Vivisector by Alex Neumann (nonfiction)

“The letter is?”

“Can you read the top line?”
“I think it’s an A”, maybe, if you were closer I could tell.
“How about now?” Could be an A? I’m still not sure…is it, “An A?”
“What’s the next line?”
“C…C…is it a C?” Sigh, “The next one, please?”
“C…F?”, “No”. I can’t see the chart, although he’s barely a foot away.

I can’t see his face.
“I can’t see anything.”
“Okay, follow me.”

“Optic Neuritis” – The nerve’s inflamed; Optic ability is lost.


Terrified, like a child and curled up in that same position.
In these same white sheets.
Between white walls, my eyes glaze as they mutter, incoherent.

My breath is stifled by the density of the air; I can’t breathe, I can’t think, I can’t run and I am held there, by alien cords, machine gun noise and metallic shards.
In masks, they come for me; light green, light blue and cold, caring eyes. I feel like a sinner viewing God – as if it were possible that it could be me and no one else.

And if it were true that God vivisects, I could believe it at this moment; at this uncaring, unworthy moment as they grasp me into place and test impracticality.

I never knew that salvation could be so loud – like grinding rocks, like smashing glass against a brick, like thunderstorms and drills, like roadwork.
This measurement is voyeuristic – with machines, they see inside me.

“MRI” – Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Using magnets to creates images, sections of the human body. Used to study tissue; nerves.


“Stay still – don’t move, don’t shake and don’t move.”
“Hold your knees.”

She holds my hand as the tears run slow down my cheeks; downpour. They lift my shirt from the back, feeling along my vertebrae as I brace myself for what’s to come.

“This will hurt” – the needle seems too big; my breathing too shallow.
“Hold still.”

The only thing that grounds me here is the way her eyes grip mine – she’s seen this all too many times, and it’s always just procedure. But the needle seems too big: metal grinding its way past bone is so unnatural it’s blinding, yet I can’t seem to close my eyes.

The quiet voices surrounding are a discussion of what’s gone wrong; “Try again”, “Shouldn’t be taking this much -”

“- effort, one more try”.

The angel’s blue-gray eyes hold mine as I watch the world in fragments; I can’t piece this together, it’s not making sense.

So I hold the angel’s hand in hopeful distance, waiting for the pain to end; those white-hot flashes between my spine.

“Anesthesiologist” – Drugs; an application of anesthetics. Specialist.


Those unreal scents of a sterilized hell are still choking me; though I neglect to admit it. Bile rises in my throat each and every time I think of the specifics; an errant cord, displaced veins and a rich, royal blue.
Staining me, erasing me.
I never knew a colour could mean ‘sick’.

The chalk-white smiles of multi-coloured angels flash uncertainty from every corner; comforting me with a twinkling, silver needle. And I’ll need their sickening liquids; I need their short-burst pains, because they’ll help me when I’m older, when I need it.

Whenever I’m still there, I’ll be haunted by the whispers; aversion and quick glances, muttered voices, cautious smiles. I’ll wait in stiff discomfort as the air travels condensed by their domestos-flavoured linoleum, their cleaner-than-heaven bathrooms.

I’ll wait, watching red-puffed eyes and swollen throats, knowing this could go back to that, knowing paradise never lasts.

“Che⋅mo⋅ther⋅a⋅py” – Toxic chemicals; used in treatment upon disease-producing microorganisms


These days, I breathe like I can’t: like my throat is filled with sponges. Like I can’t seem to pull oxygen through my lips, or move it past my lungs. And lately I walk like I expect to fall, just waiting for disaster. Because I can’t accept that everything’s not dangerous, I don’t see anything. If life were more predictable, I could be alright; but as it is, I cover my eyes whenever I’m afraid.

I’m always hiding.

Because I don’t want to see what’s coming, I keep tracking backward to what’s been: I can’t move past the past, or through the future. I guard against what I don’t know, because I know it can’t be good – nothing unexpected will ever end well for me.

Because what’s behind me navigates what’s in front.

If I cough, it could be cancer; unexplained bruising is always leukemia. If my chest hurts, then my heart’s failing: next time, I won’t wake up.

This isn’t overreacting: I’ve learned from my mistakes. This time, I’ll know what to expect; when I can’t move, I’ll know the reasons.

‘Cautious’ – Tentative or restrained; guarded


Tomorrow, God will stare through me across more-than-sterile benches; to analyze the way I move, to measure each and every defect.

Every weakness.

So I’ll fumble blindly towards an end, wishing that the smell of ‘clean’ would push away; it makes me sick, to feel the air slide gracefully through my lungs.
Losing every part of me, I’ll stumble away from feeling human; more like a mouse in a cage, fed pellets to perform. And I’ll know that though it passes, every time this numbness hits me it leeches away another part of me.

The sections of life were never more clear-cut than this.

Bleeding curiosity, His blue eyes take notes on the ways I exist – never good enough, too far from perfection and grasping for an edge to hold on to.
How I wish I had something to hold on to.
“God”: One that is worshipped, idealized; believed in.
“Sclerosis”: Scarring. “Multiple Sclerosis”: Many scars.

‘Hospital’ sounds so clinical.

So imagine if one day you wake up blind, not understanding why the world got covered in a white fuzz overnight. Like you’re drunk without drinking; when you stumble.
Three days ago I knew how to walk.

This is a temporary thing; because the angels know their job, and they can fix things that get broken.
Or, scarred.

If you look at the scan, you can see white patches.

Born in 1990, Alexandra Neumann published her first novella at the age of sixteen. (Second Glance, 2006). Now studying her BA in Professional & Creative Writing at Deakin University, Alex’s main goal is to be published again by the age of 25. Although she was diagnosed with a severe case of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis at the age of fourteen, she does not let this get in the way of her writing. Her prose piece ‘Vivisector’ is based on her hospital experiences.


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