I’m early, as usual. I pull my car into a far off parking space and throw it park, releasing my foot from the brake. It’s pleasant outside, so I take in the calming effect of the trees rustling along the corner and the steady, slow flow of traffic on the side street. There’s an elderly woman making her way up the steps to a nearby doctor’s office, which is actually a historic home that has been converted into a small office. She’s struggling to get up the steps with her cane when a younger gentleman, presumably her son, comes to her aid.
I’m really in to a new podcast series I’ve found called Detective, so I switch to AUX and turn the volume up. I’m listening to Lieutenant Kenda’s voice describe what makes a good detective, trying my best to calm my nerves before I get out of the car for my appointment, when a large truck pulls in the parking space next to me. “Why did you park right next to me? There’s a hundred open spaces elsewhere!” I sizzle. Kenda’s voice switches from intriguing to rather annoying in a split second. My neck and shoulders become tense and I feel a slight pain in my left temple. I swear, I never used to be like this.
Grabbing my purse from the passenger seat, I make sure to hide my losing Powerball tickets underneath a jacket. I’m sure some crack head might think they’re winners and break the glass to grab them, only to find out he’s still just as poor as I am. I wonder, for a very brief moment, if I would have kept this appointment had I won almost a billion dollars a few days earlier. Then I remember, money doesn’t make your health problems disappear.
The office inside reminds me of the NYSE floor, where stock brokers are hustling around with papers flying everywhere, sweat beads sliding down their cheeks as if they’re overcoming the flu, and myself looking in and thinking, “Gah, this is chaos.” I’m the youngest person in the lobby by at least twenty years. I’m wearing some rolled straight leg jeans, a pair of flats, and a navy and beige striped sweater. It’s my version of “soccer mom chic”, but from the looks I’m getting from the people around me, I’m Miley Cyrus post-2014.
I’m told to sit in a large waiting area until my name is called. “It won’t be long,” the receptionist tells me, but we all know how that goes. I settle in to a chair towards the front and bury my face in my phone, responding to emails with the hope I can at least get some work done while I’m out of the office. The television blares news from CNN, with ratty comments about the GOP debate set to air at 8:00 PM. At least I think it’s for 8:00 PM; my candidate won’t be in the debate this time, so I tune out. Literally.
“Neeli Faulkner!” I hear from a short distance away. “Nancy Broom! Harold Weathers!” Great, the “group call”. I know this all too well from my days as a pregnant woman, shuffling from room to room at Dr. Cater’s office as they bring me from a larger room to a smaller room and finally, after moving a few more times, a visit with the doctor.
The smaller waiting room is very cramped. Myself, Nancy Broom and her husband, and Harold Weathers pile into the smallest room known to mankind. The furniture is outdated and reminds me a lot of my mother’s old office at Redstone Arsenal. I only remember visiting there once, but I remember the office equipment. Staplers, phone, chairs…all “old school” now. This furniture is the same; brown, stiff, uncomfortable, yet professional.
Mr. Weathers is a talker. He’s probably in his sixties and rather pleasant on the eye for his age. Something about him irritates me, especially when he’s trying to keep a conversation going that is obviously dead. “Let it die,” I think to myself.
“Healthcare costs are just so outrageous these days. I can’t hardly afford insurance anymore!” Mr. Weathers addresses the Brooms.
Mrs. Broom looks down at her purse and nods. Mr. Broom responds, “It just goes up every year. Gets worse and worse. I don’t know how we’re going to be able to afford it anymore.”
“Yeah well, if people are smart they’ll vote in somebody that will take care of things like this. My vote is for Bernie Sanders. I say we just have universal healthcare,” Mr. Weathers crosses his arms in a matter-of-fact way and looks at me for approval. It’s as if he knew a conversation about politics would ruffle my feathers a bit.
I scoffed, let out a slight grin, and looked back down at my phone where I had continued to check and respond to emails. I see Mr. Weathers take a glance at my foot tattoo in disapproval before he asks, “What is it?”
“Mrs. Faulkner,” the nurse blurts out at exactly the right moment. “Thank God,” I think.
“The Bern won’t be getting my vote, that’s for sure,” I tell him as I scoot out of the room.
The next room I’m taken to is empty with the exception of a scale on the floor, a chair, and a counter with a few pamphlets on top. She asks me to step on the scale, which looks very similar to the one I have at home. I would expect there to be a larger, more expensive scale at an office like this. I don’t even bother to remove my flats; I doubt this cheap scale will differ much from the one I weigh on every week in the comfort of my own bathroom.
I’m not surprised by the number, but I am surprised by the nurse’s reaction. “Hmm,” she murmurs as she writes my weight down on my chart. “So I’ve gained 30 pounds!” I wanted to scream. She asks me a few questions that I previously answered on my new patient questionnaire, such as “Are you a diabetic?” and “How many miscarriages have you had?” She’s looking down at the answers I provided over a month ago as she asks.
“Okay, I’ll take you to the exam room now,” she tells me.
The exam room looks identical to the room I was just in, but I notice a strange area that appears to be a changing room. There’s not a typical exam room table in this room, so I’m confused why there would be a changing area. Would you just stand there naked? I don’t get it. I even message Jessica while I wait to ask her if that seems weird. She agrees.
The doctor comes in shortly after. Very quickly, in fact, because I don’t even have time to finish my response to Jessica as she walks in. She introduces herself, sits down in an extra chair, and takes a quick glance at my file.
“So you’re having a thyroid problem?” she says.
Well, maybe. I don’t know if I am or not. That’s why I’m here.
“Uh, I think I am. I have several symptoms, and my doctor suggested that I might be having an issue with it,” I respond.
I go into the long, drawn out story of how I ended up in her office even though my TSH levels have always come back within the “normal” range. I try to tell her what symptoms I’m having (such as depression, extreme irritability, constipation, irregular periods, lack of sex drive, etc.) when she interrupts me.
“You were a gestational diabetic?”
“Yes, I was,” I say, somewhat irritated that she interrupted me.
“Have you taken a glucose test since then?” she asks.
“Not a 2 or 3 hour or whatever, but Dr. Cater had me monitor my level and give her a report after my daughter was born. My sugars were fine after I gave birth, but I haven’t had it checked since then,” I inform her. I don’t mention the fact that I’ve randomly checked it periodically since then, and still no problem.
“Okay, well, we’ll check your labs today and see you back in two weeks,” she says to my surprise.
“Uhh, but what if my labs come back normal?” I ask.
“We will check your labs today, and if they all come back normal I will send you back to your primary doctor,” she says, walking quickly to the door.
“Wait!” I say, loudly, “I’m here because I need you to tell me what this could be based on my symptoms. I said earlier I was sure my numbers would come back normal, so what else could it be?”
“You could be a diabetic. Or it could be something else. Your primary doctor will be able to tell you,” she responds. She leaves the room, unconcerned about my additional questions.
That stiff pain in my neck returns, as well as the pain in my left temple. I clinch both of my fists together and attempt to count to ten, though it doesn’t help whatsoever. The anger is already there, so I just have to figure out a way to let it go. It doesn’t work.
I lean forward and place my hands on my knees, looking down at the floor in disbelief. I waited over a month for this appointment and expected her to at least give me some information like what kind of symptoms people have with a low thyroid and what kind of issues are often attributed to a low thyroid although it is likely something different. She didn’t bother to ask me about my symptoms or how long I had been feeling this way, or if I was under any stress or what kind of diet I have or if I exercise or how many times a day I take a crap or the last time I had a period or anything pertinent to why I even came to see a specialist.
I can’t believe I just tossed my $40.00 copay in a fire and watched it burn. I’m so mad I want to cry, but I hold it in. I’ve never been fond of crying in public.
Fast forward to the end of my appointment as I leave the building. It’s cold outside. The little old lady I saw entering the office across the street is now headed towards her car with her probably-son. She glances me a quick smile as she is helped into the passenger seat of her Ford Taurus. “She probably didn’t waste $40.00 at her doctor,” I think.
I slam the door to my Kia and instantly regret it. I’m mad, but I’m acting childish. I didn’t even smile back at the old lady and I was sure she noticed. She probably thought I was just some mean, bitter woman from a younger generation instead of an extremely frustrated wife and mother who has had quite enough of going to the doctor and giving a list of symptoms only to be told, “Try a low carb diet,” or “Take a bubble bath.”
I think of the last bubble bath I took. The water was so hot it turned my skin a bright, fleshy red. I sunk down into the water until my ears and eyes were covered, listening to the sound of the running water from underneath the surface. It sounded like a thunder storm at sea; I imagined a little shrimp boat struggling to stay afloat in the stormy seas. I arose from the water and leaned back against the back of the tub, splashing the hot water and soap onto my exposed knees. Hozier’s “Angel of Small Death and the Codeine Scene” blared loudly from my iPhone sitting on the sink. I drowned myself in the music and began brainstorming about the plot I’ve been working on for my book. The music was my muse; the water my drug.
And then, out of nowhere, the stiff pain in my neck. My temple. My chest.
I can’t catch a break. This cycle, so vicious and mysterious, eats away at me as more time passes. I crave an answer, even if it isn’t a low thyroid. What am I missing?
Here’s to everyone out there who is hesitant to tell anyone about what they are feeling due to the fear of being called a hypochondriac. Here’s to everyone who feels like giving up because you’re tired of hearing nothing is wrong with you. Here’s to everyone who knows there is something wrong but continues to waste money with doctors who simply don’t care.
I know how you feel. I am you.