Christine Elizabeth Ray and Processing Her Journey to A Diagnosis Through Poetry
From Rina Bloom to Ashley Jane, poets with chronic illnesses are bringing awareness to important, often overlooked experiences through their words. Their perspectives are personal, yet each one shared with eloquence and insight.
Another brave poet sharing her story through art is Christine Elizabeth Ray. We talked about the stressful months of fighting for a diagnosis and the experiences she’s had while living life with fibromyalgia and chronic migraines. With honesty and vulnerability, she shares insights about the struggles that so many people face—physically, mentally, and emotionally—as they navigate life with a chronic, often invisible illness.
When asked about her journey, Ray shared her inspiration for the poem “EMG.”
Christine Elizabeth Ray: The short story of “EMG” is that I started having weird and frightening neurological symptoms a few years ago and the “EMG” was one of many medical tests I had during the nine-month journey to a diagnosis. Ironically, at the time, I was the Associate Director of a large neurology research center at the University of Pennsylvania.
It was really humbling to be sitting in the chair of a patient knowing only that my body had become an unpredictable stranger.
The piece was written as a way to process all the feelings that were stirred up sitting alone in the waiting room and again in the exam room, staring at the ceiling. Like many folks with invisible illness, I was equally as scared that they would find something as I was that they wouldn’t. A diagnosis would at least mean that it wasn’t all in my head.”
Ray’s poetry lets readers into the scary steps people often need to take to get to a diagnosis. For many, the road to treatment is not an easy one, and it can take several months before they receive an answer. Ray describes her fears as she cycled between different tests and potential outcomes. She is not alone in her feelings of isolation and frustration, and her poetry sheds so much light on what many people have had to go through to get the medical help they need.
The featured poem “EMG” helps raise awareness and is a call to compassion. Many people suffering from invisible illnesses feel unseen and unheard, but poets like Christine Elizabeth Ray help call the reader to empathy. There is so much more to people than first glance will tell us. People battling chronic illness deserve to be seen, loved, and supported right where they are. “EMG” will make you feel like you’re sitting right next to Ray as she faces her fears in between waiting rooms and procedures. Her words are vulnerable and inspiring, and they show us the realities of living with chronic illness and the strength of those who are doing it every day.
“The overhead light has a gridded metal cover
that reminds me of the old-fashioned ice cube trays my grandmother had
with levers that released the frozen squares
with a satisfying crack
I feel oddly vulnerable waiting alone
wearing nothing but my panties and bra
under today’s utilitarian hospital gown
with its overly complicated ties
that took me too long to decode
in a way that I didn’t earlier this week
when my breasts were compressed
between inflexible plastic plates
while the fancy 3D camera rotated
in a state of the art 180 degree arc around my body.
There is a natural comradery
between women of a certain age
dutifully reporting for their yearly mammogram
that I miss while I wait for my neurologist
and her technician to take their turns
shooting electricity through my misbehaving limbs
the word electromyography
rolling on my tongue
I stare at the ceiling as the minutes tick by
ruminate about the other patients
who also held introspected vigil in the waiting room
before my name was called discreetly
in accordance with HIPAA
wondering if not so long ago
before their canes
their motorized wheelchairs
they were like me”
For more poetry by Christine Elizabeth Ray, follow her on Instagram.