it's not so bad

Issue 2

by Leigh Sugar

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Spasm in medical setting, IV needles, nurses' hands, blood

leigh sugar

video captions and editing by m

Content Notice: This video contains images of a spastic limb in a medical setting. It also contains an IV needle and images of nurses’ hands. There are brief scenes of blood being collected in a tube.

Note: This video was recorded by Leigh with the verbal consent of the nurses. The background noise of the nurses’ speech is blurred to further anonymize them.

(0:00 – 0:12) Moving black-and-white image of a sagittal brain and neck MRI showing severe disc herniations. The title “it’s not so bad” appears in white on the screen before fading away.

(0:12-0:40) Close-up footage of Leigh’s hand on a gray blood-draw table. Leigh is white and wears a red and white hospital bracelet. Her fingers and hand are spasming involuntarily. An anonymous nurse with white medical gloves and blue scrubs carefully handles Leigh’s hand, looking for a vein to insert an IV. The nurse holds a blue rubber tourniquet. The camera pans out slightly to show a small tattoo of a circle on Leigh’s forearm.

(00:17, voiceover)
Waiting for the geneticist to call
the uber misses a turn, the app adding ten
minutes to my pickup time. Traffic’s
unusually trafficky around Prospect Park
and I’m my usual panicked plus the panic of
possible positive finding, which may or may
not be panickier than the panic of a negative.
I’ve been waiting a long time for this uber
and fuck for these results, just sitting in my
building lobby trying to get to my IV clinic
where others get chemo but I get –
thankgod – only saline.

(0:40 – 1:30) The nurse turns Leigh’s hand over, looking for a vein. She begins flicking and rubbing Leigh’s lower thumb to try to get the vein to pop up. Leigh’s arm and hand continue to spasm. The nurse ceases looking at Leigh’s thumb and again turns her arm back and forth, then returns to flicking her thumb.

(00:51, voiceover)
My neighbor’s perched outside the lobby on
the little metal fence installed to prevent dogs
from peeing on the flowers, chain-smoking
after his shift as at the Brooklyn Hospital
Center. His socks are polka-dot, his neck
tattooed. He was active duty after 9/11. He’s
now a pediatric and neonatal cardiology
resident. Yesterday he told me he’s pro-life.

(1:17, voiceover)
We all know the thing about babies dying
without physical contact. Goddamn this
uber is slow and I’ve been waiting for so long
to know why my muscles seize when I’m
touched. The resident tried to shake my hand
and I laughed, stumbled for a nonsense
explanation for the nonsense why I can’t
accept this singularly human greeting.

(1:30 – 1:40) A second nurse’s hands enter the frame to tie the tourniquet on Leigh’s bicep just above her elbow. Leigh’s spasms increase and you can see her wrist tendons and muscles pop out.

(1:36, voiceover)
Suffering is less and less interesting the more
it’s suffered. Upon workshopping this poem
for the first time, a reader expressed curiosity
at this impossibly metaphoric condition –
how did I think of it? – until noticing my
crooked smile. I could never be so creative.

(1:40 – 2:08) After the tourniquet is tied, the first nurse begins cleaning Leigh’s thumb with an alcohol pad. The second nurse assists with finding the vein again, then strongly holds Leigh down at the forearm and hand so she stops spasming.

(1:54, voiceover)
At sixteen I volunteered at the local
children’s hospital. I felt awkward playing
games with sick kids who could talk so I
opted for the baby ward. They needed proxy
mothers to hold them when their own
couldn’t or wouldn’t. Four or more to a
room, all on ventilators.

(2:08 – 2:27) The first nurse brings the IV needle into frame as Leigh is continually held down. The needle has a yellow tag. The nurse inserts the needle and removes the applicator before immediately placing medical tape over the inserted IV to keep it from moving.

(2:12, voiceover)
Once I held one with no ears. He was
adorable. I don’t know if he could hear me
whisper the ABCs. He looked like a little
minnow in his shielded crib, floating
immobile-y in a dried-up sea.

(2:26, voiceover)
When the call comes nothing will change.
The geneticist’s words won’t make the uber
come faster or let me hug a lover without
seizing. I want an answer, but answer does
not beget cure. Or even care. We want less
suffering and pain. We want the air warmer
and the water softer. We want our babies
with ears and our poems slick metaphors for

(2:30 – 3:00) The second nurse releases Leigh’s arm, which returns to spasm. The first nurse adjusts the knobs on the IV and cleans the input slots. The nurse then attaches a blood collection tube to the IV and draws two vials of blood. Once two tubes are collected the second nurse removes the tourniquet.

(2:53, voiceover)
Even if she never calls I’ll still go outside and
stand in the sun, at least until my legs start to
shake. A shaking from stillness, not light.

(3:00 – 4:00) The second nurse continues to hold Leigh’s hand still as the first nurse attaches a syringe filled with saline to the IV line. The nurse pushes saline into the line to ensure the IV is good, then applies more tape to further secure the IV. Leigh’s hand remains shaking. The nurse screws on blue caps to cover the open slots on the IV to prevent infection.

(3:10, voiceover)
I didn’t hit my head and I kept not hitting it
I stayed quiet and followed the rules.
I rested in my whiteness
and when Jewishness interfered
I asked the four questions at Passover
in Hebrew, the first time at 32

(3:27, voiceover)
ok I lied it was half of one question
and only reading the transliteration,
which is the closest we’ll ever come
to anything anyway

(3:38, voiceover)
I’ve been avoiding tenderness and learned
I’m very good at it.

(3:45, voiceover)
remember when alice made us listen to babies

(3:50, voiceover)
remember in anne carson’s class when that
girl made a bonkers performance piece that
would’ve been successful if a parody but it
was not a parody, she wore all black and tried
to light all the candles but none of it was
working which was honestly a really good
show but it wasn’t the show she’d imagined,
that’s what this is, here

(4:12, voiceover)
my doctor just gave me a list of high
histamine foods to avoid

(4:18, voiceover)
i’ve always thought these lists were neoliberal
but maybe she really is just trying to help

(4:25 - 4:28) The scene fades to black and “it’s not so bad” appears on the screen in white once again.

Leigh Sugar lives in Michigan on the unceded territory of the Anishanaabeg and Wyandot peoples. She loves puppies, picking berries, and painting her nails, and is grateful to learn from so many amazing folks in the disability and Disability Justice communities. Leigh thinks a lot about Whiteness, carcerality, capitalism, sexuality, and the Western lens. She edited That’s a Pretty Thing to Call It: Prose and poetry by artists teaching in carceral institutions (New Village Press, 2023); co-facilitates, with Nila Narain, Access Oriented Lit; and supports Rachel Zucker on her podcast Commonplace. Her collection FREELAND is forthcoming (Alice James Books, 2025).