Ill Communication

Ill Communication
A good zine blends the personal and political; it should be unique, honest and forthright. Sick Punks, published by Toronto activist and writer Siue, is all of these. Siue is a sick punk. She's been ill for over three years; doctors have not been able to ascertain what exactly is wrong with her. "It's been a year since I had my laparoscopy (exploratory surgery). They searched around, found endometriosis (when uterine cells start growing on other organs like the bladder), cut it out, and basically I'm not feeling any different. I still have really bad menstrual cramps, and I still have Irritable Bowel Syndrome." Siue started thinking about being a sick punk, and how being sick stopped her from participating in a lot of things. She noticed that no one ever writes about being sick in their zines, so Sick Punks was born. "I chose to interview punks because I am one. It never occurred to me to interview sick people in general, because you can turn on the television and hear the general population talk about being sick all the time."

Siue sought out others to share their illness experiences, but was underwhelmed by the response. "It's hard for people to talk about being sick. Punks are strong individuals, so the subject of illness or thinking about being ill is tough for them to handle."

Sick Punks chronicles a wide range of experience. There's Amy, one of only 80 people in the world that is allergic to water; Amy's whole life revolves around the weather. Brian has diabetes. He has no health plan, owes thousands of dollars in hospital fees, and is continually hounded by collection agents. Giovanni has DDD (de-realization/de-personalization disorder) combined with panic/anxiety disorder. He's made fun of for taking his medication. Zack has eczema; his hands are affected the worst. He plays drums, and sometimes his hands are in such pain he can't hold onto the drumsticks.

"The same thread runs through all the articles," Siue says. "Not being diagnosed or being diagnosed improperly, and having to cope with not only the disease or illness, but also the shitty people in the medical establishment who don't know what they're doing or don't have enough compassion."

Carsten, the victim of shoddy work from a masochistic German dentist, sums it up succinctly. "If you're suffering from a symptom that occurs very rarely, nobody from the medical system will ever bother to think of a cure, because if you're only a one in a million case, you don't have any relevance or significance to the Total Product Of Income, so no money will be put into research, and no one cares if you ever get well or not."

Sick Punks, despite its focus, has health care, not a particular punk culture, in its sights. "Nobody wrote about doctors scowling down at them because they had mohawks or piercings or anything. It's more to do with the fact that we're young and they're old, therefore the doctors and psychiatrists know what's wrong with us: ‘You couldn't possibly know about your disease better than we can,' type of mentality."

Contrary to what you may be thinking, Sick Punks isn't really a depressing read — the humour scattered throughout is refreshing and endearing. When Smell, who suffers from schizophrenia, would hallucinate in class, he used to tell the teacher what he saw, but he stopped because he kept getting searched for drugs. Or Jonathan on being afflicted with constant "loud, nasty, tasty burps": "If I were a Viking instead of a punk, it might have actually increased my status." When the diabetic Brian is asked whether his disease affects his involvement in the punk scene, he replies, "Is it punk rock to have syringes [for injecting insulin] all over your apartment?" Even poor Carsten, when he finds out that he won't get any kind of settlement from his dentist because the independent examiner reviewing his case is another dentist from the same area, is left to mutter, "Screwed again, by another fuckin' dentist."

"I'm writing from my perspective," Siue explains. "I'm not writing a book or a thesis. It's like ‘Here I am, I'm a punk, I'm sick, I wonder if there's anyone else like me? How are they dealing with it?' I find it inspiring to talk to these people that have these hurdles to overcome." Contact Sick Punks, 500 Crawford St., Toronto, ON M6G 3J8,