Excerpt from 'When the Sick Rule the World'
When the Sick Rule the World
By Dodie Bellamy
All rights reserved.
WHEN THE SICK RULE THE WORLD
"And comes from a country far away as health."
— Sylvia Plath
Have you often had to lower the regular dose of prescription or over-the-counter medication or herbal supplements because you were too sensitive to normal doses do you avoid caffeine in the afternoon or altogether because it can keep you up at night have you ever experienced adverse reactions to medications if so what happened do you smell odors when others can't what kinds of odors do you have a sudden onset of symptoms headaches skin rashes nausea shortness of breath etc. on exposure to chemicals mold dust pollens or other environmental allergens what symptoms please list all the chemicals you get a reaction to when do you last remember feeling really great describe your residence when your illness began type age carpets heat source paint proximity to industry etc. describe your work environment when your illness began type of building ventilation toxic exposure neighboring businesses etc. have you ever had to change your residence or job due to health reasons have you ever had a known chemical injury or major exposure have you ever been exposed to chemicals or toxic metals in the course of work of schooling when how long name them have you ever worked where adjacent businesses regularly used chemicals or toxic metals when how long name them have you ever worked in a building where the windows were always closed when how long have you ever worked where you or your co-workers complained about the air quality or smells in the workplace or were injured in any way when how long have you ever heard about any air quality incidents in your place of work when describe what you heard have you ever lived near any heavy industries that regularly emitted waste into the air or water i.e. golf course dry cleaner plant shipyard mine chemical factory dumpsite or landfill what type of pollution when how long have you ever lived in a house built before 1978 how long were you there have you ever lived on or adjacent to an agricultural area what kind of area was it when how long have you ever lived in a home where mold was a problem when how long have you ever lived in a home with a water leak or water damage when how long have you ever lived in a mobile home when how long have you ever lived in a home where turning on the central air or heat caused you or family members to feel sick when how long have you ever felt there were conditions in your home that affected your health use of aerosol sprays chemicals cleaners construction painting etc. when how long are pesticides or herbicides used inside or outside our home have you ever lived near a busy highway street or gas station when how long when were your air ducts last cleaned when were your air filters last changed is your stove gas or electric is your furnace gas or electric water heater gas or electric do you wear dry cleaned clothing if yes how frequently and in which room are they stored are there animals in your home do you have air purifiers or water filters in your home do you heat food in a microwave do you have candles in your home do you regularly get hair coloring permanents or visit a beauty salon have you ever had acrylic fingernails or been to a beauty shop where acrylic nails are done if so when have you ever used scented soaps detergents potpourri perfumes etc. do you still have you ever used fabric softener do you still have you ever used recreational drugs if so when and what compounds have you ever lived with animals that received treatment for fleas or ticks if so when have you ever lived in a home with new carpet new furniture and new construction if so when have you ever lived on or near a golf course or other areas where heavy pesticides and herbicides are used regularly if so when have you ever regularly worked with chemicals in any hobby i.e. solvents paints stains cleaners etc. if so when have you ever had silver fillings put in your teeth if so when do you still have silver fillings in your mouth if yes how many and how long have they been in your mouth have you ever had root canals implants or bridgework done on your teeth if so when have you ever had any implants stainless steel Teflon silicone etc. put into your body if so when and what kind of implants have you ever been given vaccinations if so when have you ever had reactions to any vaccinations have you ever smoked if so for how long have you ever lived with others that smoked if so for how long and how old were you how often do you eat fish what types of fish do you eat?
The wall of questions makes me feel devastated and hopeless. I have lived in and worked in and gone to so many bad places. The naturopath is young, small and blonde, and has a little girl's voice. Based on my answers she says, "You are very sick, your apartment is making you sick. You have to move." She's ordered lots of lab work on me, but she hasn't gotten back any of the results. "If I were to move," I ask her, "what should I look for?" She stares back at me, confused and suspicious, like it were a trick question. Finally she says, "You can move, I know you can move. Many patients have moved and they felt so much better. If you don't move, you'll nnever get better." "But what kind of place should I move to?" She says to look on the internet, there's lots of information online.
I join a listserve for the sick and learn that the monthly meeting of the sick is happening the following weekend. It takes place in a nontoxic apartment building in San Rafael, built especially for the sick. No fragrances are allowed in the building. Those attending the meeting must use fragrance-free soap, lotion, shampoo, hair conditioner, gel, deodorant, laundry detergent. No fabric softener, no clothes that have been dry cleaned. I already do most of this, but my hair products and body lotion have herbal oils in them, so I spend $30 on fragrance free versions. I enjoy the ritual of carefully bathing and dressing myself in preparation for my entry into the realm of the sick. The fragrance-free shampoo makes my scalp itch, so I rub on some locally made, stone crushed extra virgin oil. Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, I imagine a spa atmosphere, a peaceful, wood-hewn paradise, the crisp air super-charged with oxygen. Instead I find boxy, institutional, white. In the courtyard, a frail, frizzy-haired woman stops me from entering the community room. "You have to be sniffed first," she says, and she places her nose right up to my body and takes deep noisy sniffs. "I smell something," she says. She moves her nose along my arms and shoulders, "No I don't think it's your sweater." She moves her nose across my head. "It's your hair." "Do you smell anything?" she says to a large-breasted woman. "Yes," says the large-breasted woman, "it's in her hair, it's giving me a headache." The frail woman tells me I'll have to cover my hair. "But I did everything you asked," I say. She steps into an apartment and returns with two cotton scarves, a green one and a black one. They're those hanky-scarves that hippies used to wear and gay men put in their pockets to announce what sex kink they were into. "It's just olive oil," I plead. "You're giving me brain fog," the large-breasted woman replies. The other woman holds out the scarves. "Which one do you want." I take the green one and fold it into a triangle, put it over my head and tie it in the back. "Some of your hair hanging out," I'm told. "Put on the other one too." So I wrap the black one around the back of my head and tie it on top, above my forehead. The women joke that I look like Aunt Jemima.
Most sick experience headaches, burning eyes, asthma symptoms, stomach distress/nausea, dizziness, loss of mental concentration, and muscle pain. Some individuals also suffer fever or even loss of consciousness. Motor skills and memory may be impaired. The sick practice calm abiding. They say to themselves, "I feel so nauseous in my stomach, this means I'm alive, I am a living being, that I can feel this, and all these sensations and worries," and they breathe it in and they feel good, to be a living being. When someone wearing perfume lies down next to me in yoga I get up and move. When someone sits beside me in a theater wearing perfume I get up and move. When someone sits at the next table wearing perfume I get up and move. When a student comes to class wearing perfume my nose runs, my eyes tear, I start sneezing; there's nowhere to move to and I don't know what to do. When the sick rule the world perfume will be outlawed. Dealers will stand in alleyways selling contraband Estee Lauder and Chanel no. 5. They will carry tiny capsules of perfume in their mouths, tucked along their gums, and when they open their mouths they'll look like vampires with their extra row of liquid gold teeth.
Later in the restroom I long to snap a picture of Aunt Jemima Dodie with my iphone so I can show it to Kevin and we can share a laugh, but I can't get myself to even peek in the mirror at my round bound makeup-less face. I do my toilet business with my eyes cast down at the stone-tiled floor. At the end of Todd Haynes' movie Safe when sick Julianne Moore looks in the mirror and says, "I love you," she looks great, with her fluffy hair and her cheek bones, not like a bloated Bandana Monster, I imagine kids scaring one another at sleepovers: "The Bandana Monster's coming to eat you!" So I don't know what the sick saw as I sat in my chair during the sharing portion of the meeting and told them my symptoms, I've been tired and headachy, with a chronic ADD-esque lack of focus. I've been having allergic reactions to everything, and if I eat the wrong thing I'm up with diarrhea, dry heaves and god-awful nausea for like 7 hours. The sick sympathize with my symptoms. They suggest I carry Alka-Seltzer Gold with me, that Alka-Seltzer Gold will stop an allergic reaction dead in its tracks. I tell them my young, blonde, child-like naturopath thinks I have a problem with my phase II detoxification, and the one sick guy in the group says they all have that, over-active phase I detox and underactive phase II.
The sick rinse their bodies with vinegar and dry off with a blowdryer to prevent mold growth. The sick travel in used cars which they sell to one another, cars that have never been detailed, that have been aired out and cleared with activated carbon felt blankets and zeolite. Behind their used cars the sick pull teardrop-shaped trailers made from steel and non-fragrant wood. Or vintage bullet-shaped trailers made from steel and porcelain. The sick will create new families based not on blood but affinity of symptoms. The sick will travel in packs commandeering porcelain-lined fragrance-free buses. The well will no longer delete the email of the sick. When the sick rule the world hotel rooms will be obsolete, airplanes will be obsolete, new cars will be obsolete. All existing new cars will be remaindered and shipped to Cuba. When the sick rule the world fragrance-free auto shops will keep the old cars running smoothly. All service stations will be full service, the well filling the tanks for the sick. Mechanics and gas jockeys who do not wear gasmasks will soon themselves become sick. The sick refer to people who do not wear gasmasks as "breathers."
The rest of the meeting is about the dangers of cellphone towers. Christy, our guest speaker, tells us that electromagnetic fields — EMFs for short — are slowly destroying us all. Christy, a middle-aged fleshy woman with shoulder-length straight brown hair and bangs, learned about EMFs in a weekend seminar she attended in Encinitas. Symptoms of EMF exposure include dermatitis, burning pins and needles sensations all over the body, pressure/heaviness in the head, arrhythmia, high blood pressure, migraines, insomnia, profound malaise, blurred vision, nausea, tinnitus, tiredness, exhaustion, loss of concentration, loss of appetite, mood swings, tearfulness of eyes, pupil dilation, perspiration, muscular weakness, speech difficulty, convulsions, unconsciousness. Christy warns everyone to disable the wireless in their computers and to keep their cellphones turned off and as far from their bodies as possible. "A microwave oven cooks your food," she says, "but a mobile phone fries your brain." EMFs can lead to cancer, ADD, Parkinson's and even back pain. She passes out photos of camouflaged cellphone towers — cellphone towers hidden in the cross of a church, a flagpole, clock tower, grain silo, water tower, palm tree, fake rock, cactus. The fake rock and the cactus have trap doors, which are photographed open, revealing electrical guts. They look like movie props, but this isn't a movie, this is real life, Christy reminds us. Electromagnetic fields are lethal. During the presentation, I change seats in order to get a better view. The woman I sit next to looks stunned and immediately gets up and moves across the room, as far away from the Bandana Monster as she can get. Christy passes around a swatch of cloth made from some kind of metal — it's a surprisingly soft mesh — that she's using to make curtains to hang from her canopy bed to protect her from EMFs. You have to make sure the bed is completely enclosed, both above and below the mattress, as electromagnetic fields come through floors and ceilings. She gives us a handout listing where we can get the best deal for the mesh and other EMF supplies online. Christy also demonstrates a small box-like contraption, protruding from its top is a two-foot long antenna that's shaped like a mini-Eiffel Tower. I wonder what's hidden in the real Eiffel Tower, what dangerous implements and rays. As Christy walks around the room the contraption beeps whenever it detects an electromagnetic field. Cellphones make it beep like crazy. Wherever Christy goes she checks for electromagnetic fields and thus she knows firsthand how perilous the world is. Sometimes she can't leave her home because of all the peril. When the sick who live nearby abscond with Christy to check for electromagnetic fields in their apartments, I rip off my bandanas and flee. Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge I wonder, am I one of them — I have been sniffed and found wanting, I gave that woman brain fog — would anybody want to be one of them? But if I'm not one of them, what am I, what's going on with me?
When the sick rule the world roses, gardenias, freesias, and other fragrant flowers will no longer be grown. On Valentine's Day the sick will give one another dahlias and daisies to say I Love You. The sick should have sex as often as possible because it's good for the immune system. The sick should lie on their backs and receive rather than deliver the fucking. When two sick bodies come together their desperate hearts open, it is lovely to watch them, the thin iridescent haze of sickness ?owing across their skin, when two sick bodies fuck their hazy genitals sparkle and frizzle. The sick and the well should never mingle. The sick latch onto the genitals of the well like carnivorous plants, milking the well of their lifeforce, but the well are too rich, too funky, neurotoxic deodorant off-gassing from pores, the sick's iridescent haze curdles, congealed vinegary bits clinging to sweaty torsos, the sick spasm with so little pleasure, turn away sickened with remorse.
Excerpted from When the Sick Rule the World by Dodie Bellamy. Copyright © 2015 Dodie Bellamy. Excerpted by permission of Semiotext(e).
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