Surviving the Swamp by Martha Lane

Hydration is not your problem. You have water in plastic cups and hot syrupy tea presented by nurses, your partner, parents, friends. Exposure is a problem. Build a shelter out of bed slats and pillows, duvets and tarpaulin-soft hospital blankets. A pretence of privacy. Your greatest danger is the damp. Your bandages, clothes, bedding are easily soaked in the swamp. They threaten to drown you. The fire in your gut will keep you warm for days, scouring the atlas of you. Scorching the edges of you.

But it will not dry you.

Snake bites are common. Teeth, syringe-sharp, inject their venom. Don’t suck out the poison. Anxiety makes the heart pump faster so breathe deeply, keep a constant pace and rhythm. Not hee hee hee hee hoooooo. If a snake doesn’t get you then the mosquitos definitely will. Mosquitos in white coats. Buzzing and hungry. For blood. So much blood. This swamp is red not green. Insect repellents do exist, come in gels, creams, and sprays. Natural remedies include tea tree oil, gin and tobacco – use in great abundance.

You will need a food source – the wrong fungi will empty your stomach in minutes. Duckweed can be boiled into a soup, tastes like spinach. Rich in iron. Toast will do, speared, and roasted in dim light as your bare feet slap and echo along the polished corridors, reflecting like channels of still water. Eat it dry as you won’t have the energy for butter. You won’t be able to stomach dairy while the smell of milk still lingers. Avoid the fruit, it’s been sitting. Absorbing the smells and the aches and the pains of the place. It’s not sunshine that’s ripened it.

Nights in the swamp are hardest. Then you will feel most alone. Your imagination will blight you. In the night. In the swamp. Unseen mewls of unseen creatures. The swamp is a hub of life. Trees thrive; animals thrive. You are a human; you are not designed for a life in the wild.

Send rescue signals, howl SOS into the bubbles left on your skin in a shower too weak for the job. Stand at the window. Face the round mirror, issued as part of the supply pack handed out at the start of your journey, tattooed with cartoon crocodiles, to the sky. Make it wink light at passing helicopters, like it’s living rather than a dead thing destined for landfill.

Fashion a raft from a Moses Basket, traverse the tree roots jutting like umbilical cords, crooked and knotty. Don’t look under the baby blue hood. There’s nothing that can save you there. Concentrate instead on the moons and the stars, embroidered in glittery thread. Concentrate on the fire retreating and the quagmire depleting.

Biography: Martha Lane is a writer by the sea. She writes extensively about grief, love, and all things unrequited. Many of her stories can be read online at Balancing too many projects is her natural state. Tweets @poor_and_clean