October 18, 2018

OH, FISH | The Girl Who Cried Fish Bone

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A nurse, dressed completely in navy-blue and gripping a clipboard, sprints down the hallway––in my direction, I assume. But my optimism proves short-lived, as she passes by my bed just as fast as I had gotten my hopes up. I roll my head back, eye the clock and then my dad, and let myself fall back onto the hospital cot. I should have kept my mouth shut.

It’d been almost three hours since we arrived at the urgent care center, and I was more than ready to forget my incident and head home “untreated.” My parents, however, were far too determinedly overprotective and accustomed to long wait times to give in so easily, so we waited and waited among the others, weary and waiting, too. Amidst this melting pot of patients with illnesses, conditions, and injuries too minor for emergency care yet serious enough to warrant a doctor’s evaluation, I perhaps had the most ridiculous reason for my being here: I’d swallowed a fish bone. Despite being the fully functional and healthy human that I was and still am, I had let a measly fish bone gain the upper hand over my well-being and let my overcautious parents coax me into seeking professional medical help. As a result, we were able to enjoy some quality family time together in the comfort of a small sterile space provided by a privacy curtain. Oh, fish.

I was 12 at the time and the lovely bone lodged in my throat belonged to a shad, an especially bony fish. Does this excuse my behavior? Who can say, because though I had insisted on making a fuss out of a fish bone, the miniature limbo stick embedded inside my throat had felt so real and present then. And after a prolonged 40 minutes of forced hacking, mouthfuls of rice, and a glass of cold, raw vinegar prescribed by my dad (I really should have kept my mouth shut), none of these home remedies could get rid of the clawing and gnawing force of the bone, which was probably fusing then with my body’s sensitive tissue.

Fortunately, my suspicions were wrong. The doctor had finally arrived to inspect my throat using a laryngoscope and found… nothing. Then what was I feeling? Had the vinegar really washed it away? Was I imagining this phantom fish bone? How could someone experience something so concrete yet invisible? I had let an unseen force triumph away with my well-being and dignity, waste away precious hours and resources––I wish I had kept my mouth shut.

If only I had kept my mouth shut, then what? Let bubbling feelings settle and sink down the stomach pit, in hopes that, one day, they’ll just go away. Let pains go unnoticed until one has mastered learned blindness. Let the world move on and the self grow tired, from putting on rose-colored glasses and a muzzle each time just to save mind and face. “Out of sight, out of mind,” they say, or as the three wise monkeys put it, “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” What’s nothing but a mere figment of one’s imagination will eventually disappear, because no one else can sense its existence; but until then, what are we to do? Do we ignore it? Can we ignore it?

I’ve tried, but I’ve realized I can’t ignore that fishbone stuck in my throat. Though my fears of losing the respect, validation, and acceptance from those around remain a constant in my life, I’m unable to let them play puppeteer to every word I speak. You may call me the girl who cried fish bone–and no, this isn’t synonymous to the boy who cried wolf. What I experience becomes my reality, and while it may be invisible to the public eye, this does not make it any less real to me. A hospitalized patient, in most cases, does not lie about “where it hurts,” just as–giving the benefit of the doubt–a student will not fake a mental illness. Controversies over what is true or not may arise and uncomfortable conversations prove inevitable, but at least we’re talking. I would much rather prefer the discomfort of discussing unspoken, delicate matters to the bottled-up tensions that only grow and drain from the inside out with years of self-suppression.

Welcome to Oh, Fish, a tribute to not keeping my mouth shut. Because what harm can come from never shutting up?