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Poem: "Ode To Lithium #13: Snakes In Your Arms"

A prose poem for BuzzFeed READER by Shira Erlichman.

Posted on April 8, 2016, at 11:38 a.m. ET

You are in the neurologist’s office for the fifth time in two months. “The tests came back normal,” He says. You exhale. On a separate note, you have just spent four days in a psychiatric facility. You had been experiencing symptoms you could only describe as The Edge of Death. So you checked yourself in. You are twenty-five years old and responsible. You are taking medication. You are relieved to hear that your arms, which have been tingling inexplicably for months, check out fine. “It’s not your spine,” he says. “And it’s not your neck. It all came back normal.”

Normal.

“OK,” you say. Since he is your specialist, and you have trusted him, you say: “I should let you know, since you’re my specialist, I was in a psychiatric ward last week. I thought I had Depression but they say I have Bipolar Disorder. I hear that sometimes inexplicable pain arises with people that have Bipolar. Could that maybe have something to do with my tingling?”

That’s when he gets cold. His upper body freezes. He leans half-an-inch back in his blue chair. (He is handsome, only a few years older than you. When you changed into a gown and he saw your unshaved legs, you were embarrassed. In another circumstance, you might want to kiss him.) He has a buzzcut, barely-there stubble, and a degree in pain.

He speaks slowly, with calculation, but there is still a softness there. “Well, what do your arms feel like now?” The young doctor asks.

“It feels - ” you pause, you want to get this right, you look for the right word to describe the sensation that has been haunting you, causing you to get test after test, plaguing your sleep. “It’s like needles, but they move.” How should you describe it? You only have 20 minutes with this man in his office on the other side of the city before you have to go back to Kit’s house and sleep on her couch before finding a new place to live before finding a new therapist before deciding how to live tonight, let alone the rest of your life.

“It feels like there are snakes in my arms. Electric snakes that move quickly, like little zaps, through my forearms and wrists.” You are a poet and sometimes it helps you and sometimes it distances you from others.

He leans in. Whispers: “Do you really think that there are snakes in your arms?”

You feel tricked. Catch-the-crazy. Whack-a-mole. Burn the witch. You take a full seven seconds before you exhale. In this little white room, where he has hung his certifications up, where his tools to investigate pain gleam on their shelves, and his awards are multiple.

“Of course not,” you say.

He visibly relaxes. As if he has done his job.

  • Picture of Shira Erlichman

    Shira Erlichman is a writer, musician, and visual artist. A three time Pushcart Prize nominee, her work can be found in The Huffington Post, NPR, The Massachusetts Review, Prelude, Winter Tangerine Review and BUST Magazine, among others. She holds a BA from Hampshire College and was awarded a residency by the Millay Colony and the James Merrill Fellowship by the Vermont Studio Center. Originally from Israel, she lives in Brooklyn with her partner and their orange cat.

    Contact Shira Erlichman at saeed.jones+ShiraErlichman@buzzfeed.com.

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