[Editor's note: due to the strange and wild behavior of certain technologies, "Medical Semiotics" cannot be broken down into audio clips. It must be listened to only as it was recorded, in one fifteen-minute moment, by Sarah Boyer. This is a poem that wants what it wants. You can find the entire recording here.  xoL&K]  




when certain 

events 

intervened : an index 



PREFACE

Five years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare chronic medical condition. I have struggled a great deal with its meaning / significance / role in my life. It is from the failures I have witnessed of doctors to appreciate the gap between their constructions of meaning and recovery and my own that this project began.  

INTRODUCTION

Blood is a metonym, a sign, for the health of the body. Also hair. Also nails, urine, and feces. The physician will collect these clues and in examination find irregularity or regularity. The physician will codify this collection of signs into a syndrome. Meaning or Pierce’s thirdness originates from the physician’s understanding and application of logic to the sign(s). However, the connection between signs in a body may be unarticulated to the physician or unknown to the patient and therefore unarticulatable. For example, the physician may wait for particulars which the body does not know are particulars or significant. Thus, the body may not provide the words the physician needs to perform a diagnosis. This lacuna / aporia / gap between body-knowing, body-un-knowing, physician-known, and physician-un-known can be triangulated but does not offer certainty to those facing capture in the categories of normal and sick. The following poem presupposes the gap between signs and signifiers: their size and their difficulty, but suggests an increased valency be allowed for interpretants in dealing with meaning and diagnosis. The form seeks to illuminate the spaces between types of meaning and to complicate thirdness. Diagnosis has a particular thirdness for a doctor and it has a particular and no less significant meaning for the patient and his or her body. The following poem is the result of conversations with five women about struggles of meaning they’ve faced with their bodies. 

INSTRUCTIONS 

Follow (number) to the numbered section.

-for example (5) means section 5.

Locate the {last words} you read in this new section. 

Follow (number) to said section. 

Locate these {last words} you read in this new section.

Continue. 

 When you reach impasse / diagnosis begin again. Anywhere. Any way. 

QUESTIONS

1) Articulate your symptoms as you would to someone unfamiliar with your case.

2) What bodily materials did they collect?

3) Why did they collect these parts of your body?

4) What tests did they on these parts of your body?

5) How long did you have to wait for the results?

6) What was waiting like?

7) What did the results say?

8) What did they mean to you?

9) How did your life change with illness?

10) How do you tell people you are just meeting about your illness?

11) What does telling people signify/mean?



 
 

1
 
 

originally it felt like it was leaking (3)

{acting peculiar} i saw the hypnotist / always wear black pants

      i hate it when people see them and i don’t know 

 

what they are
my nose is very specific
and my poops aren’t great (4)

 
 

{young as four} now
i can talk myself
             out
of the spasm
i made a decision not to tell anybody

about my senses
it creates a monologue : light switches (6)

 
 

{me} more of an understanding of energy
and a higher hearing frequency
the me who wants to go out built lives

                          objects (7)

{hours} it is why i pee
six times an hour                              they put me under
surveillance (10)

 
 

{as a power thing} and people always say
                                that really sucks

 
 

2
 
 

{a fibroid} these are my expert expert people
my body is a money game (11)

 

{blue food} no one else is packing all four meals
or leaving the house this is no more than four
hours cleaning cleaning cleaning
i feel it under my skin
you are like a layer cake (5) 

 
 

{on my back} i have five
                             acute senses and get
                             overwhelmed easily
                             b/t a month or two
                             and acid is a liquid way
                             this means texture        not volume (5)

 

{to an allergist} i held some ice
so i didn’t hurt myself

drinking water
watching they felt like a personal
failure a lot of people throw up (7) 

 

{of a vocabulary} i get ghost hands and that’s worse
than what you have  

 

it doesn’t change (8)

 

{and my sickness in him} i get overwhelmed with myself
                                           i can’t get out of my head
 

 

3

 

{for being} the first thing i look
                   for is the bathroom
they always press on my stomach. Say,

no caffeine. Say,
no chocolate. Say,

only sweat suits (4)

 

{with myself} people come into my house
and start moving as young as four (1)
 

{leaking} i work on trying to hold
more i only eat blue food (2)
 

{it angrier} i wrote
                 the entire
book in one week
i accept         i know it’s
                     how i am
a doll i wouldn’t let in my room
as young as four
it couldn’t be e coli (5)
 

{being anorexic} cleaning cleaning
           i am precarious : this is what i use what i touch
           how trivial
           how inane (8)
 

{fissures} it has gotten better
i have so much : a vocabulary (2)
 

{was being kind} and after that the cancer is unreceptive
they are chemicals (5)
 

{or crumbles} “same”
   

4

   

{aren't great} when i was a child i didn’t
have compulsions : no wasted time or movement
always things and patterns of twelve
it makes me sick
i can’t get out of my head
i get overwhelmed
                      myself MYSELF (3)
 

 

{sweat suits} the results would always come back
with a clear label
 
 
 

           we are killing
           the bacteria
           and growing
           it back she said
           it would be tasteless (7)
 

 
 

{with colors} da vinci raked the cancer out of my body
sitting in a bathtub
they found me for five hours (9)
 
 

5

 
 

{let in her room} i refused to see anyone named patricia
 

                                                                              barbara

but i could see my own sickness
and i didn’t want it to be something i gave him (9)
 

{layer cake} then @ lunch and then @ night
it tasted like sperm “my sperm water”
i could not stop myself

from shaking (5)
   

{e coli} why don’t you touch this towel
: why do you live like this
: they thought my family wasn’t feeding

                                               me (1)

 

{not volume} shortening and sadness (10)
 

{for five hours} the true experts
a malignant prognosis was poor after surgery (10)
 

{are chemicals} i was forced to get married
and i can’t do this anymore : it broke me
this you’ve-got-to-do-whatever-you-can

the fucking chemo killed my father (13)

 

{obsession is a loop} i do it as a power thing
people look at you weird when you
they always say that really sucks (18)
 
 

6

 
 

{from shaking} you have a blockage in your fourth
quadrant : i had to go
into a back alley and why do you exist like this
this having too much sedative during the endoscopy

 
   

this they did skin testing on my back (2)
 

{not volume} i have trouble sleeping
i was so young i was acting peculiar (1)
 

{light switches} i have trouble sleeping
people always say that really sucks
under every

is correct but goes ahead anyways
i said it angrier (3)
 

{throw up} it was a thick salt water syrup like soda
                     i do it as a power thing
                     when i feel judgement for being (3)
 

{skinny was} a doll she wouldn’t let in her room (5)
 

{hypnotist} a month of not feeling
i said it angrier : old people
the week after my period is the worst (7)
 

{a pity fuck} the inside of me with colors
                                  i fell into war (10)

{like cats} i fell into war
to halt the prognosis
 
 

7

 
 
{throw up}
a cause, a clue, a sign, a symptom
 

{around objects} see my illness / relevant behaviors
i said it angrier
people always say
 
 

that really sucks
 
 

{be tasteless} with a clear pathway to health
my scan my abdomen done with dye
is the inside of me with colors
b/t a month or two send me
to an allergist (2)
 
 

{with colors} gives me an anxiety of public places
and knowing this helps me plan (9)
 
 

{its the worst} i felt unlovable
and they said it would burn
itself out of my body
 

these natural healing capacities
 

{i actually believed them} i feel a growth in my body
bring me the da vinci robot
i am ready for my first removal (8)
 
 
 

{under my skin} DIAGNOSIS: always things
 
 

8

 
 
for two weeks i couldn’t leave the house
i was undeserved
she gave me a bladder training pamphlet

i saw the hypnotist
i felt the growth in my body
to remove what would almost certainly be

a benign (11)
 
 

{how inane} it took me eight hours
defecating in the apartment until i started making

a joke about anal fissures (3)
 
 

{it doesn't change} it makes me think of how we met each other
her eyes got bigger
obsession is a loop (9)
 
 

{my first removal} 99.9%
i have my ghost hands
my lost body (9)
 
 

{/ crumble} there is no wasted time or movement
why don’t you touch this towel
why do you exist like this (17)
 
 

{where is my fucking life} DIAGNOSIS: atypical / bizarre
 
 

9

 
 

{is a loop} i wanted a clear answer
                  she said it would be tasteless
                  why don’t you touch this towel
                  why do you exist like this
 

i had a neighbor who would molest me
which gave me the idea of what skinny

                                    was (5)
 

{i gave him} i feel like i cannot hold
i just don’t have any warning

my doctor was easy to talk to
the inside of me with colors (7)
 

{helps me plan} they took poop for bacteria
tapeworms and blood but sometimes if i eat
too light i feel full
it is no more : hours (1)
 

{for five hours} the progress of metastasis
for first removal
a CAT scan
some blood
my father had just died of cancer
they chopped up the tumor
into mega miniature

things / pieces (12)
 

{my lost body} all my pills
they told me i had MS

like cats (6)
 
 

10

 
 

now i can talk myself
 
 

out
the sheer terror and sadness
my father had just died of cancer
they found me sitting
in the bathtub for
five hours (5)
 
 

{after surgery} my uterus was morselated
into mega miniature
they thought it would never be more than a fibroid (2)
 
 

{into war} i was forced to get married
and struggled with a depression
it broke me                   this reckless (14)
 
 

{they put me under surveillance} }
                       my uterus
                       i feel a growth in my body

the inflammation was caused

by an allergen

or stress (11)
 
 

{shortening and sadness}
my father had just died of cancer DIAGNOSIS: intolerant
 
 

11

 
 

{a benign} i built lives around objects
                     i had a neighbor who would molest me
it creates a monologue
my psychiatrist sits across the room
 
 

{a money game} she said it would be tasteless
the inside of me with colors (4)
 
 

{why did i say that} my condition nature
means you have to accept people’s fear
see me as a victim

a pity fuck (5)
 

{looking @} my expert expert people
and the doctor who thought he was being kind
                         to fight so hard
they never thought it would ever
be more than a fibroid, a sarcoma
and i actually believed them (12)
 
 

{or stress} laugh with me joke
because i don’t want to be embarrassed (16)
 
 

{than what you have} i get overwhelmed
easily to go through life with symptoms
it doesn’t change it makes me think

of how we met each other (17)
 
 

12

 
 

the endoscopy was two
weeks to a month

i wanted a clear              answer feeding me (17)
 
 

{things} i am compulsing
i have trouble sleeping
a constant sort of trying
to organize       so things

can move easier (13)
 
 

{people throw up} atypical / bizarre
god why did i say that (11)
 
 

{and i actually believed them} i could see this
happening to my ignorant mother
and after that the cancer is unreceptive
and i actually believed them (7)
 
 

{to feel bad about} and i actually believed them
                      they took my tubes / and all for the tumor / to remove what would /
                      almost be
                      a benign

           they are testing for progesterone

           staged out i get scanned every three
 

months : where is my fucking life (8)

DIAGNOSIS: unknown
 
 

13

 
 

{can move easier} the inside of me with colors
                             the first line is surgical to fight so hard at being an artist

the doctor who                                  thought he was being kind (3)
 
 

{killed my father} to have health insurance
my high necrotic possibility
which means you have to accept people’s fear (14)
 
 

{killed my father} maybe you never know
when you understand what
i was looking for / @ (11)
 
 

{so peculiar} the doctor who thought (14)
 
 

14

 
 

the doctor who thought he was being so kind

DIAGNOSIS: pesky
i feel a growth in my body (15)
 
 
 

{accept people's fear} god why did i say that
there are beads : sweat on my forehead
 
 
 

like things that shouldn’t be in your body
a lot of people throw up (12)
 
 
 

{reckless} i was in the hospital for eleven days
when i had a new scan every three months
and this guilty for feeling desperate
the fucking                   chemotherapy killed my father (13)
 
 

{he was being kind} sitting in a tub
for five hours (16)
 
 

15

 
 

{in my body} feel the tumor
shortening and sadness
malignant prognosis was poor after surgery
i was morselated (16)
 
 

{sickness in him} the next time i was in college
                         there was a doll
                         she wouldn’t let in her room
 

specifically do not eat food
 

that will drip / crumble (8)
 
 
 

{feeding me} they thought my family
are my true true experts
my expert experts (17)
 
 
 

{i feel a growth in my body}
and my sickness in him (2)
 
 

16

 
 
i have ghost hands
the week after my period is the worst
 
 
 

{i was morselated} i started making a joke about
staged out
it took six months to get a diagnosis
fallopian tubes
these are my expert experts
to remove what would almost be a benign tumor
i was so young i was acting so peculiar (13)
 
 
 

{tub} they raked the cancer
out of my body
i’m ticklish
a dedication to self-expression

specifically do not eat
food that drips / crumbles (3)
 
 
 

{embarrassed} i wouldn’t tell someone who wouldn’t notice
i felt unlovable
or the week after my period is the worst (17)
 
 

17

 
 

{is the worst} making me more focused : my own problems
i held it as long as possible
                        my new
                                   way of knowing
feels like i cannot hold

the next time i was in college
my own sickness, him (15)
 
 
{like this} when i was a child

i did not have compulsions : angrier
i do it as a power thing (1)
 
 

{i get so tired} of managing what doesn’t change
they would acknowledge what’s worse than what you have (11)
 
 

{each other} that’s what i’m really hitting right now
the reckless sitting in a bathtub

for five hours
i have so much to feel bad about (12)

 
 

{expert experts} this incredible burden
no one else is packing all four meals
and my obsession is a loop (5)
 
 

18

 
 

{sucks} you are like a layer cake
when i feel judgement for being
i do it as a power thing i feel it under my skin (7)

 

*

Sarah Boyer lives in Denver, Colorado.