When you are sick, take notes. If you contradict yourself, then doctors lose interest. My relationship with doctors has been long influenced by this fear, that they would lose interest in me, leave a note to the receptionist to call other names before me, take my dying for granted.
Those offices depress me even more than hospitals do. An occasional patient left with good news, shook the doctor's latex stained hand and laughed like a canned audience, laughed at everything the doctor said, booming laughter with crude power, made a point to ignore us, the other would be patients, as he walked past the waiting room still laughing, already clear of us, no longer associated with our gloom, our anxious inferior dying. He lives as he exits, we continued to degrade as we waited. Emergency wards are the wells of apprehension, full of gun-shot wounds, slashes, broken needles, tired eyes, nothing having to do with my own eventual nonviolent, small-town, thoughtful death.
I tell this to Jenny.
"What did the doctor say?" she says.
"Take an aspirin and put me to bed." I'm slapping the top shelf of a medicine cabinet looking for some pills.
"That's what your grandmother said."
"I told him that. He said, 'Well, why didn't you do it?'"
"Why didn't you?"
"She's a grandmother, not a doctor--that's why."
"Did you tell him that?"
"I don't know what I told him," I say. I'm coating my throat with a fresh glass of water. I have amazing gag reflexes, even some foods fiddle with the hair trigger. "I'm never in control of what I say to doctors, much less what they say to me. There's some kind of disturbance in the air."
"I know exactly what you mean."
"It's like having a conversation during a spacewalk, dangling in those heavy suits."
"Everything drifts and floats."
"I lie to doctors all the time."
"So do I," she says.
"What?" I choke on the aspirin, but it wasn't the gag reflex this time. The staccato gasps of air change in pitch and quality. The rhythmic urgency has given way to a sustained, inarticulate and mournful sound. I am keening now. These are expressions of mideastern lament, of an anguish so accessible that it rushes to overwhelm whatever immediately caused it. There is something permanent and soul-struck in this choking. It is a sound of inbred desolation. She pats my back in sync to the pattern of my uncontrolled exasperation.
"Let's take you to the emergency room," she says. "Just to see what they say."
"You can't take someone to an emergency ward because he's choking. If anything is not an emergency, this would be it."
"Not for your choking, for the symptoms."
I cough up the aspirin.
"I'll just take this again."
She looks at me, a searching, pleading and desperate look. If a doctor who examined me thoroughly in his cozy office with paintings on the wall in elaborate gilded frames could find nothing wrong, then what could emergency technicians do, these people who leap on chests and pound at static hearts?
Maybe it's psychological. Maybe I'm anxious. Maybe I have a disorder: attention deficit disorder. Maybe I have neurosis.
"Just promise me something," she clasps her two hands together to make one fist and chokes the air in front of her.
I tell her sure and finally swallow the medicine.
"Don't die." She says this in an almost prescient way, like a darkness closing in, the ambiance becomes malevolent.
"I think the aspirin is working already." I hope.