizal was saying
when Skink woke up.

"That's good," said a voice.
"They can help with healing."

Skink pushed himself up on
his elbows. "Hey, who started
the party without me?" he asked.

Rizal laughed. "Your admirers
wanted to see how you're doing."

"I'm Cardinia, in case you don't
remember," the young woman said,
"and this is my niece Allira."

"It's good to see you again,"
Skink said. "How are you?"

Allira bounded over to his bed,
surprisingly nimble on her crutches.
"Look! I'm growing toes already!"

She hiked up her gown to show him.
Her thigh was already beginning
to extend into a leg, with a foot bud
and tiny toe bumps at the end of it.

"So you are," Skink said. "That's
coming in really fast for someone
who doesn't have my superpowers."

"She dreams with Goanna,"
said Cardinia. "We thought that
might have something to do with it."

"Possibly," Skink said. "Now be careful
with your little foot, Allira, because it
will stay soft for a while -- the bones
won't harden much until it's fully grown."

"I'll be careful," Allira said. "Is your hand
growing back like everyone said it would?"

"Yes," Skink said, lifting his left arm.
"Oh hey, I've got fingers again!"

The hand bud had spread into
a paddle with thick, ridged fingers.

"You look like a merman," Allira said.

"Yeah, this is happening a lot slower
than usual, because I pushed myself
too far," Skink confessed. "I fell over
and scared a bunch of my friends."

"Silly, you're supposed to get off
the line before that happens,"
Allira said, wrinkling her nose.

"It was a mistake, but now
I know not to make that one
again," Skink said. "I'll be fine,
I just need to take it easy for a while."

"That's good to hear," Cardinia said.
"Did you like the witchetty grubs?"

"Best food I ever ate," Skink said.
"Thank you so much for sending them.
I'm sure they'll help me recover sooner."

"Allira insisted," said Cardinia. "I know
most whitefellas don't care for bush tucker --"

"He's not a whitefella," said Allira.
"Look at him, he's as dark as you,
even if neither of you are as dark as me.
You don't have to meet his lizard to know
that much about him, it's in his skin."

"He loves crickets," Rizal confided.
"He goes through packages of those
like other people do potato chips.
How did you guess, though?"

"He's a lizard, like me," Allira said.
"Mine is goanna and his is skink.
So I asked my uncle to walk the lines
and bring some witchetty grubs for him."

"You keep mentioning lines," Skink said.
"I'm curious. What are you talking about?"

"Songlines," Allira said. "They're old power,
from when the Ancestors walked about
making the world. Most places they're
faded now, but around here they're clear."

"Oh, you mean the Stone People paths?"
Skink said, tilting his head. "The pictures
on the rocks show us where our ancestors
went and what adventures they had."

"Yes!" Allira said, bouncing in place.
"Those are the Songlines, they go all over
the world only most people have forgotten.
When we walk the lines to make the old music,
then it helps to hold the world together."

"We could sure use more of that, especially
after the earthquake yesterday," Skink said.

"That was awful," Cardinia said. "My Dreaming
led me to the West Coast, but I wasn't expecting
anything like this. I thought that it was just
about working toward peace and justice."

"Then the building fell on us and we
came here and met you," Allira said.
"So that's got to be important."

"Perhaps it is," Skink said. "I wouldn't
know, I'm not a medicine person."

"That's okay," Allira said. "I asked
my family and they'll think about it too.
Maybe someone will dream an answer."

"I don't want to impose," Skink said.
"You don't owe me anything, really."

"Yes we do," Cardinia insisted.
"We owe you a big favor. I know
what it cost you to heal Allira.
So if there's anything we can
do for you, just let us know."

Skink quirked a smile. "Well,"
he said, "I wouldn't say no to
a few more witchetty grubs."

* * *

Notes:

The Dr. Mary Fulstone Visionary Hospital is described here.

On the second floor, the nurses station lies at an intersection of hallways.

Patient bedrooms include views of nature, healing art, viewscreens, a large comfortabe bed with adjustable controls, a therapeutic chair, a table and chairs for guests, and a large couch that converts into a bed for a relative or caregiver to spend the night. The couch beds also factor into the hospital's surge plan, allowing them to convert single rooms to doubles during an emergency. Each patient room has a private bathroom with a sink, toilet, and accessible shower with seat.

The quiet rooms all have a privacy field for peace and relaxation. This one on the second floor is decorated in green.

T-American hospital gowns are more modest and comfortable than L-American ones, to avoid getting sued over sexual assault or shoddy care. They generally offer a variety of gown and pajama styles to suit different sizes and needs.

Pulse points occur wherever an artery runs close enough to the surface to be felt through the skin. For most clinical purposes, the easiest is the radial pulse at the wrist. Lacking a wrist, the elbow offers the brachial pulse and the armpit offers the axillary or proximal brachial pulse. When examining a damaged limb, it is helpful to test the pulse at multiple points to determine how well blood is circulating throughout the length. If the pulse feels weaker toward the distal end, that's a bad sign.

Skink's regeneration follows fetal hand development.

Bone broth has high nutrition, making it helpful for healing injuries and other purposes. Learn how to make it.

Five-lined skinks eat various invertebrates such as cockroaches, crickets, grasshoppers, spiders, and larvae from beetles or other insects. Skinks hibernate through winter in hollow logs or other sheltered locations. Their metabolism slows down. During the "fight or flight" response, the body naturally directs resources to the most critical areas -- heart and brain -- shutting down peripheral functions such as limb circulation and digestion. The same can happen after serious injuries to conserve resources. When you transpose a reptile, with its fluent hibernation response, onto a human body that doesn't normally have that feature, the degree of healing torpor can look pretty alarming.

Entomophagy is part of a sustainable diet. Various types of witchetty grubs may be found in roots or trees. They are part of some important rituals. These grubs are a staple food in Aboriginal diets, and they aid healing.

Rock art appears around the world. In Australia, it relates to the Dreamtime and the Songlines. The American southwest has a great deal of rock art too, including the area around Las Vegas. Among Skink's ancestors, the Yaqui and Apache both use rock art. As in Australia, it touches on ancestral figures, such as Kokopelli.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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