The actual story isn't quite finished yet (ie., I'm still twisted around like a bendy straw) but with part three, we arrive ever closer to the present. Check out parts one and two for yer perusing pleasure, ya sadistic bastard.
Sure, the place is ugly, shadowless and decorated with industrial auction furniture, but at least I’m not alone. A woman with a layer of tan over her varicose veins is braced against the receptionist’s desk.
I was referred here by van Heeren, the woman says. She has long curly hair that looks as if she's just run here from the shower. With a pair of flip-flops and a black t-shirt pulled down over a loose stomach, she imparts a strangely casual but institutional air to the office, as if the place is attached to a minimum-security woman's prison.
We have no paperwork on you, Ma'am, the receptionist says.
Phone them, the damp-haired woman insists.
I sit down on one of the metal-frame chairs. It's going to be a while before Dr van Heeren is roused from his mountain fastness to fax over some recognition of Ms. Ex-con.
After a surprisingly brief wait, the receptionist calls me into the doctor's office. The doctor is not there, and I understand that I’m meant to continue sitting and waiting, but without the stack of Cosmo magazines or the gurgling water tank. Why do they call you into the doctor’s office if the doctor is not actually in the room? I’ve never understood it.
The room has two chairs. One is the same vinyl-padded metal model that I escaped from, the other is a swivel-back office chair on wheels. The comfortable seat faces away from the door, which means that I’m to take the unfolded vinyl cube. I consider pulling the other chair around, but then the door opens and Dr. K. parades in. He holds his body straight as he turns to close the door, as if his legs and spine were threaded together and pulled taut.
He avoids eye contact until he settles in to his chair, swinging one leg over his knee and leaning back slightly, a shift in axis calculated to make me feel just a little bit at ease. Despite the fakery - or is he just a bit nervous? - I do feel a bit more relaxed.
I also find his face relaxing, which confounds me, because he has a peculiar complexion like blonde fudge trowelled thickly over cheekbone and jaw. The troweller left only a bit of space for his eyes, which have an obsidian glitter to them, which makes me imagine a skull of semiprecious stone covered in light-brown putty. He pulls up his lip to show teeth, and of course it's a welcoming smile.
So, he announces, I am Dr. K, a neurosurgeon. What can I do for you?
The accreted particles of goodwill blow away with that question. He's been reading my file. I've been to doctors, chiropractors, therapists, that guy with the needles and the little electric box: he knows all this. But of course he wants to hear it from me. So I begin to explain myself as if it's a job interview, and I can hear the severity of my problem begin to fade with exposure to the air, until I finish practically apologizing for the inconvenience to his busy day. Dr. K, who has presumably satisfied himself on the question of my submissiveness to doctors, tells me to get up on the table.
Dr. K owns the highest doctor's table I've ever encountered. Under normal circumstances there's no way I'd risk the pain of hoisting myself up on this thing, but normal circumstances had long ago run galloping into the woods, so I propel myself up.
The maneuver creates several different kinds of pain in different spots all over my body. First comes the standard pain of putting weight on my feet, which causes the tops of my feet to prickle, as if brushed by a match; then the surprising shock of jerking my body off the ground with my hands, which lets my hips feel the weight of my suspended legs for a second. The pain runs up from my hips to my shoulders as I twist my weight, and then my butt hits the table, which causes a starburst of pain radiating from the small of my back all through my hips and legs.
Okay, Dr. K says, lie on your back please.
I may not be able to do that, I say, still breathing deeply to expel the pain.
Oh, I think you will have to, Dr. K says. He's examining the X-rays I brought from home.
So I lay on my back. It's about as much fun as I'd imagined. K is studying the X-rays very closely, murmuring 'oh yes' and 'I see' to himself. I distract myself by looking at the bald spot clutching the back of his head, where it's all set to feed and grow.
Then it's test time. Or maybe it's just time to push my toes with his thumbs and run a little wheeled spur over my legs. I've had these tests so many times I feel like shouting out the answers before he gets to the questions.
Which one do you feel more, he asks, running the spur over one calf, then another.
The left, I say.
He runs the instrument over the shanks of my feet. What do you feel there? he asks.
That one's numb, I venture, trying to get it right. The other is... not numb...
No, he interrupts, it is not 'numb' and 'not numb,' it is subtle. There are subtle differences.
Then I remember that I'm an adult.
If you want the right answers, I say with my head raised a bit, then I need you to be absolutely clear with the questions.
He runs the spur over my feet again.
Which one do you feel more?
After the tests are over, he motions towards the floor. Okay, he says, you can get down now.
I roll on my side and take a leap to the floor. The pain hits again and I bend double to absorb it. I straighten up as best as I can, looking like a marionette hung on a hook.
Dr. K regards my ridiculous posture. For the first time in my life, I understand what the phrase incredulous look means. His eyes seem to protrude slightly to capture me at a wider angle.
Is that how you stand without the cane?
He turns me around and lifts my shirt. Oh my, he says. Oh my.
I will schedule you for a CT scan. The problem is that you must lie flat for ten minutes.
I will need a lot of painkillers.
Yes, he nods, and looks over my chart. You are young enough to take a lot of Dilaudid. I will write you a prescription. Before the CT scan, take 4 extra-strength ibuprofen and 4 mg of Dilaudid. Okay?
Amen, I think I say. I mean Okay. And it's good to be young. Or at least young enough.
I walk out with a prescription for smack and a CT scan in my near future. Joy.
Next up - Part 4: The Doctor and the Doughnut.