Third week of January; that’s as early as we can get you in. I think it was the blond woman with the sort of almost big hair and the Pandora bracelet who will smile enough to light up her workspace if you’re very nice to her but otherwise she’s not so much abrupt as firmly matter of fact. I guess you’re going to be that way if you don’t know what you’re going to get from patient to patient especially in light of that one time when Cletus was in the waiting room and some kid went so batshit the police came in and she had to stay to be interviewed. Well *that* wasn’t pretty.
I don’t think I can make it 3 weeks. My husband has just walked out, I’m 8 months out of lockup, I’m pretty sure I need a major medication adjustment and I need a therapist as fast as possible. I have a
friend here with me who’s a patient and she says I need to come in now and I know she’s right and then I started crying.
Do you need to go to the hospital now?
No. I think I can make it but please, please can you find something in less than 3 weeks?
In the end I don’t think she could. I mean, maybe she did. I know she tried like hell and I know I made the phone call pretty quick with Florkow just about standing on top of me telling me, it doesn’t have to be this way and me shaking on the couch with the phone in one hand and trying to light a cigarette unsuccessfully with the other. I’d been smoke free for 2 years and 2 months and 2 weeks and some change and that was the end of that.
What I do know is when I finally walked into his office I was a mess. A damn, sorry mess. A just barely holding on my teeth and fingernails mess that should have put me back in the hospital but I’M NOT GOING IN THERE BECAUSE I’M AFRAID OF WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN TO MY KIDS… and when I sat
down in his office I saw…
Dr. A.F. who graduated from the University of Ceylon in 1966 and moved slowly and with great deliberation and gave a broad, open smile as honestly as smiles ought to be. There were two very large paintings in his office, mostly orange and red with some gold through the center and I guess you
might call it abstract but maybe this is more like someone’s dream that happens in the sun in the middle of the day. The chairs were soft and red and not squishy and you could sit forward in earnest conversation or lean all way back if you must.
This was not a therapy room.
I saw this doctor every three weeks for a long time. In retrospect it was just like when I was on suicide watch in the hospital and they looked at me every 15 minutes except in the very beginning when I was ALWAYS within somebody’s line of vision and then you have no privacy and I might have minded a little more than I did except I was such a disaster anyway *but* you know you’re a little irritated by it until suddenly it’s lifted and *then* you feel a little naked or ‘out there’ and you kind of wish somebody was still watching you a little more closely. Am I really ok? Guys? Are you sure about this? It’s not like you were actually feeling suicidal ever but if they were that worried to start with, maybe they should still be worried?
Every three weeks. Honestly, it was a pain in the ass plus I was talking to a therapist at 7 AM every Thursday and that was a pain in the ass but it had to happen and then I got to see him every three months and that part was scary but it made my life easier. It took 36 months before I got to go
on six month maintenance and then one time I had to go back on three month maintenance because I scared us both.
See the thing is, and Florkow was so SO right, you can’t pull anything past this guy. Even if you’re lying to yourself, he’s going to see it in about 30 seconds. It’s going to be affect, or your breathing or your tone or your body language or even the way you walk in the door and sit down that might be different from the last way six months ago. What is appropriate versus the bench mark he has worked up on you. And in the beginning he has only affect and breathing and body language and he has to probe a little but in the beginning I’m sitting on the edge of the chair sobbing with snot running down
my face and he’s just handed me the box of tissues anyway and is writing like crazy so that’s not too hard.
Sometimes I think I’m OK because I want to be OK but he asks a question differently and tears are running down my face and he just looks at me and I tell myself and then I tell him the truth and we talk about it a little more. My schedule and Elizabeth’s schedule alarmed the hell out of him.
He probed me like a freaking alien yesterday until he was satisfied and he recorded, right in front of me, his notes about how I was and that’s how I know exactly what he’s looking for. Finally. Why is he letting me know this?
Now I have to tell you something personal. Personal? Youdon’t tell me personal things because that’s not professional. I only knowyou’re from Sri Lanka because I looked you up and I know you take long
vacations and that’s culturally expected and I asked you some leading questions that I really didn’t expect you to answer much so I know you have family to visit. Personal?
So here it comes. If he graduated from the University of Ceylon in 1966 he is at least 26 years older than me unless he is very ambitious and skipped some years. Even so. Do the freaking math. He’s old. OK, old is subjective. He doesn’t look old. He doesn’t seem old. He should still be practicing. No doubts there. But I know he medical malpractice insurance has been climbing because I know how this works and in the back of my head I’ve been doing the math for a while now and wondering how much time I’ve got left with him. It’s not like my internist I tell myself. Bullshit, it’s almost worse. This guy is diagnosing, treating and prescribing in a field where people go batshit ballistic and blow shit, themselves and other people sideways and halfway into next week. Where things can go terribly, terribly wrong.
He has not retired, he has moved full time into the administration of the practice. It is true that the practice is too big for a part time administrator and I know what he’s like as an administrator because
there are 7 doctors and 22 therapists and I used to see one of the therapists and she was clear that he was all over them about the patients. He’s going to be all over them even more.
I have a new doctor now. He’s picked her out for me. If I don’t like her I’m to call him and he’ll pick out another. If there are no good fits in the practice, he will take me outside the practice. One way or another, he will find me a good fit.
I am crying, leaning forward in my chair. He has handed me the box of tissues.
I manage to stop crying long enough to thank him for taking care of me. He assures me that he will still be taking care of me, he just won’t be my doctor anymore. He asks if I know what it means to be the administrator of a practice like this one. I tell him that yes, actually I do and I describe what I think his function is and he says yes, that’s about right and then adds a few things.
We talk a little more, he says some more things about NM and then we say good-bye. I am still crying and the does the most amazing thing. He hugs me.
And I walk out the door.
Into a waiting room full of possibly volatile people and I am crying with snot running down my face and I think, crap, Alecto, pull yourself together. Bad idea.
And I do.
By the time I get to the parking lot I feel almost numb and I’m confused and upset and I can’t think straight and I wonder…
How will I know if I’m not alright?
Last night I was lying in bed and I thought about this:
Just about five years ago I was driving north into Vermont with my husband into the town of Jamaica because it was our third anniversary and I was hoping it wasn’t going to be another awful weekend away that ended with me in tears literally all night long, as in, right into dawn. Come the end of December I was laying in my bed in a self-constructed cocoon trying to figure out how to 1. Not throw up into my daughter’s hands again, 2. Keep breathing normally and 3. Wondering how long this could possibly go on (it went on for almost 2 years before it actually let up enough to be measurable).
Fast forward to last night and I was lying in my bed having ended a conversation with my boyfriend early and somewhat abruptly because I wasn’t able to cope with conflict (and it was minimal and not awful conflict) in a really raw and uncomfortable state and realized, 1. I’d wiped my last husband’s
remains pretty much the hell out, 2. This doctor has been with me the entire time (just about) and I really am OK and I really do not need him anymore and it really is OK to grieve and I really am responsible enough to have somebody smart enough to keep looking me dead in the eyes every six months to make sure I’m still in one piece because like a smart alcoholic, I will spend the rest of
my life going to meetings and finally… I don’t have to lay there sleepless, I CAN call my boyfriend back and start over and I’m not going to be up all night crying into dawn and not all dogs (men) bite and GOOD LORD BUT MY LIFE IS ONE HELL OF A LOT BETTER THAN IT USED TO BE…
No matter how busy and how tired and how stressed I might find myself some days. Maybe a lot of days. Even most days.