Nervous Systems: Part 5

Part 5 of Nervous Systems. Previously: Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4. Image descriptions can be found below the .jpgs, under the “read more” tag; click the images for larger versions.


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Panel 1: Small circles denote “tender points” on a person’s upper body.

Text: One of fibromyalgia’s main symptoms is all-body pain, usually called “wide-spread pain.” This descriptor has been derided as “vague” by some, but…

Asterisk: See Berenson 2008.

Panel 2: An old-fashioned carnival barker tries to attract a crowd.

Text, continuing from panel 1: …for many, the pain itself can be described in very specific terms. At times, my pain makes me feel like some sort of circus freak from the sideshows of years past.

Speech bubble, carny barker: COME ONE, COME ALL! You won’t believe your eyes when you see…THE GIRL THAT’S ALWAYS HURTING!

Panel 3: A crowd of onlookers stares at Anna, who sits atop a platform and speaks to the crowd. The carny barker continues his routine.

Text: That’s just me, though.

Speech bubble, carny barker: THRILL at her aches and pains, which have NO KNOWN CAUSE!

Speech bubble, Anna: Yo, anyone have any Vicodin?

Panel 4: Anna appears covered in long needles as the crowd watches. One audience member says “Wow.”

Speech bubble, barker: Gasp as her symptoms morph unpredictably!

Speech bubble, Anna: I call this one the “Suit of Needles.”

Thought bubble, Anna: OW!

Panel 5: Anna’s limbs contort into unnatural shapes.

Speech bubble, barker: WATCH as she becomes…

Speech bubble, Anna: Totally twisted!

Panel 6: Anna turns into a slug-human hybrid.

Speech bubble, barker: MARVEL at her quick change into…

Speech bubble, Anna: I’m not lazy, just sluggish.

Panel 7: Anna, now back in her everyday form, has a thousand-yard stare.

Text: The ironic part is that most of these symptoms are invisible, at least to people other than the person with the illness.

Speech bubble, Anna: Crap.

PAGE 24 TITLE: THE RELUCTANT NIGHT-OWL (large owls appear in the page margins.)

Panel 1: Anna and her partner, Liam, are in bed, along with their dog, Winston. Liam is asleep; Anna is not.

Text: Not being able to sleep is one of those things that doesn’t sound too bad until it happens to you. Of course, it is a fibro symptom.

Panel 2: Anna grumbles “WTF” as Winston the dog sleeps soundly atop her.

Text: Sometimes, I wake up due to pain. Or it keeps me awake. Whichever position I move into might bring more pain.

Panel 3: Anna, looking defeated, flips through late-night TV reruns.

Speech bubble, TV announcer: Tonight, on “Keeping Up With the Kardashians…”

Text: It is not uncommon for me to try to distract myself…

Panel 4: Anna sits at her kitchen table with a glass of water, looking either thoughtful or frustrated (or both).

Speech bubble, TV: WHAT THE F**K, KIM?!

Text: …only to get back into the “should I or shouldn’t I” cycle of possibly taking my pain medication (prescribed, of course).

Panel 5: Anna writhes on the floor in pain.

Text: I am the sort of person who will try to “just get through” the pain…this is not always beneficial to me, of course.

Speech bubble, TV infomercial: If you call now, we’ll send you a SECOND Pro-Slice, absolutely FREE!

Panel 6: Anna sits on the couch. She looks relieved.

Text: Usually, by the time I DO take medication, all I can think is…

Thought bubble, Anna: Wow, This Old House is fascinating! Oh, I mean…why didn’t I take meds earlier?


Panel 1: Anna enthusiastically chooses her college major.

Text: By the time I began college at UC Davis, I had (naively) thought that my days of life-altering health issues were over.

Speech bubble, Anna: I love Women’s Studies! I think I’ll major in it.

Panel 2: Anna falls asleep in class.

Text: In early 2006—after a fairly intense first year and a half of college—I fell asleep in class one day.

Panel 3: Anna wakes up in class, embarrassed.

Text: This had happened only once before—in high school—so I chalked it up to tiredness and didn’t pay it much mind.

Thought bubble, Anna: Oops.

Panel 4: Anna wakes up the next morning in considerable pain.

Text: A day or two later, I awoke in the early morning feeling as if I’d been working out for a week straight.

Panel 5: Anna makes her bed as she tries to figure out what is going on with her sudden fatigue.

Text: I figured it would pass, and that I was just stressed out.

Speech bubble, Anna: Maybe I’m not getting enough sleep. Am I staying up too late? Not taking enough breaks? Hmm.

Panel 6: Anna sits in the waiting room at the student health center.

Text: After having near-constant muscle pain and fatigue for eight weeks, I went to see my doctor at the student health clinic.

Panel 7: The doctor speaks to Anna after the exam.

Text: She was at a total loss.

Speech bubble, doctor: It could be Chronic Fatigue, but that’s usually a diagnosis of exclusion.

Panel 8: Anna performs administrative tasks at her part-time job.

Text: I tried to resume my normal activities, which included a full course load and a part-time research job.

Thought bubble, Anna: Why am I so TIRED?


Panel 1: Anna sleeps in.

Text: I was not able to keep up; soon, I found myself way behind in my morning Entomology class, mostly because I felt so tired that getting up for an 8 AM class was too much.

Panel 2: Anna looks bewildered as she tries to study.

Text: The tiredness would continue throughout the day; it felt more akin to the flu than just being sleepy.

Thought bubble, Anna: Oh my god my head weighs 50 pounds. I need a nap.

Panel 3: Anna tries to sit down at the grocery store as her roommate, Nessa, attempts to stop her from doing so.

Text: The pain was worse; even a trip to the grocery store with my roommates wore me out completely.

Speech bubble, Anna: I need to sit down!

Speech bubble, Nessa: Anna, you can’t do this here!

Panel 4: Nessa has called a “house meeting” with all of the roommates. Fellow roommates Usha and Adela look extremely uncomfortable.

Text: One of my roommates in particular lacked any sense of understanding.

Speech bubble, Nessa: WE called this meeting because you are being antisocial.

Speech bubble, Anna: Huh.

Panel 5: Anna is fast asleep (and snoring) in her room, in the middle of the day.

Text: I was usually in too much pain to care about her feelings.

Panel 6: Anna looks confused as she contemplates the amount of pain she is in.

Text: Near the end of the [school] term, I began to suspect that something was seriously wrong.

Speech bubble, Anna: Why do I hurt all over?

Panel 7: The teaching assistant (T.A.) from one of Anna’s classes takes Anna aside just after class.

Text: As it turned out, one T.A. from one of my classes had noticed something “off” as well.

Speech bubble, T.A.: You seem, uh, less peppy than you were at the start of the term…are you okay?

Speech bubble, Anna: I’m fine, but thanks.

Panel 8: Anna gets emotional as she stands alone outside of the classroom after her meeting with the T.A.

Text: Five minutes later…

Thought bubble, Anna: FUCK.


Panel 1: A referral letter.

Text: After I saw her for the third time in as many weeks, my doctor recommended that I see a local neurologist.

Panel 2: Anna crosses dates off on a wall calendar.

Text: He was booked solid for four months. I waited.

Panel 3: The neurologist tells Anna that he does not know the cause of her symptoms.

Text: The appointment did not turn out in the way that I hoped it might.

Speech bubble, neurologist: I can’t find anything that’s physically wrong with you. Your symptoms just don’t add up.

Panel 4: Anna and her primary care doctor discuss the neurologist’s findings.

Text: My doctor did not know what to tell me.


Panel 5: Anna lies on the floor of her apartment in severe pain.

Text: In mid-2006, I experienced a particularly bad pain episode late one night. It felt like a full-body migraine, in a way.

Panel 6: Adela, Anna’s roommate, finds her in fetal position on the floor.

Text: My housemate Adela heard me screaming.

Speech bubble, Adela: Are you okay?

Panel 7: Anna imagines what would happen if she asks Nessa to take her to the emergency room; Anna’s thought bubble shows Nessa asking “Do you have any idea how much I spent on gas to bring you here?”; imagined Anna squeaks “KILL ME.”

Text: After considering the possible consequences of asking another housemate for a ride to the E.R…

Speech bubble, Anna: NO.

Panel 8: Anna crawls out of the front door of the apartment, with considerable difficulty.

Text: I called 911 and went outside to wait for the ambulance.


Panel 1: Anna lies on the ground outside, near a bush.

Text: It was nice and cold outside, at least. The EMTs [Emergency Medical Technicians] found me lying under a bush near my apartment.


Panel 2: The EMTs wheel Anna, who is strapped to a wheeled gurney, into an ambulance.

Text: The ambulance crew and the people at the E.R. could not have been nicer. It was weird.

Speech bubble, EMT: We’ll be at the E.R. in no time!

Speech bubble, Anna: Ok.

Panel 3: Anna sits at the intake window at the E.R. and interacts with a staff member.

Text: Even weirder was their apparent willingness to dispense pain medication.

Speech bubble, Anna: EVERYTHING HURTS

Speech bubble, E.R. staff member [cheerfully]: We’ll get you some meds A.S.A.P., okay?

Panel 4: A nurse inserts an intravenous [I.V.] line into Anna’s arm.

Text: I was still fairly squeamish about I.V. needles at that point.

Speech bubble, Anna: Aaaaahh

Speech bubble, nurse: Just a little pinch, here.

Panel 5: Anna looks at the I.V. line, panicked, and then stops panicking suddenly.

Speech bubble, Anna: I WILL NEVER STOP BEING IN PAIN. Wait.

Text: Within a few minutes, something changed.

Panel 6: The medication begins to affect Anna. Several Annas are shown in various stages of happy relief. [Panel has no text.]

Panel 7: Anna realizes that the medication has had an effect.

Thought bubble, Anna: WOW.

Panel 8: Anna is calm and relieved.

Text: For the first time in several months, I felt like I was going to be okay.