Doctor’s Orders (Office Interludes 2)
Released August 4, 2017
Successful interior designer Josephine Karusso is resigned to the single life. Her chronic migraines make dating a nightmare. She goes to a doctor’s appointment, hoping to discuss new treatment options, not expecting to hear her doctor had to leave for an emergency. She agrees to see a different physician in the office; a Dr. Len Jones. She’s stunned to see he’s got wavy dark hair, beautiful green eyes, and the body of an Olympic athlete. She’s not at all surprised to learn he’s a judgmental jerk. She’s dealt with many medical professionals like that before. She confronts Dr. Jones over his insensitivity to her condition and is shocked when the seemingly hardened physician does a sudden about face by apologizing and referring her to his naturopathic doctor friend.
Dr. Len Jones lost his fiancé to a sudden tragedy and hasn’t been the same since. He’s been going through the motions in his practice and his life, remaining emotionally detached from everyone. When Josephine Karusso is added to his schedule for the day, he’s annoyed to be saddled with another whiny chronic pain patient. He’s surprised to see that she’s drop-dead gorgeous and has luscious curves in all the right places. When the fiery beauty lashes out at him, he realizes just how off course he’s drifted. And there’s something about her that makes him want to be a better doctor and a better man.
I don’t have a boyfriend. That wouldn’t surprise you if you knew much about my life. Who wants to be in a relationship with a 32-year-old woman who has daily migraine headaches, collapses into bed at eight o’clock, and runs air purifiers in her house constantly? My lifestyle isn’t exactly conducive to romance.
My mom says I’m a hypochondriac and most of my coworkers think I’m certifiably insane. I’ve overheard them talking about me too many times. Yesterday, I heard them from just outside the break room. This time, they were whining about my chemical sensitivity.
“God, we can’t even wear perfume or scented lotion or she goes ballistic,” Jana said. My supervisor quipped, “I wonder if she’s allergic to BO.” When everyone burst out laughing, I strode away from the break room. There was no way I was going in there. I decided to walk to a sandwich shop down the street instead. If I entered the room, they would quickly clam up or act fake nice, which only made their insensitivity to my painful condition burn worse. Why doesn’t anyone understand?
Migraines are nothing to laugh about. My life that could have been normal has somehow gotten twisted into a hell of nearly constant suffering. It makes me angry. I wish they could experience one endless night of piercing head pain where they’re desperate to soak their heads under hot water in the shower just to get a few moments of relief. Having just one person in my life get it—really get what I go through almost daily—would be so validating. People pretend to empathize, but then talk about me the minute I turn my back.
My coworkers say it’s all in my head, that I wouldn’t have so many headaches or react to smells if I wasn’t a nutcase. That’s pretty much what most of the doctors I’ve seen say, too. “If you change your attitude, you’ll be better,” they say. Before they try to prescribe me antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills and other remedies for people with neuroses. I understand anxiety and depression are real illnesses, but I’m only depressed because I’m in constant pain and almost never get a night of decent sleep.
Any day a terrible migraine doesn’t strike feels like a miracle, like I’m on a dream vacation or just won millions in the lottery. This is what my life has become. A crap shoot. If I don’t smell perfume or hear loud sounds or have sun in my eyes, I can finish the day without suffering. But just when I think I’m home free, something will set off a headache—some MSG mixed into a salad at a work luncheon or a whiff of cigarette smoke when I’m walking to the parking lot—and I’m careening down another roller coaster ride of agony and misery.
Right now, I’m at the doctor’s office. Again. I’m hoping my primary care physician will refer me to someone who can actually help. The last neurologist I saw prescribed daily medicine he called a prophylaxis that was supposed to reduce migraine frequency. But all it did was give me the brain function of a hamster. I start a sentence but then trail off with this awkward silence, because I can’t even remember what I was about to say. And it’s not fun to get home from work to a terrible smell and realize you put the milk in the pantry instead of the fridge. Geez. I need to at least be able to function like a halfway normal person on the rare day I’m headache free.
I step into the office and sign in at the front desk. The TV’s on too loud and people talking on cell phones fill most of the chairs. Sunlight reflects off of a car mirror, casting blinding light into my eyes. How could I possibly get well here when I’m bombarded by constant triggers? I shift enough to escape the searing flashes of light when the receptionist frowns and shakes her head. “Dr. Stevenson got called out for a family emergency. You’ll either have to reschedule or see Dr. Jones. He’s very busy today, but he has agreed to work you into his schedule if you still want to be seen.” She says this as if he’s endangering his life to agree to see me. Perhaps he’s been forewarned that I’m one of those crazies that can’t be healed.
“Fine, I’ll see Dr. Jones.” I know I sound surly, but I don’t care. I’m running out of patience with insensitive health care workers. Have they ever been really sick for even a day? Probably not.
“Is your insurance information still the same?”
“Your co-pay is twenty-five dollars.”
I hand over her my debit card and wait for her to process it and give me a receipt.
“Please take a seat. The nurse will call you when he’s ready.”
I drop into a chair and open up a new book on my iPad. Often, when I have free time and a migraine isn’t sucking me into a bottomless abyss, I read romance novels. They’re my escape. I read books set in places I’ve never traveled to like Africa, Southeast Asia or Europe where the heroines fall in love with a sheik or a prince or a military hero. Sometimes I get so immersed in the stories they feel real.
I’ll almost able to imagine a handsome Navy SEAL kissing me on a deserted beach, wrapping his arms around me and telling me I’m the woman he wants to spend the rest of his life with. I read a few pages of a book, but find myself unable to relate to it. The female character is too perfect. I can only identify with characters who are damaged goods—broken and fragile like me.
I stuff the iPad back in my purse. My mind drifts back to when migraines weren’t a part of my life. I had friends once. I was pretty much a normal kid and later a normal teenager. Looking back, those years seem idyllic and almost like a dream. Until my life suddenly went south.
My grandparents lived on a lake in northern Michigan. My parents often took me there in the summer. They’d stay for a few days and usually leave me there for the rest of the summer. Early every morning, I would walk down to the lake and watch the sun rise. On days there wasn’t a breath of wind, the water looked like a sheet of glass.
I’d splash around in that crystal clear water or make sand castles on the beach. On days when the wind picked up, Grandpa Bill took me out on his sailboat. It was his prized possession. He loved sailing and playing tennis. He was even willing to play tennis with me even though most of the balls I hit flew over the fence.
Whenever we went sailing, he’d tell me stories about his submarine missions in the South Pacific during World War II. But he didn’t only talk about himself. He always asked what was going on with me in school, if I’d competed in any swim meets recently.
Too bad, the only person who ever really knew me is gone forever. It’s been sixteen long years since I lost him. I was there the day he died and I’ll never be able to wipe the horrible images from my mind. We were preparing to take the sailboat out. He was unfolding the spinnaker. The wind was perfect “to fly the kite,” he said.
I was soon to be a junior in high school. He knew I was first chair violinist in the city orchestra, that I loved painting watercolor scenes, plus I competed on the high school swim team. Grandpa Bill had been a swimmer in high school, too. But his main event was backstroke while I mostly swam breaststroke events. He’d qualified for Olympic Trials, while I was just an average swimmer. But he never made me feel like I didn’t measure up. Just the opposite. He had a way of making me feel like a superhero. His words always inspired me. I told him I was hoping to qualify for the high school state championships in at least one event this year.
He looked up from his work straightening the spinnaker and gave me his signature grin. Always, he was happy and cheerful. I never remember seeing him down or upset. Wrinkles radiated out from his eyes when he smiled and they remained even when he wasn’t. His skin was tanned deep brown from so many hours out on the boat. He was the only person older than me that made me forget his age. He had that timeless way about him so I never thought of him as old.
“You’ve got what it takes to qualify for States. You’re an amazing young woman, Josephine,” he said. “Musician, honors student, athlete. I’m so proud to have such a talented gr—“ His mouth fell open and he clutched his chest. For the first time ever, his smile faded from his face and he looked truly old. Fear flickered in his brilliant blue eyes. And then he looked sad, like he was about to lose everything that mattered to him.
“What’s the matter, Grandpa?” I ran toward him and gripped his arm. It felt strangely cold.
He didn’t answer. I couldn’t stop his fall as he collapsed face down on the boat deck in front of me. Panic raced through my veins. I’d never been so scared. “Oh, no, this can’t be happening.”
I rolled him over onto his back. I knew he wasn’t breathing. His face was flushed a horrible shade of purple. Oh, my God, how could this happen? I vaguely remembered the CPR poster hanging by our high school pool. I gave him chest compressions as tears streamed down my cheeks and I shouted for help.
I stopped the compressions intermittently to feel for a pulse. But I felt nothing. Maybe I was too anxious and couldn’t feel his pulse because I was too panicked. Maybe I wasn’t pushing hard enough. As I continued the chest compression I dissolved into sobs. I begged my grandfather to come back to me.
Finally, my grandmother ran out of the house, her cell phone in her hand. She called 911 and the paramedics came. But they couldn’t save him. They used the defibrillator for what seemed like forever. While I watched in horror as his body jumped with each shock, one of the men queried me. I felt confused and dizzy and my head throbbed like hell and I had difficulty answering him. I was angry with myself. Why wouldn’t my brain work when I needed it to? I didn’t know I was experiencing my first migraine and that I’d never be free from them from that day forward.
The paramedic was brusque with me and I walked away from that devastating scene feeling like it was my fault that Grandpa Bill died. If I’d known how to do CPR better, he would still be here. I loved him more than anyone in the world. He was my anchor. And the one time he had needed me, I let him down.
My grandmother’s health declined quickly after my grandfather’s death. She rarely got out of bed and died three months later. I know my mom held me responsible for what happened because she acted like she couldn’t stand the sight of me. My father treated me like a delinquent. I’d never been close to either of my parents, but our already weak relationship reached an all-time low.
There was never any praise or easy conversation. My dad would say I needed to lose weight or my mom would say I looked sloppy wearing torn blue jeans or going out in public with wet hair. Why didn’t I dry and style it before leaving the pool? Or maybe I should just quit the swim team so I could look better more often. Whatever I did, it was never good enough. I was never good enough. By the time I graduated from high school, I had migraines at least once a week. I escaped my parents when I got a scholarship and went away to college, but my ruined self-esteem and my migraines followed me.
I jump up like a trained animal when my name is called. I know the drill. Cold and flu season is over so most people my age are done being sick until next year. One of my coworkers bragged to me that she’s never seen a doctor. If only. Sickness has become the focal point of my life. I’m the only one in the waiting room without gray hair. Why can’t I have a life instead of having to spend so much time desperately looking for answers and having close to zero faith I’ll ever get them?
The nurse leads me down the hall and asks me to sit on a bench. Once I step on the scale to be weighed, she takes my blood pressure. She swishes her blond ponytail over her shoulder and tells me my blood pressure is very good—110 over 60. They always say that. As if having good blood pressure negates the fact that most of my life is living hell.
She leads me into an exam room and asks me why I’m here today. I tell her the prophylaxis medication isn’t working. I still have more than 20 headaches a month and now in addition to nearly daily agony, I’m too dumb to type a text message.
She forces a laugh and tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear. Then she types her interpretation of what I said into her computer. I know these nurses must hear people complain all the time, but I wish just once someone would show me an ounce of sympathy. I know by now I’m asking for too much. They don’t care. I’m not really a real person to most of them.