I have watched the BLM riots in the US (and our own protests here in Canada) through a haze of pain. I fought the dandelions this weekend, and while my back lawn is dandelion free, my sciatic nerve declared enough. When this happens, the nerve feels like it is on fire, from your hip to your heel, and then in bizarre sort of sympathy, every muscle in your leg spasms. I woke up on Monday and had to crawl to the bathroom. After several hours of that, in which I could not sit, stand, or walk, I called an ambulance. I crawled down my stairs, they more or less carried me out my front door, and we proceeded to the Emergency Room.
Eventually (In a period that was really very brief, but did not feel brief) the doctor came into my room. He poked and prodded a bit, then chuckled knowingly. It turns out that there are two kinds of people in this world – those who have had sciatic pain and know that it is crippling, and those that haven’t and have no idea how a nerve could cause so much pain.
The doctor was the first kind – he told me what happened to him when his sciatica acts up. Twenty minutes later a very nice nurse was plunging a large needle of morphine and gravol into my arm. She was handing me a bottle with Percocet, and a prescription for a bunch of muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories and pain killers.
Which takes me to the privileged bit. As much as J. thought I was a bit crazy for going to the hospital (He’s in that second, no idea what sciatica is like, group), neither of us thought for a minute that it would be unsafe. I may have looked like absolute hell, but I had the colour of my skin and an educated woman’s voice. The system was built for my kind of person. I knew I would be treated kindly and equally.
As I lay on that bed, scrolling through twitter, I thought about what an Indigenous woman in my position might experience. Would she be treated with kindness?
When I very firmly insisted that I needed a wheelchair to move, I was given one. When I told them that no, I needed some help getting undressed, the nurse checked with me as she touched me. When I told them that I do the exercises and this was brought on by gardening, I was believed. No one thought I was an addict. There was no question of drug-seeking behaviour. When I made a joke about solving this with an amputation, no one contemplated sterilizing me at the same time.
Those are the benefits I know about. Those are the things that marginalized voices have told me I am privileged in. I am privileged in other ways, ways I do not ever see because this world was designed for me. I don’t have to see or live the hard way. I was in pain, and a system designed for me fixed it.
There are those who cannot breathe. They cannot breathe from the weight of colonization, the weight of prejudice, the weight of systemic oppression, and abuse. They cannot breathe in the tiny bit of crappy space we gave them on reserves. They cannot breathe because we stole their parents and grandparents and tried to “kill the Indian in the child”.
I have no answers. I should have no answers. I should have the kindness and mercy to move back so that they have space to breathe. And I should listen to what they say when they can.