The Central Maine Sanatorium, originally The Chase Memorial Sanatorium, opened in 1910 as a hospital to treat tuberculosis patients. As the rate of tuberculosis cases rose, so did the need for treatment. Extending the intimate hospital setting, construction of wooden buildings took place in 1912 but were unfortunately lost in a fire one year later. The hospital quickly bounced back rebuilding with the addition of a surgical wing and children’s unit.

At the time, there were three Maine (pun not intended) treatment centers for patients with tuberculosis. Western Maine Sanatorium, Central Maine Sanatorium, and Northern Maine Sanatorium. In more southern regions of the state, patients who seemed to be responding to treatment and were more likely to be cured were admitted or transferred to Western Maine Sanatorium in Hebron, ME. Otherwise, they remained or were transferred to Central Maine Sanatorium in Fairfield, ME. In northern regions of the state patients with tuberculosis were admitted to the Northern Maine Sanatorium in Presque Isle, ME. The Central Maine Sanatorium closed in 1970 with a portion of its rooms remaining open as the Pleasant Hill Nursing Home eventually closing in 2001.

Consider helping me deliver more content: https://www.patreon.com/imarrowsj

(All photos below were taken by my good friend and talented photographer Tamara Gaal who has kindly allowed me to share them here with you all! Go give her a follow on Instagram: @tamaragaal. Thank you again, Tami, for joining my team and I on this paranormal hunt through this relic of Maine history.)

Front View

Hallway

Room 1

Chair

Device Thingy

Furnace Room

Grandma's House

I Died In Here

Observation Window Shattered

Porch

Ouji Board

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Within this blog post, I’ll be discussing the creation of the short story series All My Friends Are Freaks. The significance of each of the main characters; Ethan, Twitch, and Annie will be outlined alongside a drafted map of the behavioral health center with actual photos from inside the facility! Additionally, I’ll be responding to your questions from the All My Friends Are Freaks Q&A.

SPOILER ALERT: The information within this post may reveal important plot points within the series. If you haven’t read them yet, I’ll link all three parts below. As always, they’re FREE to read!

PART ONE: All My Friends Are Freaks

PART TWO: All My Friends Are Freaks: Part Two

PART THREE: All My Friends Are Freaks: Part Three

Let me share some initial thoughts before I get rambling about the infamous children’s unit veterans; Ethan, Twitch, and Annie. All My Friends Are Freaks has been a culmination of personal perseverance, reliving unfortunate traumas, and balancing the right mix of reality with fiction. I felt like I was there, every step the veterans take on and off the unit. Putting myself back in those hospital socks wasn’t something I was comfortable doing at times, but boy howdy did I enjoy fighting for these characters and I’m hoping you did as well. Again, just wanted to say thank you to those who sent in questions either in person, Instagram, Twitter, or wherever. Thank you to all my readers!

ETHAN

In the original first draft of All My Friends Are Freaks I wanted Ethan to seem like life on the children’s unit was just another day. Moving forward I found him to best to represent the struggle many of us have to fight to belong, even when our peers respect us for who we are. Our anxiety spikes when we’re put under the spotlight, unable to perform mundane tasks, such as Ethan buttering toast like in part one. Ethan is the friend who constantly tries to show you that he cares to the point where it annoys you. He’s the friend that needs a reminder that he’s doing great things and you appreciate his presence. The friend who almost always says he’s “fine” even with a black eye and a bruised abdomen.

TWITCH

Mason Gatto AKA Twitch is a twelve-year-old foster child living with photosensitive epilepsy. Twitch’s experiences and motivations closely relate to my own. This character was intended to mirror my own struggles and triumphs within the behavioral health care system. Part two took a ton of self-exploration and putting myself back into moments where I was most uncomfortable, very vulnerable, and extremely malleable. I’m sure many artists and writers go through this process and if you have, I value and appreciate your courage to do so. There’s not much more I’d like to say about Twitch, but if you have any further questions feel free to reach out here or on Twitter and Instagram: @iMarrowsJ.

ANNIE

The character basis for Annie, as mentioned in my twitter feed a while back, is closely resembled by a close friend I had in one of these facilities growing up. She’s headstrong to a point of stubbornness and will do anything for her friends. In reality, she was, much like many others who frequented these facilities, a self-injurer that was prone to cutting. After a particularly stressful evening at home, she coped by cutting and unfortunately sliced through a major artery in her wrist eventually passing from blood loss. If you’re unfamiliar with self-injury, specifically cutting, those who use this unhealthy coping mechanism are almost never trying to end their lives, the bleeding releases endorphins which helps the body deal with pain and stress. I do NOT condone this method of coping and recommend if you are cutting to seek assistance from a trusted friend and/or adult. Regrettably, around this age, I was unable to truly grasp the meaning of our friendship as we both were attempting to navigate our own challenges. Later in my teenage years, a few of the other “veterans” and I grasped the harsh reality of her untimely death and were able to grieve appropriately.

If you or someone you know is suffering and believe to be using self-harm as a coping mechanism Text CONNECT to 741741 to speak anonymously with a crisis counselor.

If you are feeling suicidal, please know that you are not alone. You can call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.

Behavioral Health Center

Although an actual facility, I believe keeping its name and location redacted is definitely called for. The images listed below are stills illustrating the portions of the children’s unit. More specifically, the day room, nurses’ station, and a few extra things I’ll be sure to point out.

The Unit

Nurses Station AMFAF FILTERED

Pointing out a few things mentioned in the series. The nurse’s station where Twitch and Annie swiped pens from with the surveillance feed where Annie and Ethan watched Twitch noggin clock that MHW in the nose in the quiet room.

Surveillance Feed AMFAF FILTERED

The infamous magnetic locked double doors on the far left.

Double Doors AMFAF FILTERED

And of course…the observation windows into the day room with the bolt locked door that leads outside.

Outside Door AMFAF FILTERED

Unit AMFAF FILTERED

From the entrance of the double doors, a front view of the nurse’s station.

Patient Charts AMFAF FILTERED

Pointing out the patients’ charts tucked behind the nurse’s station where Annie and Twitch read through Ethan’s chart in part three.

Reader Q&A

Why is it called ‘All My Friends Are Freaks’?

All My Friends Are Freaks is ultimately for those who not only don’t fit the ‘typical’ label of society but also tend to be cast out because of their differences. Whether that be from their abusive past, their mental illness, or just their will to persevere…to survive. I’ve found that within the walls of behavioral health centers, especially if there’s a children’s unit, you’ll find hurt, shamed, abused, broken people; but you’ll also find a unique collection of people who actually understand the pain you’re going through. They get it. If you’ve ever said “you wouldn’t understand” to anyone, truly believing that you’re alone in your struggle, All My Friends Are Freaks is for you. It’s for us.

Why short stories?

Working mostly in the seasonal employment industry, I understand that time is valuable. Especially your downtime. I wanted to give my audience the ability to have a “full” read experience within twenty minutes to a half-hour. Specifically, with the All My Friends Are Freaks series, breaking it into three parts made drafting the change of POV’s smoother than attempting to squeeze them all into one piece.

Will all your works be short stories?

No. In fact, I’ve been drafting my first horror novel for about a year now. (More on that later.) Also, I have plans to pitch plays I’ve written to alternative theater companies around the US.

Why does Twitch only cover one eye in part three?

Twitch has photosensitive epilepsy and there is a reflex for some that when introduced to a potential trigger (flashing lights, fireworks, lightning, etc.) they will cover their right eye averting their gaze. For most individuals that are photosensitive, they tend to avoid situations where these triggers are present altogether. However, each individual could have different triggers with varying intensity of seizures.

Wait…is Twitch dead?

You tell me.

Would you consider writing an extra part from an external perspective like an MHW or Dr. Shaundry?

Yes and no. If this ever reaches a larger audience that calls for this, I’d love to come back and write a “special edition” sort of post.

Would you like to see your series adapted to film or television?

Hell yeah! Honestly, I’d sell this to a media outlet in a heartbeat under the stipulation that I’d be working closely with the writers. Keeping the characters accurate and true would be a priority as they’re important to me…and also me. Ha-ha.

How much of this is a blend of your own experiences with fiction?

Fantastic question! I’d say most of the “experiences” up to Samuel attacking Ethan at the end of part two sum up the non-fiction aspect. Although, not as “storybook”, the small things are what really made part one and two connect with my life. I remember being that kid in and out of hospitals and the MHW’s remembering my face, what my triggers were, plus the things I could get away with and how to help those new admittances cope with being in unfamiliar, and often uncomfortable, territory.

And yes…the Salisbury Steak is really that nasty. Ha-ha.

Once again, I’m hoping you enjoyed reading this series as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thank you to all my readers!

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

 

Prior to my trip to Six Flags Fiesta Texas, I took a quick glance at their riders guide online for accessibility options for photosensitive epilepsy. Usually, these warnings come in the form of a symbol or a phrase such as “this attraction features strobe effects or flashing lights” under the list of the attractions. I was surprised to see only ONE ride that specifically mentioned the use of “strobe lighting” throughout the attraction. Luckily, I had a few close friends alongside me as we wandered through the park. Coasters that have automated flash photography, I feel, should be listed on the riders guide, but I was able to find the location of each camera before boarding, justly preparing myself for that portion of the ride.

With that said, within this blog post, I’ll be listing the attractions that have a strobe effect warning along with the coasters that have automated flash photography (marked with a red “X”), those that do not, and a few tips for those traveling to the park with photosensitive epilepsy. (Like me! Woohoo!) Keep in mind that I’m not your neurologist and you should acquire a professional opinion before placing yourself into potentially dangerous situations. Also, some of the attraction lines are part of the experience and you are more than welcome to wait in line with your friends and family opting out of the rides before boarding. Hoping you find this information to be helpful!

NOTE: This will not include a photosensitive guide to the attractions within White Water Bay, the waterpark section of Six Flags Fiesta Texas nor the holiday and/or Fright Fest Attractions. Additionally, on page six within the riders guide they specifically outline the following warning:

“Theatrical fog effects, areas of low lighting, loud music, sound effects, and theatrical and strobe lighting are used throughout the park during Fright Fest. This includes streets, midways, outdoor scare zones, mazes, and haunted houses both indoor and outdoor, live entertainment venues and children’s attractions. Guests with respiratory sensitivities, history of seizures or epilepsy, or sensitivities to latex, loud music, and sound effects are advised not to participate in these attractions. Please adhere to all posted and verbal warnings and directions.”

Batman: The Ride

Boomerang

Buckarooz

Bugs Bunny White Water Rapids X

Crow’s Nest

Daffy’s Bus Stop

Fender Bender

Fiesta Texas Railroad

Fireball

Foghorn Leghorn’s Barnyard Railway

Goliath X

Grand Carousel

Gully Washer

Hurricane Force 5

Hustler

Iron Rattler X

Kiddee Koaster X

Kinderstein

Krazy Kars

Pandemonium

Pirate Ship Play Zone

Pirates of the Deep Sea X

Poltergeist

Road Runner Express X

Scream

Screamin’ Eagle

SkyScreamer

Spinsanity

Superman Krypton Coaster X

Taz’s Tornado

Texas Gunslinger

Thunder Beach Speedway

Up, Up, and Away

Waverunner

Wonder Woman Golden Lasso Coaster X

Yosemite Sam’s Wacky Wagons

Zoomjets

 

Personal Tips & Tricks:

Low Traffic Times and Sunlight:

A calendar listing the current operating hours of Six Flags Fiesta Texas can be found here: Park Operating Schedule

Depending on the time of year, special events, or holidays, their days and hours of operation vary greatly. Foot traffic and wait times at the parks is at its lowest on Sundays between mid-March and late April also, in late August and early November. I recommend booking your vacation during these dates and to avoid Spring Break and holidays if possible. Be sure to check the calendar for exact hours of operation!

 

Bring A Crowd

Gather ‘round, friends! Everything’s bigger in Texas…including the amusement parks. Bring friends or family you’re comfortable spending time with to explore together. It’s quite easy to get distracted and accidentally lose track of your group.

If you’re traveling with photosensitive children set expectations before going to the parks. A majority of the rides are photosensitive friendly, but most of the main attractions have strict height requirements. So, I always recommend making a list of the attractions that your children are able to participate in and plan your trip around them. Everyone deserves a day of adventure!

 

Be Prepared

You’ll be walking quite a bit spending a day at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. As I’m sure you know if you’re reading this that two of the biggest triggers for epilepsy can be exhaustion and dehydration. Bring what you need, or may need, into the parks with you. I always carry my backpack while traveling and inside is an extra pair of clothes and emergency meds, alongside a water bottle secured tightly to my side. Also, my medical alert tag proudly strung around my neck. There were at least two water fountains right outside each restroom that I saw. The first aid building is located behind the Grand Carousel ride between the restroom and Sangerfest Halle in Sassburg, the German-themed area of the park. I highly recommend bringing a water bottle with you or purchasing the refillable cup and finding times throughout the day to fill it with water to stay hydrated.

My photosensitive friendly attraction recommendation is Poltergeist!

Once again, these are just a few of my suggestions and you should acquire a professional opinion before making plans. If there’s anything I may have missed feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Twitter and Instagram: @iMarrowsJ. Wishing you the best and I hope your next adventure is full of wonder and excitement!

© John Marrows Some Rights Reserved

I wanted to preface this blog post by applauding the admirable level of customer service I received from the Guest Communications at Universal Studios Hollywood. After reaching out by email, I had received a phone call from one of their coordinators, who also happens to have epilepsy. They explained their experiences in the park with the understanding that triggers can vary by individual. The information they had provided made me feel more welcome as they overextended their reach from just informative, too personable and genuine.

With that said, within this blog post I’ll be listing the rides that have the strobe effect warning (marked with a red “X”), those that do not, and a few tips for those traveling to the park with photosensitive epilepsy. (Like me! Woohoo!) Keep in mind that I’m not your neurologist and you should acquire a professional opinion before placing yourself into potentially dangerous situations. Also, some of the attraction lines are part of the experience and you are more than welcome to wait in line with your friends and family opting out of the rides before boarding. Hoping you find this information to be helpful!

There are a variety of hotels that have partnered with Universal Hollywood offering early park access to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter if you purchase tickets online or with a vacation package. A select few of these hotels offer a shuttle directly from the hotel to the park, otherwise, you will have to Uber or Lyft. I stayed at the Comfort Inn & Suites near Universal in North Hollywood and the Uber ride was around $10 one way, which is great compared to the $25 general lot parking fee. Upon arrival, you’ll enter through City Walk, which has a collection of restaurants, department stores, and gift shops leading to the park entrance.

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem X

DreamWorks Theatre Featuring Kung Fu Panda X

Flight of the Hippogriff™

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ X

Revenge of the Mummy™ – The Ride X

Silly Swirly Fun Ride

The Simpsons Ride™ X

Special Effects Show X

Studio Tour X

Super Silly Fun Land

TRANSFORMERS™: The Ride-3D X

Universal’s Animal Actors

The Walking Dead Attraction X

WaterWorld®

 

Personal Tips & Tricks:

 

Low Traffic Times and Sunlight

Foot traffic and wait times at the parks is at its lowest between mid-January and early February. I recommend booking your vacation during these dates and to avoid weekends and holidays at all costs.

The park hours are listed online as follows:

Monday: 09:00AM-07:00PM

Tuesday: 10:00AM-06:00PM

Wednesday: 10:00AM-06:00PM

Thursday: 10:00AM-07:00PM

Friday: 09:00AM-07:00PM

Saturday: 09:00AM-09:00PM

Sunday: 09:00AM-07:00PM

These times have variations with possible early park access and/or during holiday seasons.

Once the sun begins to set, almost everything is brightly illuminated. Especially City Walk. Which can be beautiful, but also a potential trigger for epilepsy. Seeing as you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the parks and City Walk is the main exit, it’s best to plan your trip around the daylight.

 

Bring A Crowd

Gather ‘round, friends! This park is extraordinarily massive! Bring friends or family you’re comfortable spending time with to explore together. It’s quite easy to get distracted and accidentally lose track of your group.

If you’re traveling with photosensitive children set expectations before going to the parks. A majority of the rides are not photosensitive friendly, so make a list of the ones that are and plan your trip around them. Everyone deserves a day of adventure!

 

Be Prepared

You’ll be walking quite a bit spending a day at Universal Hollywood. As I’m sure you know if you’re reading this that two of the biggest triggers for epilepsy can be exhaustion and dehydration. Bring what you need, or may need, into the parks with you. I always carry my backpack while traveling and inside is an extra pair of clothes and emergency meds, alongside a water bottle secured tightly to my side. Also, my medical alert tag proudly strung around my neck. I was surprised to find that many of the fill stations were only for soda and juice and did not dispense water. When I asked an attendant for a cup of water, they mentioned they were only able to give an eight-ounce disposable cup with a purchase. I highly recommend purchasing the refillable cup and finding times throughout the day to fill it with water to stay hydrated. Some attractions have water fountains and if you ask a food service attendant, they will most likely fill your cup with water or direct you to another that will.

My photosensitive friendly attraction recommendation is WaterWorld®!

Once again, these are just a few of my suggestions and you should acquire a professional opinion before making plans. If there’s anything I may have missed feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Instagram: @iMarrowsJ. Wishing you the best and I hope your next adventure is full of wonder and excitement!

© John Marrows Some Rights Reserved

 

 

Be sure to check out part one if you haven’t already: All My Friends Are Freaks

Sunlight peaks through the ripped sheets acting as makeshift curtains in this distressing excuse of a mobile home. Crucifixes ironically line the walls with quotes of false hope like “God bless our home and all who enter”. Cigarette ash falls onto my head as my foster father reaches over me extinguishing another butt in a beer can on the coffee table. Sweeping the ash from my journal, I continue to write, scribbling through the obvious grumbles of hunger coming from my stomach. After a quick swig from his flask, he derisively snorts in my direction coughing up a loogie onto my notepad.

“Dinner is served,” he mocks, laughing himself into another coughing spell.

Grasping my skull for balance, he stands then stumbles towards the bathroom. Encasing the forest green ball of mucus, I close my journal listening to his stream hit the toilet bowl. My stomach rumbles once again. Curious if he has left any scraps on the table, I peruse hastily through the bottles, cans, and ashtrays uncovering a few forgotten chicken nuggets. Glancing towards the bathroom while his stream continues, I blow ash from my foraged treat. The toilet flushes as I begin to scarf more down chewing vigorously in anticipation of his return. With a painful swallow, I open my journal jotting down anything that comes to mind seeming busy. Making his way back down the hallway, behind my busy eyes I tremble, swiftly wiping the crumbs from my face. My foot taps anxiously, but I bury my head into what I’m writing.

Approaching me, he looms villainously, sporting a criminal smile. Belt already at hand, he takes a swing hitting the side of my leg. WHIP! Jumping to my feet, I make a break for the door. WHIP! Striking my back, I cry out in pain falling to the floor. Turning to him, I crawl backward shielding my face as he winds up for one more. WHIP! Breaking the skin on my arm, I hold it close to my chest. WHIP! With a backhanded return, he continues to lash until the fact sinks in that I’m an unwelcome guest. WHIP! Swiping the side of my head I fall defeated to the floor. A few moments pass, with some extra beatings to be sure.

“Oh look, the dogs pissing on the carpet again,” he leans over to shout in my face.

His breath reeks of brown liquor and stale cigarettes invading my senses like a toxic fume of discomfort and hatred. My vision gently fades as a light seemingly passes by my eyes. I can see him confidently stumble off dropping the belt by my side, whiskey bottle now at hand. Light passes by my eyes again, brighter than before.

“The convulsing has ceased,” a nurse sporadically states as others gather around me.

“We’re just passing four minutes,” another nurse says grabbing my wrist.

“Son, can you hear me?” he asks as I slowly open my eyes drained of all energy.

“Can you hear me?” he repeats.

Nodding my head, I realize I’ve moved to the floor. Groggily I turn my torso situating myself in my own puddle of piss.

“Do you know where you are?” he asks checking my awareness.

“The hospital,” I mutter flinching from the bright day room lights.

“What’s your name?” he continues.

“Twitch,” I confidently smirk back at them.

“Let’s get him up,” he states pulling me to my feet.

An MHW grabs my other arm as they drag me out of the day room. Picking my head up for a moment I can see Ethan standing by the doorway in tears. Placing me on an examination room table my head hits a pillow and I immediately want to fall asleep, but I can hear Annie screaming down the hall. The only reason I know it’s her is by how confidently she disses the MHW’s. No one compares to the amount of courage she holds within her heart. SLAM! The quiet room door shuts, silencing her cries. In attempts to sit up, my head feels full of concrete immediately touching back down on the pillow. Lowering the lights in the examination room, an MHW slides a chair in the doorway scrolling through their phone as my eyes gradually close.

The gossiping chatter of patients lining the halls of the unit wake me up. Sitting up slowly, I hold my head for moment regrouping my surroundings. Stepping out of the examination room, the remainder of the children’s unit is lined up to head out.

“Twitch!” Ethan excitedly shouts running over to me.

“Hey Ethan, you guys going to lunch?” I ask.

“Dude, it’s almost six o’clock. We’re going to dinner,” Ethan answers.

“What, no piss stains? Someone’s growing up,” he teasingly adds.

“Pretty sure I left it all over the day room floor,” I return.

We both share a laugh.

“Glad to see you’re doing alright. You scared the hell outta everyone,” Ethan states.

“Have you seen Annie?” I inquire after a quick look down the line.

“Not since this morning,” Ethan’s excitement fades.

“Dude, she thought you were dead. We both did,” he continues.

“We talked about this before, it happens all the time,” I try to explain.

“No Twitch, this time was different,” Ethan expresses making his way back in line.

“Eyes forward, silent mouths until we reach the cafeteria,” an MHW declares before waving his access card by the magnetic lock system.

A loud buzzing indicates the doors to the unit have been unlocked. Ethan waves as they make their way to the cafeteria. Dr. Shaundry slips through the open doors as the patients exit. Greeted by the nursing staff, Dr. Shaundry smiles and waves like a cocky pharmaceutical celebrity. The doors lock behind her.

“Mr. Gatto, glad you’re up and about. You’re just the person I wanted to speak to,” she starts.

“My name’s Twitch,” I reply.

“Right. Let’s talk in here, shall we?” she points towards the day room.

Head down, I follow her into the day room. Finding my usual seat, I pull my gown over my legs holding my knees close to my chest. Staring at the floor, even though it’s been scrubbed thoroughly, I can still make out my piss stain, faintly shining under the blinding fluorescents.

“Mason,” she starts.

“Twitch,” I sharply interrupt.

“Yes, Twitch. First, I wanted to commend you on being so mature this morning. The nursing staff mentioned to me that you exuded a bit of growth in cooperation prior to the…your…the emergency,” she continues seemingly suspect.

“With that said. The medication you received earlier today wasn’t intended…it didn’t agree with your system. Do you understand what I’m saying?” she questions in a conflicting tone.

I nod my head in agreement but remain silent and now a bit confused.

“Perfect. After careful consideration, I’ve decided to take you off SP1, and onto SP2. After a few days, we can explore the idea of letting you leave the unit, but for now we want to make sure you’re safe,” she finishes.

“We’ll talk again in a few days. Keep up the good work Mr. Gatto,” she states closing my chart.

“It’s Twitch,” I whisper to myself as Dr. Shaundry hastily exits the day room.

Dr. Shaundry checks her phone before making a stop at the nurse’s station. She seems upset speaking with the head RN. With their hands raised, they seem to be oblivious as to what Dr. Shaundry is upset about. Assertively pointing to my chart, Dr. Shaundry checks her phone once more, then exits the unit bumping the dinner cart on her way out.

Missing lunch, my stomach is prompt to remind me that it’s time to eat. The unfriendly aroma of the cafeteria’s poor interpretation of Salisbury steak lingers into the day room. Annie jokes that if you rinse the congealed gravy from the sides of that rubbery slab of the reconstituted meat product that it resembles the soles of our shoes they’ve conveniently confiscated upon admittance. I usually just smoosh it between two pieces of bread covering it in ketchup hoping to mask the stench. Approaching the steel shelved trolley, I begin to rummage around for a tray with a sizeable helping. One of the nurses turns to me with a false sense of pity.

“How are you feeling Mason?” she asks.

“My name’s Twitch and…alright, I guess,” I gently respond.

“Ah, well then…Twitch, thought you’d like to know that they brought you extra chocolate milk from the cafeteria,” she happily gestures towards a few extra cartons on another tray.

“Don’t they bring those when there’s a new admittance?” I question skeptically of her offering.

“Well, yes. You’re quite observant, aren’t you? Tell you what, you take the extra carton to the day room and it will be our little secret,” she states placing a carton on my tray.

“Sure, thank you,” I finish walking towards the day room puzzled.

“Ah ah ah, forgetting something?” she snidely asks.

“Pull the plastic from your tray here, you know the drill,” she continues pointing the trash can.

Uncovering the meat and potatoes, the rancid steam assaults my nostrils. Throwing the plastic away, the nurse sarcastically smirks as I turn away.

“Let us know if you need anything else, Mason,” she calls out as I enter the day room.

“It’s Twitch,” I say under my breath.

Digging in, I stick my plastic fork into the overcooked and under seasoned thin slice of meat. Using the edge of my spoon, I do my best to cut off a piece, but am unsuccessful. Placing my spoon aside, I lift the entire slab attempting to take a bite chewing forcefully through the tough lump like a vulture pulling the intestines from a rotting corpse of an elk.

“A little barbaric, don’t you think?” Annie mocks from the entrance of the day room.

I laugh a bit, grinning as I place my food back down. Taking her usual seat, Annie releases a deep sigh, then starts eating dinner. There’s an odd feeling between us that I can’t describe. I want to speak, but I feel she wants to say something first. A mutual misunderstanding. After a few bites, Annie just pushes her potatoes around her steak.

“I-“

“Look-“

We both start, interrupting each other. Our uncomfortable, yet calming stillness is accompanied by the steady rainfall outside.

“It’s not very good,” I start.

“Is it ever?” Annie shyly smiles back.

The silence returns as our awkward moment is spotlighted under the bright fluorescents.

“Did you see Ethan, yet?” Annie asks.

“Yeah, he’s alright, I think. Are…are you alright?” I ask.

“Am I alright?” Annie begins.

“You’re the one that almost died,” she returns.

“You spent a whole day in the quiet room,” I retort.

“Ethan thought you were fucking dead Twitch…and so did I,” Annie expresses.

“Look. I’m sorry. I don’t know what happened, alright? They gave me the medicine, then I had a seizure, and now everyone’s either kissing my ass or chewing me out. The nurse even gave me an extra chocolate milk because she thought it would make me feel better or something,” I vent.

“Wait, back up,” Annie says.

“I said I got TWO chocolate milks, you want some?” I offer.

“No, you idiot. What do you mean everyone’s kissing your ass?” Annie asks.

“Oh, well Dr. Shaundry came in right before dinner and took me off SP1 and said the medication didn’t agree with me or something,” I explain.

“Then, the nurses were all smiley and nice handing me an extra chocolate milk, it was weird,” I finish.

“They fucked up,” Annie says to herself.

“Yeah, they did. If there’s a new patient, they’re not getting any chocolate milk,” I boast polishing off the first carton.

“No, Twitch. They fucked up. Don’t you see? The medication they gave you is what caused your seizure. That’s why Dr. Shaundry took you off SP1, that’s why the nurses were being so nice to you, and that’s why you got a second chocolate milk,” Annie exclaims.

“They could’ve killed you,” she finishes.

“You’re thinking way too much into this,” I reply.

A sudden flash of lightning followed by a roaring boom of thunder adds to the torrential downpour outside. The unit doors buzz as a mental health worker enters with a new patient. The boy is audibly sobbing dragging a soaked knapsack behind him, his clothes are covered in mud and hair as greasy as it could be. Head down he follows the MHW into the evaluation room. Annie and I continue picking around our trays. After a few minutes, the boy emerges from the evaluation room with the same defeated look we all had after being felt up like we’re magically hiding weapons up our asses. The MHW holds his clothes and shoes directing him towards dinner trays and the day room. Shuffling slowly towards us he grabs a tray and makes his way in continuing to whimper. Annie and I look to each other, then back at the boy. He places the dinner tray in the seat next to him and pulls his knees to his chest.

“First time here?” I ask.

Looking up for a moment, a faint black eye shines back at us. Grasping my second carton of chocolate milk, I look to him again, then walk over to him offering it up.

“Hey, ummm…my name’s Twitch and that’s Annie,” I start.

There’s no response. Looking to Annie I shrug my shoulders.

“So, I think this was really for you, but they gave it to me because they almost killed me,” I continue.

The boy glances up with a concerned expression. Turning to Annie again, she covers her face with her palm.

“I’ll leave it on your tray. They like to take notes on things we do, so try to eat something. Doesn’t have to be much,” I say trying to be supportive.

“Anyway…if you need anything Annie and I have been here for a while and know quite a bit. Our friend Ethan as well,” I finish, taking my seat near Annie.

“Idiot, you scared the shit out of him,” Annie aggressively whispers to me.

“I did not. The last thing I wanted to do after the MHW’s probed me was eat,” I retort.

“My name’s Samuel,” the boy quietly states.

“Right. Like I said, I’m Twitch and this is Annie,” I repeat myself.

“How long do I have to stay here?” he asks wiping snot from his upper lip.

“Uhhh…well probably shorter than us,” I joke.

“Usually three to five days,” Annie jumps in slugging my shoulder.

“Your parents bring you here?” she adds.

Shaking his head, he begins to hold his knees tighter.

The unit door bursts open as the other kids arrive back on the unit rushing into the day room. Ethan sprints in moving my tray aside taking his usual seat.

“Dude! Did you guys get any of that banana cream pie? It was so good,” Ethan exclaims.

Samuel sits up promptly, staring at Ethan with intent in his glare.

“Hi. I’m Ethan, what’s your name?” Ethan extends in a welcoming tone.

Awaiting a response, we all sit awkwardly twiddling our thumbs hoping he might reply.

“Ethan, this is Samuel. He just got here while you guys were at dinner,” Annie affirms unable to look away from Samuels fixated gaze of Ethan.

“Well this sure has been fun,” I interject.

Collecting my scraps of food, Annie and I dump the trash from our plates outside the day room returning our trays to the steel trolley unit. An earsplitting shriek painfully echoes through the halls of the children’s unit. Pushed aside by a nurse, an MHW rushes closely behind into the day room. Through the observation windows, Annie and I observe Samuel pounce violently onto Ethan tackling him to the day room floor. Another MHW blocks the door as we watch Samuel viciously claw at Ethan, tearing into his gown just enough to break the skin on his chest. While the MHW’s attempt to rip Samuel from Ethan, Annie aims to barge her way through the blockheaded bodybuilder obstructing the entrance. Successfully restraining Samuel, Ethan hurriedly crawls backward to the far corner of the day room.

“Code green children’s unit. Code green children’s un-,” the nurse is cut off as lightning strikes nearby cutting off power to the hospital.

Annie shoves her way through hastily making her way to the back of the day room in aid of Ethan. The MHW at the door rushes to assist in wrangling Samuel who cackles wickedly, then willingly surrenders to the power of the MHW’s. Entering the day room, I pass by Samuel who’s sporting a conceited grin with a bit of Ethan’s blood dripping from his chin. He groans in agony as an MHW digs his knee deeper into his back. The fire alarm sounds before the antique backup generator can kick in. Shielding my eyes from the flashing lights, I continue towards the back of the room reaching blindly in front of me. Annie eventually grabs my hand pulling me behind a cluster of chairs as the alarm continues to piercingly wail. She’s screaming, but I can’t make out anything she’s saying. The lights are too overwhelming as I become dizzy. Squinting my eyes, I use one hand to visor my vision slowly raising it hoping to read her lips as she shouts.

“He’s gone,” Annie shouts.

“Ethan’s not here, we have to go,” she says attempting to pull me to my feet.

Unconfidently finding my footing, Annie directs us out of the day room. Afraid to open my eyes I can hear the cries of other patients as MHW’s cluelessly attempt to regain control of this maddening situation. Forcefully grabbing my shoulders, Annie shoves me forward into a closet closing the door behind us.

“Fuck, c’mon Annie that hurt,” I cry out.

“Shhh,” Annie whispers.

“We’ll be alright as long as no one finds us in here,” she continues.

“What do you mean Ethan was gone?” I ask with a low voice.

“He wasn’t there, Twitch. When they pulled Samuel off, he crawled to the back of the room, but he wasn’t there,” Annie quickly attempts to explain.

“You think he got out the day room back door? The power might have cut out the lock systems,” I inquire.

“No, no. Any door leading directly outside is bolt locked, he’d need a key. There’s no way Twitch, there’s no way!” Annie mutters frantically.

“Okay, okay. We’ll figure it out just try and calm down,” I add.

The alarm sound subsides, Annie and I cover our mouths as we hear MHW’s walking about the unit unable to gain control of the other patients. SLAM! Annie and I jump as the unit door bursts open without warning.

“All unit doors have malfunctioned, middle unit patients are attempting to escape,” an MHW shouts onto our unit.

“We need assistance immediately,” he continues.

“Two of us will stay here, the others will head to the middle unit,” another answers.

SLAM! They swiftly exit the unit as the doors crash behind them. We can make out a few pairs of boots from underneath the door. A thick pink substance runs from under my gown. Annie nudges me pointing to it, as I slowly sit up hastily wiping it before it leaks out onto the unit.

“The majority of the kids are back in the day room; how many are we missing?” the MHW’s converse directly outside the closet.

“I don’t know two…three?” the other answers.

“You search the right corridor rooms while I watch the day room. Then we’ll switch. No room goes unturned,” they split.

“Twitch, this is our only chance. We have to go now,” Annie insists almost pushing me out of the door.

“Go where?”

“We have to find Ethan while the unit doors are unlocked,” she persists.

“Fuck alright let’s go,” I muster the courage slowly opening the door.

Staying low Annie and I use the nurse’s station as a barricade. Glancing towards the quiet room, sounds of hissing and snarling echo towards us.

“You hear that?” I ask as Annie sneaks into the nurse’s station.

“Annie, no. C’mon let’s go,” I encourage.

Annie hands me a few pens, then we turn towards the unit doors. Glimpsing at the quiet room monitor on the counter, Samuel can be seen struggling. His limbs are contorted wildly as he gripes towards the wall. Annie and I stare at the screen in awe as we witness his bones bend and crack. Even without sound, it’s terrifying to witness. He stops. We turn to each other, then back to the screen. Samuel is gone.

“Go. Now!” Annie exclaims as we both sprint towards the unit double doors.

“You ready?” she turns to me.

“Let’s do it,” I whisper back.

With a quick look over our shoulders, Annie gently pushes the doors open just enough for us to squeeze through.

To be continued…

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Twitch’s urine-soaked gown trails a smell leading throughout the brightly lit hospital hallway. It’s unofficially the worst, yet most efficient, alarm clock the unit has ever had. We joke to all the newbies that it’s an acquired taste. With heavy bags under my eyes, I sleeplessly shuffle towards the morning meds line. Waiting nervously for a disagreement with the head nurse, I begin biting my fingernails anticipating a code green. Things have been relatively calm for the past few days, a skirmish with the MHW’s is long overdue. MHW, or Mental Health Worker, seems like they’re always out to get us. Most times it’s a buff dude who seems to enjoy restraining kids just a little too much if you catch my drift.

Like clockwork, I hear screaming from the front of the line. Code Green is called over the intercom and two MHW’s rush onto the unit, grabbing Twitch. Missing his first punch, he begins scratching violently at one of them. Digging into their skin, the MHW becomes enraged while attempting to restrain Twitch. Burying his knee into his back, the MHW finally wrangles Twitch as backup approaches. We all stare while Twitch laughs madly as they carry him off to the quiet room. As soon as that thick lumber-slabbed door shuts, most of us sprint toward the nurses’ station where a live feed broadcasts Twitch’s agony on a small, black and white surveillance screen. He’s no stranger to this type of spotlight. Taking turns, multiple MHW’s tie each limb with restraints as Twitch attempts to spit in their faces. Suddenly, we hear the med window slam shut. Some of us scattering into different directions, but the veterans stick around knowing they have about thirty more seconds before the nurse passes by with the sedative.

“C’mon Twitch, hit em’,” I hear Annie whisper to herself staring anxiously at the screen.

Face down before they can attach the last restraint, Twitch takes a shot in the dark, headbutting an MHW in the nose.

“Ooooh!” We all flinch with one foot already out of the nurse’s station.

Annie smirks with gratification before we run off to the day room. Finding our usual seats, we decide to get comfortable knowing we’ll probably head to breakfast late.

“Can’t believe Twitch noggin clocked that asshat in the nose,” Annie says to me amused.

“I know…how long do you think he’ll have to stay in there?”

“Who cares? Totally worth it. Those guys deserve every bit of hell we put them through,” Annie finishes.

Annie and I are considered veterans here on the unit. Which means we’ve been here more than twice, or longer than a month in a single stay. Oddly enough, both of which are true for me. Currently day thirty-four into my third admittance, I’m no stranger to this place. Not bragging, but if you want something done, you come to us. Sick of the golf pencils and broken crayons? We’ll show you how to snag pens from the nurse’s station. Miss your shoelaces? We can teach you how to tape makeshift grips to the bottom of your socks. All in all, this place isn’t so bad once you know how to get what you want.

Another nurse makes his way in handing out the remainder of meds.

“I hate taking meds before breakfast, always makes my stomach hurt,” I mumble to Annie as the nurse hands me a tiny cup of capsules and tablets.

“Dude just go throw them up before breakfast,” she whispers back.

With a disgusted look on my face, I swallow my prescribed nonsense. Annie tries to hold back her laughter. Her attention shifts out of the day room as she bursts into laughter. A naked man wanders aimlessly around the children’s unit. Another group of MHW’s flock in, but the man decides to bolt down the hallway. Our laughter is silenced as the man is tackled out of existence. Huddled against the shatterproof observation windows we see his body lay lifeless on the thinly carpeted unit floor. The head RN arrives on the unit, we all run to our seats picking up our morning surveys.

Casually holding a syringe, the head RN steps in as we diligently work on our self-evaluations. Perusing the room, she silently threatens us eyeballing each of our papers. Passing by Annie and me we both shiver as her presence draws chills to each and every patient. Handing our evaluations in as we exit, our chins fall to our chests as we stare at the floor. If the wielding of a syringe isn’t intimidating enough, her gaze ignites a painful glow from the core of your soul. So, I’ve heard. Lining up quietly for breakfast, Annie turns from the front of the queue imitating her vomiting technique. I look back with hesitation but can also feel the pills bouncing about my innards like jumping beans. Sticking my finger down my throat, I puke pills onto some other kid’s back. Just another average morning.

After cleaning myself up, we finally make our way to the cafeteria. Walking the halls off the unit is always an unknown adventure. Sharing mealtimes with the adolescent unit, we usually pass the adult unit traveling back from breakfast. If there’s a code during any meal, we might even pass by the middle unit patients. Told to avoid eye contact, other patients, and even some MHW’s, are petrified by some of the middle unit patients.

“So…any word on your discharge date?” Annie asks as we wait in the breakfast line.

“Nope. And after this morning’s shenanigans, I’m lucky to even leave the unit for breakfast,” I reply.

“Oh, c’mon. Kids vomit on themselves all the time. Have you heard the potential side effects of the shit they shove down our throats? Annie continues.

“I try to avoid learning about them at this point. Just makes me scared about what could happen next,” I admit.

“Fair enough. Ignorance is bliss, right?” Annie casually quotes taking her tray to a table.

Looking down, I realize my tray is empty. In a quick panic, I grab some toast and cereal from the line knowing they’ll be watching my food intake. I can hear the head RN in my head as my tray shakes nervously on my way to the table.

“If you’re not eating, then you’re not cooperating,” I hear her voice repeating quickly in my mind.

Over and over. Louder and faster. Each time more intimidating and forceful than the last. It’s like she’s digging into my brain with her dark red polished nails scraping away at any sanity that may remain. Leaving traces of poison that may singe over longer periods of time, or just when you think you’ll be happy once again she’ll be there burrowing deeper and deeper until eventually your head is filled with nothing but negative verbal torture of tongue lashings and passive aggressive stares or comments. In attempts to distract my anxiety, I stop to butter my toast with the back of my spoon. As her voice continues to antagonize me, I begin to lose focus on the seemingly simple task at hand. My spoon digs into my toast breaking through as tears roll down my face. Grinding my teeth, my brain cycles through people potentially staring at me, doctors judging me, MHW’s taking notes on me. I’m center stage to the freak show and I can’t seem to break this irrational spotlight of abnormal and incompetent. My toast has crumbled onto my tray as I unconsciously continue to butter what’s now just the palm of my hand.

“Ethan, it’s alright dude,” Annie whispers helping me bring my tray to the table.

“You gotta keep it together, the MHW’s eat that shit up,” Annie continues.

“I know,” I reply sharply.

Annie dives right back into her breakfast as I look around the cafeteria. Spotting two MHW’s by the entrance they look back at me suspicious. Promptly averting my gaze, I look down at my cereal as my tummy continues to tumble. I’m not hungry, but I know I have to eat.

“Thank you,” I mutter.

“Don’t mention it, I know it’s not easy,” Annie answers looking up from her cereal.

“And don’t worry about them,” she resumes gesturing towards the door.

“They wouldn’t last five minutes in our head,” she concludes.

I struggle to take a bite of my cereal, choking on the processed grain bits milk shoots from my nose. Annie chuckles quietly as I look down at my newly stained gown. I can’t help but smile at myself. We both share a laugh at my expense.

Finishing up what’s left of breakfast, we drop our trays at the dish return and line up ready to head back to the unit.

“Single file. No talking. Directly to the day room once we get on the unit,” an MHW strictly states.

Leading the way, the MHW takes a different path in route to the unit. Annie turns to me shrugging her shoulders. Everything here has order and reason. Where we go. How we go. When we eat. When we sleep. When we take meds. Leaving the cafeteria, we always take a left past the outpatient program groups and classrooms, passing through locked double doors leading us by the head psychologists and social worker offices. From there we pass by the doors to the hospital intake and evaluation rooms following a smaller hallway that leads to another set of locked double doors onto the children’s unit. The hospital is set almost like a honeycomb, and as you travel closer to the center, the more dangerous it becomes. Making a right out of the cafeteria, there are only two options. An area with laundry and janitorial supplies, or the set of locked double doors leading directly to the center of the hospital, the middle unit. Most locked doors are accessible by both electronic cards and keys. Due to the violence and elevated risk of escape from the middle unit, everything must be locked manually by keys making it more difficult to travel off the unit. Most of the patients don’t ever leave the unit, outside of a body bag at least.

We all silently follow the MHW. Newbies are still bright-eyed and cheery as the veterans stare at the ground, only hearing stories of the atrocities that take place in the middle unit. The hallway between the cafeteria and the middle unit drains any hope one may have as they draw closer to the unit. The lights to flicker and dim the closer we get. The newbies ignorance becomes irrelevant as the overwhelming feeling of melancholy engulfs us all. Upon entering the unit, the stench of human feces and the cackling of psychopaths plague our senses. Unknown stains line the carpet floors with the occasional shreds of hair seemingly torn directly from one’s scalp. Overwhelmed, I keep my head down trying to keep up with the line. I hear a man arguing around the nurse’s station.

“Blood. Blood is the key to freedom. Yes. Yes. It is! Stop! Blood,” he stammers wickedly.

The line stops as I accidentally run into Annie in front of me. We’re both frozen. I lift my chin, slowly opening my eyes. Annie turns back to me terrified. We’re all afraid to speak, so we wait. The stammering man continues to argue but there seems to be no response.

“You know. It will be clear. You bleed. BLEED! Make them free. Your blood. Blood is the key,” he argues.

Turning my head in his direction, his eyes meet with mine as if he’s been talking to me the entire time. The sincerity of his stare is unnerving, but I can’t look away.

“Bleed piggy,” he whispers to me.

“Bleed!” he yells.

Promptly facing my attention forward, our line continues on.

After fumbling around with his keys distractedly flirting with the visiting medical interns, the MHW finally unlocks the door. Making our way off the unit, I turn back for one last look. The stammering man smirks menacingly back at me waving with the tips of each his fingers. SLAM! The double doors close before me as the MHW reaches to double check the locks.

“Keep up Ethan. Not a time for daydreaming,” he states pulling his keys from the door.

Making our way back onto the children’s unit, Twitch sits contently in the day room finishing up his breakfast. Being on certain precautions means he’s not allowed to leave the unit until the psychologist assigned to his case signs off on it. Being another veteran, Twitch doesn’t seem to miss the cafeteria or gym all that much. However, the meals they bring to the unit are usually yesterday’s scraps or some of the many leftovers from the kitchen staff’s creative interpretation of Salisbury Steak.

Waving us in, Annie and I take a seat in our usual spots next to Twitch.

“Dude, I can’t believe you smashed an MHW’s nose in,” Annie enthusiastically greets Twitch with a high five.

“I can’t either. I’m sure he’ll get me back eventually,” Twitch replies scratching the back of his head.

“We thought you’d be in the quiet room at least until dinner, what happened?” I jump in.

“Well, when the nurse came in with the needle, I remembered the bruise I had from the last time. Remember? I couldn’t sit down for days,” he gleefully retorts.

Annie and I laugh with him shaking our heads.

“Anyway, I started to calm down and asked if I could just take the medicine orally instead. To my surprise, she agreed. Weird, right?”

“Wait. Doesn’t that medicine just knock you out?” I reply.

“Well, usually yeah but I feel fine right now. The nurse even called me mature for backing off. Said they’ll even talk to Dr. Shaundry about possibly taking me off special precautions soon,” Twitch continues, crumbling up his carton of milk.

“Having someone watch you poop finally getting to you, huh?” Annie adds.

“What’s really getting old is showering with the door open,” Twitch laughs as Annie and I look at each other in disgust.

“They won’t even give me a toothbrush anymore after I accidentally locked myself in the bathroom. Been brushing my teeth with a damp washcloth covered in toothpaste,” he explains.

“Ew,” Annie and I cringe together.

“Sometimes…sometimes I feel like I’m supposed to be here,” Twitch admits.

“You guys ever feel that way?” he asks.

Annie and I look at each other, then back at Twitch, then away from us all. I think we all feel that way sometimes. Not many friends or interests on the outside, our parents don’t seem to know what to do with us. I don’t even know if Twitch really likes his parents all that much. Urine flows from Twitch’s seat soaking his gown, dripping onto the floor around as Annie and I continue to wallow in our own puddles of self-pity. Taking notice, we begin to count the seconds passing as Twitch stares off into space. Other kids begin to clear the room, but Annie and I stay by Twitch’s side continuing to count out loud. His seizures only last about a minute, maybe a minute and a half. He told us to count and not to stop until someone else comes in.

“…44, 45, 46…” I continue on in my head as the nurse rushes in.

“How long has he been out?” he insists glancing at the second hand on the clock.

“…54, 55, 56…” I count out loud.

“Alright. Head outside, we’ll take it from here,” he persists pushing Annie and I out the door as MHW’s make their way in.

“Code blue children’s unit. Code blue children’s unit,” another nurse states over the hospital intercom.

Annie and I wait outside of the day room with the rest of the patients peeking in through the observation windows. Resting my arms on the cold frame, I continue to count cradling my head in my hands.

“…89, 90, 91…”

“C’mon Twitch,” Annie whispers to herself.

We can see his face, but not his eyes. Presenting a blank expression staring aimlessly into nothing. He seems peaceful in an odd way. Not happy or sad…just existing.

“…112, 113, 114…”

Time feels to be moving slower as I count, but simultaneously faster as more and more nurses rush in by Twitch’s side. I’m scared. So many questions flood my mind as the clock keeps ticking.

“…135, 136, 137…”

Everyone’s just standing around him. Nothing’s happening. The same nurse continues to stare at his watch holding Twitch’s wrist. Interns make their way onto the unit, notepads at hand.

“…163, 164, 165…”

Scribbling observations as they watch my friend sit before them like a lab rat wading in a pool of his own urine. Concern grows as more time passes.

“…188, 189, 190…”

“C’mon Twitch!” Annie screams running in by his side.

“Twitch! Twitch wake up!” she continues to shout as a few MHW’s pick her off her feet.

“Twitch! Please wake up! Please! Twitch!” her shrieking turns into pleads as she struggles at the hands of the MHW’s.

“Ethan help him! Ethan!” Annie calls to me.

I can’t move. I can only count. Frozen I wallow watching one friend fade as the other one is hauled to a now hellish afternoon in the quiet room. My tears collect in the window frame as my body remains still.

“…233, 234, 235…”

To be continued…

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Prior to my trip to Universal Orlando, I researched what attractions I’d be able to take part in. Unable to find specific information dedicated to epilepsy, I decided to reach out to Guest Services via email stating that I couldn’t find anything regarding photosensitive epilepsy and if they had any tips or ideas. The next morning, I was sent a helpful and friendly email from one of the coordinators of guest communications.

They go on to explain that the Riders Guide does not specifically mention guests with photosensitive epilepsy, however, there’s a symbol in the Riders Guide, and outside each attraction warning guests that the “Attraction is not recommended for Guests who have medical sensitivity to strobe effects”.

Sifting through the Riders Guide I was a little overwhelmed at how many rides have this warning and that my trip may not have been worthwhile. This was NOT the case. I had a fantastic time visiting the parks and would love to take this opportunity to thank the Universal Orlando Guest Services for the valuable information they provided. Thank you!

With that said, within this blog post I’ll be listing the rides that have the strobe effect warning (marked with a red “X”), those that do not, and a few tips for those traveling to the parks with photosensitive epilepsy. (Like me! Woohoo!) Keep in mind that I’m not your neurologist and you should acquire a professional opinion before placing yourself into potentially dangerous situations. Also, some of the attraction lines are part of the experience and you are more than welcome to wait in line with your friends and family opting out of the rides before boarding. Hoping you find this information to be helpful!

If you’re staying in one of the Universal Resorts, there’s a bus that will drop you off at the entrance to City Walk from there you’ll be able to branch off to both of the main parks; Islands of Adventure (Left) and Universal Studios (Right).

Universal’s Islands of Adventure™

Seuss Landing™

If I Ran The Zoo™

The Cat in the Hat™

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish™

Caro-Seuss-el™

The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!™

 

The Lost Continent™

Poseidon’s Fury™ X

 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Hogsmeade™

Flight of the Hippogriff™

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ X

The Hogwarts™ Express – Hogsmeade™ Station

 

Jurassic Park™

Pteranodon Flyers™

Camp Jurassic™ X

Jurassic Park River Adventure™ X

Jurassic Park Discovery Center™

 

Skull Island: Reign of Kong™

Skull Island: Reign of Kong™ X

 

Toon Lagoon™

Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls® X

Me Ship, The Olive®

Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges®

 

Marvel Super Hero Island®

The Incredible Hulk Coaster® X

Storm Force Accelatron® X

Doctor Doom’s Fearfall® X

The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man® X

 

Universal Studios Florida™

Production Central

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem™ X

Shrek 4-D X

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit™ X

TRANSFORMERS™: The Ride-3D X

 

New York

The Blues Brothers® Show

Revenge of the Mummy™ X

Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon™ X

 

San Francisco

Fast & Furious – Supercharged™ X

 

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Diagon Alley™

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™ X

The Hogwarts™ Express – King’s Cross Station

 

World Expo

FEAR FACTOR LIVE X

MEN IN BLACK™ Alien Attack™ X

 

Springfield: Home of the Simpsons

Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl

The Simpsons Ride™ X

 

Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone™

Animal Actors On Location!™

A Day in the Park with Barney™ X

Curious George Goes to Town℠

E.T. Adventure™ X

Fievel’s Playland™

Fievel’s Playland™ water slide

Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster™

 

Hollywood

Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show™

 

Personal Tips & Tricks:

  1. Low Traffic Times and Sunlight

Foot traffic and wait times at the parks is at its lowest between mid-January and early February. I recommend booking your vacation during these dates and to avoid weekends and holidays at all costs.

The parks open at 09:00AM* and close at 07:00PM* with variations on possible early park access and/or holidays.

Once the sun begins to set, almost everything is brightly illuminated. Especially City Walk. Which can be beautiful, but also a potential trigger for epilepsy. Seeing as you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the parks and City Walk is the main exit, it’s best to plan your trip around the daylight.

  1. Bring A Crowd

Gather ‘round, friends! These parks are extraordinarily massive! Bring friends or family you’re comfortable spending time with to explore together. It’s quite easy to get distracted and accidentally lose track of your group.

If you’re traveling with photosensitive children set expectations before going to the parks. A majority of the rides are not photosensitive friendly, so make a list of the ones that are and plan your trip around them. Everyone deserves a day of adventure!

  1. Be Prepared

On average you’ll walk anywhere from five to seven miles spending a day at one of the Universal parks. As I’m sure you know if you’re reading this that two of the biggest triggers for epilepsy can be exhaustion and dehydration. Bring what you need, or may need, into the parks with you. I always carry my backpack while traveling and inside is an extra pair of clothes and emergency meds, alongside a water bottle secured tightly to my side. Also, my medical alert tag proudly strung around my neck.

Once again, these are just a few of my suggestions and you should acquire a professional opinion before making plans. If there’s anything I may have missed feel free to comment below or reach out to me on Instagram: @iMarrowsJ. Wishing you the best and I hope your next adventure is full of wonder and excitement!

© John Marrows Some Rights Reserved

Waking to an unbearable pain, I begin to grind my teeth failing to convince myself to fall back asleep. Scrolling through my symptoms on the internet I’m fed ridiculous amounts of red flags and hypotheticals. Unable to fully extend my torso I stumble half-bent, like a miserable hunchback towards the front door. Trusting the fresh air may give some relief, I step outside to admire the clear Texas night. The moonlight accompanies millions of stars dimly illuminating the surrounding farmland. With a moment of peace, I take a deep breath through my nostrils lengthening my poor posture. Immediately regretting this decision, the pain heightens as I’m forcibly bent over once more. After a short spout of obscenities and pleading to a deity I don’t believe in, I ask a friend to drive me to the hospital. Like a determined senior citizen rushing for the early bird special, I shuffle to her car.

“I’m so sorry,” I mumble in agony trying to find a comfortable seating position.

“It’s alright… if it was me, I’d want someone to do the same,” she expresses.

“I really do appreciate it,” I continue.

“I was up anyway, wasn’t sure why…but I was up,” she explains.

About twenty minutes from the emergency room, I roll the window down letting the crisp Texas fall air cool the back of my neck. At this point, nausea is an understatement. The pain has reached a point where I’m unable to speak without some type of abdominal repercussions. Pulling into the parking lot, I’m astonished how empty it is. Growing up in a city, I guess I’m oblivious as to how empty the ER might be on a Saturday at 01:30AM in rural Texas. Anxious, my brain begins to cycle through the possibility of surgery, my fear of needles, the chances of having a seizure because of the added stress, dehydration, and sleep deprivation. Before my thoughts get the best of me, a throbbing protuberance from my gut reminds me to keep hobbling inside.

Greeted by an empty waiting room, a security guard stands patiently behind the intake window. A nurse pops his head out of the unit door as my friend casually gestures at me hunched over. Turning my head, I smile grinding my teeth. Explaining my symptoms, they presume appendicitis as a possible diagnosis. Beginning to prepare an IV, the nurse throws me a gown asking the generic medical history questionnaire. Struggling to find a comfortable seating position, I writhe around clenching my fists. After changing into the gown, another nurse hands me a urinalysis sample cup. Having to pee anyway, the only issue is the level of pain it might take to stand back up. With assistance from a few, I make it to the restroom to provide an adequate sample, then make my way back to lay down.

Asking for my arm, he doesn’t grasp how intense my phobia of needles truly is. I’m not upset, I’m afraid, and he’s just trying to do his job. My entire body begins to tremble as my nerves act up and my mind plays an amateur snuff film where I’m the unpinned voodoo doll of a deranged witch doctor. Offering her hand, my friend consoles graciously understanding this is an uncomfortable situation for me.

“The fluids may feel a bit cold,” the nurse states taping over the IV catheter.

“What’s your pain level at?” he asks.

“Around a seven,” I reply continuing to shake on the hospital bed.

“Alright, well we’re giving you fluids, Ofirmev for the pain, Zofran for nausea, and Toradol for the inflammation while we get you set up with a CT scan here shortly, in the meantime try to relax a bit,” he continues.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m shaking…I’m sorry,” I continually apologize as my pain level rises.

“Not a problem, that pain medicine takes about twenty minutes to take effect. If you’re still having issues, we can give you something a little stronger. I’ll give you some space and check on you in a few minutes,” he finishes with a pleasant smirk.

My pain level gradually escalates as I’m attempting to distract myself talking to my friend about work and checking my phone. Unable to mask the level of pain, my body squirms as tears roll down my face. The sensation of fire ants seeking shelter within the burrows of my intestines becomes a growing constant. This is it, I thought to myself. This is how it ends.

The radiology technician explains the process of the CT scan as others help in transferring me onto the motorized exam table. My friend stands patiently behind the window viewing the screen with the technician.

“Essentially, the system is going to take a three-dimensional image of your abdomen,” he begins.

“Once you’re under the imaging device, I’ll need you to hold your breath as it processes through, can you do that?” he requests.

I nod in agreement as a nurse fiddles with the injection port of my IV.

“You’re going to feel a warm sensation throughout your body,” The radiologist calls out a little too late.

An extreme warmth floods my insides conjuring nausea unlike any I’ve ever experienced. Turning my head to the side, I believe I might vomit. The unpleasant feeling lingers as the exam table begins to slide into the cylindric imaging device.

“The warmth is from the omnipague and it lights up your organs on our monitor here so we’re able to see better,” the technician explains as I’m attempting to breathe through intense nausea.

“Alright, I’m going to give you a countdown. When I get to one, I want you to hold your breath as long as you can or until the imaging is complete, you understand?” he requests.

“Yes,” I reply swiftly, anxious to get out of this claustrophobic death magnet.

“Three…two…one,” he counts down.

Taking a deep breath in through my mouth the exam table underneath me evaporates as I fall into a cratered pit dropping into a lake of murky water. Opening my eyes, the surrounding water is a dreary shade of grey with floating remnants of dismembered limbs and shredded hospital gowns. Making my way to the surface, I spot a rocky shore a few meters out. Sprinting through the foul open waters, my hands pull through unknown extremities as my feet are teased by the leftovers of nameless corpses.

Trudging onto land, the jagged stones dig into the bottoms of my feet bringing me to my knees. In disbelief, I lay ashore for a moment as the rancid waves continue to crash onto me. Crawling forward, two torches ignite posted at the entrance of an ominous cavern.

“Oh, c’mon, am I dead?” I complain attempting to pick myself up off the rocks.

Rising to my feet, I notice my abdominal pain has subsided. Examining the rest of my body, my fingers run across a delicate burn that travels up the side of my torso. Seeking better light, I walk towards the cavern entrance grabbing a torch. As I shine the flame upon my flesh it begins to pulsate rapidly, stressing scales that glow in its embers.

“Alrighty then…painkillers must have kicked in,” I conclude resuming into the depths of the cavern.

Passing the threshold, the other torch dies down, disintegrating to dust. A gentle gust hauled its ashes along the bouldering moist walls of the cavern. Funneling through the seemingly endless depths of the hollow, the only element that seems to differentiate is the air temperature. As I decide to take a moment of rest a violent quake strikes the ground followed by a powerful wind that carried the stench of the waters below. The sounds of roaring rapids approach as I begin running in the opposite direction. A dim light ahead inspires me to dash promptly towards it. Within arm’s reach, the waters engulf me, viciously tossing me around like a ragdoll in the washing machine.

My frightened eyes awaken on the exam table now surrounded by doctors. The pillow underneath my head covered in sweat, I attempt to adjust to the light of the room becoming increasingly dizzier. Spewing onto the soiled linens, the doctors assist in shifting my body, so I don’t choke on my own vomit. Gagging, my eyes grow wider as something blocks my airway. Encouraging me to cough, the nurse begins delivering back blows as they rise me to a standing position. Expelling blood from my throat, a charcoal black serpent slithers from my esophagus to the floor making its way down the hospital halls leaving a trail of blood, bile, and ash. Falling lifeless to the floor, my corpse begins to burn, crumbling before the feet of the group of mystified health professionals. My friends’ whereabouts are still unknown.

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

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Today’s a difficult day for me. Air travel. It’s nothing new, in fact as a nomad I travel constantly from state to state depending on what seasonal job openings there are. With epilepsy it’s not impossible to get a driver’s license, but I’d say it’s more on the rare side if someone with epilepsy drives. Having photosensitive epilepsy (affected by flashing lights) is rarer than people think if they’ve never met someone with epilepsy. Only around 5% of people with epilepsy are photosensitive. If you’re interested I explain my epilepsy in more depth here: Formerly Known As Petit Mal: My Epilepsy

“Ambulances for me, are like irony on wheels.” from BBC Three Video-Things Not To Say To Someone With Epilepsy

My Advice

When I’m traveling there’s a few guidelines I like to follow to make traveling with epilepsy less stressful and more enjoyable. Note that this is the system that works for me, everyone’s epilepsy differs, and their needs may vary.

Plan Accordingly: The best time to purchase a flight is around fifty days out from the departure date. I recommend choosing an aisle seat if possible. Giving you plenty of time to organize things you may need such as extra medications for longer trips.

Sleep Well: A lot of flights, especially if you’re on a budget like me, may be more financially friendly if they’re early departures or red eye flights. No shame in being budget smart but be sure to get an adequate amount of sleep the night before if you’re not a fan of sleeping on planes. (Around 8-10 hours.)

Come Prepared: While traveling I usually have one checked bag and my backpack as a carry on. In my backpack, alongside my laptop and my current novel obsession, I have my emergency medication and an extra pair of clothes folded neatly inside a plastic grocery bag.

Medical ID Bracelet or Necklace: Having some sort of medical ID with your name, home address, primary care physician or emergency contact number could benefit you in case of an emergency.

Communicate: Admittedly, the first time I tried to converse with people sitting next to me I was quite embarrassed. However, more times than not we end up having an intelligent conversation on epilepsy and they speak about their friend that has epilepsy or a family member. Communicate to them that there’s a possibility of you having a seizure and what they can do to help. We’re all human.

My Experience

Out of the dozens of flights I’ve taken, I’ve had two seizures at the airport before boarding and none while airborne. (Knocks violently on every piece of wood. Ha-ha.) By becoming more comfortable and actively speaking about my epilepsy to others, I believe that air travel has become less stressful overall. Taking the time to note what I need to be safe and relaxed while traveling instead of worrying what others might think was the most difficult, but most important note I remind myself every time I fly.

I hope this finds you well and that you don’t let your epilepsy deter your traveling desires. If there’s any travel tips I missed or some that you’d like to add, feel free to comment below!

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved

Formerly known as petit mal seizures, absence seizures are caused by an intense, and abnormal, electrical activity in the brain. Most of the time neurons (your brain’s nerve cells) communicate with one another through bursts of tiny electric indicators. With seizures, these indicators become irregular. Some seizures have interrupting activity within the entire brain (generalized seizures), while others may affect an isolated part of our brain. Petit mal, or absence seizures, are a form of a generalized seizure.

Wow, thanks science!

If you’re not a medical professional, pre-med student, or my neurologist (who am I kidding, I don’t have health insurance), here’s the simplified version in case we ever meet for some reason. Ha-ha. *cries on the inside from loneliness*

Absence seizures typically last around ten and thirty seconds, sometimes one minute and three minutes, and are more common in kids ages 5-15. It’s not always easy to point out unless you know the person has epilepsy, but essentially the person will just stop whatever they’re doing and seem to stare into space. Regularly referred to as “spells”, they vary greatly in frequency from rarely ever, to several times per hour. Personally, mine can last up to about two minutes and more commonly come in clusters (one after the other), if I’m not taking proper care of myself. Besides loss of consciousness, I also lose control of my bladder. After one occurs, I’m usually just a little groggy and tired. If there’s a day where I have multiple seizures I’ll most likely be wiped out for the next two or three days. Some triggers I’m able to control include dehydration, sleep deprivation, and hunger. Triggers that are out of my hands, and the main causes include being photosensitive (flashing lights) and anxiety (racing thoughts). Obviously, if I’m not eating well than it’s more likely to happen. There’s a lot of foods I avoid because they potentially can trigger a seizure. (I’ll save that list for a future post.) Growing with my epilepsy I’ve learned to manage it quite well and know where to limit myself when it comes to things like getting enough sleep and having a few beers with friends. What’s currently frustrating is that my epilepsy subsided in my late teens/early twenty’s only to resurface now while I’m starting to get my career goals in order.

A gentle reminder that everyone’s epilepsy differs with triggers, length, type, and frequency. This post is not a one stop shop for epilepsy education and awareness. Yes, this blog post is informal, but I’m comfortable speaking on my disability and sometimes joking on it eases the seriousness of the topic for people that already aren’t comfortable. (Example: The lady sitting next to me in the airport during one of my seizures. Sorry, and no, I wouldn’t just pee on the seat at the terminal because I’m some lazy millennial. That’s a story for a different day.) Honestly, I do appreciate you reading this and hope that if there’s a disability you’re uninformed about that you’ll find the right resources to better educate yourself on that community. Also, if you have any questions on epilepsy I’ll be glad to do my best to answer below or point you in the direction of factual resources…or pastors that think I need to be exorcised.

© John Marrows All Rights Reserved