The Patient Examines the Doctor: Allegro
Medicine is a dance, and the stage lights are primed to show every imperfection. It is neither improvised nor pre written, but instead lies between the bounds of structure and chaos. In this dance it matters who takes the role of lead. The partnership is inherently skewed, and the roles famously undefined. It can oscillate from a fierce tarantella, to a slow two step. One thing remains the same: the uncertainty and leap of faith a patient takes when they hit that first beat.
And so it begins: you are told that the doctor is running behind schedule. Two steps back and one step forward. You sit in the waiting room that has the same eerie quality to a 1950s Americana motel. Uninspired, you leaf through a 2012 issue of hello magazine. “Things must have been simpler then” you think to yourself as you read about then it couple’s spring wedding. “Shame about the divorce” you mutter in fake contrition. Your mouth gives you away as it curls to a smile. There is something oddly satisfying about misguided naiveté. It’s at that time when the nicotine craving kicks in and you lick your lips in eager anticipation. Your fingers tap in quiet, pained frustration. You turn back to Hello. Yet every article, every word, every misguided feature morphs into the very medical jargon that you are trying to avoid. You blink to confirm that it is indeed mind-numbing pseudo- journalism and not a Times New Roman medical report that you hold in your hands; the same hands that are moist with perspiration and feel heavy with doubt. You are so consumed in this magazine cum report that you miss the first time they called your name.
There is a real art in maintaining composure; a real beauty in feigning cool, calm and collected. As your foot touches the ground of his office of solitude, the dance takes its first step; unsteady. This is not a waltz, or a tango, but a macabre ballet more tragic than anything Shakespearean. Yet he does not jeté into position, but instead clambers to his feet.
“From the end of his desk, the doctor appears to be unkempt. The perspiration on his forehead seems to correlate with the state of the air in his office: thick, and the state of his workload : high. His striped blue shirt is both creased and stained. The stain appears to be of the same causal origin as the ones on his teeth and so one concludes that it is caffeine which is keeping him alert and semi-comfortable at rest”
He turns to me and sings that melodic tune “What seems to be the matter?” and it falls off his tongue as delicately as it was intended. It was the pirouette he was born to perform, and he performed it with aplomb. That question was an invitation, and one that I hesitated to accept. The stage lights were upon me, and I could feel my skin warming up under the glare. I look out onto the sea of people and see no one. I am an audience of one and there is no stage-hand to rescue my trembling feet. It is a dance that I have accepted not out of choice, but out of necessity. What is free will when you are pushed onto the back wall? And so I place my feet into second position, and then third and my arms dutifully move into fifth arabesque. I tell him about my stomach pain. He leans in. One hand under his chin as he looks me dead centre in the eye. I tell him that it has been going on for many months. He leans back and I see myself in his eyes: a spider web of conditions narrowing to target. He asks me more questions about the pain, I comply. He sings me songs of empathy and it works. I feel myself softening in his grip, lost in the strings quartet. I tell him about my bloating and he nods. I tell him about how I can feel something small when I press down, and the nodding stops. The tempo seems to change. It’s faster, and the rhythm is definitely more staccato and lacks the gentle melody of before. He asks me more questions. Faster still, and I feel as though the dance has taken a turn. With family history he urges me to go on, and I tell him about my father yet that doesn’t seem to capture his attention. It’s a disinterested stare and I can tell that my last step was off beat. I go on to my mother, and the crescendo is making an uphill climb. His eyes are fixed and his breathing slow; too slow, and he begins to circle around me with caution. I tell him about her cancer. Breast. That took her at the age of 45. And the music comes to a halt. He looks out onto the audience of none.
“On closer inspection the doctor appears to be exhibiting signs of distress. His hands have stopped moving to and fro with their usual flair, and instead have remained still for the last minute and a half. His eyes which were fixed, now seem to have lost focus; darting from one position to the next. His breathing has returned to its former speed, but is now deeper and very controlled. His face is sombre, concerned, and shows no variation in expression”
He takes my hand once more, and walks me around the stage. I struggle to keep up as my shuffling feet are no match for his strides. He tells me about blood tests; I listen. He tells me about referrals and I feel lost. He tells me that it is being expedited and that is when I trip. He takes my hand and pushes me into a spin: once, twice, three times more but as I use him for alignment I notice that it is he who cannot catch his breath. He asks me if I have understood everything he said. I tell him that I have and I thank him for his time. He looks at me with uncertainty; with hesitation that was supposed to invite me to ask more but his shoulders give him away. They fall and I know that the consultation is now over. His body has become slack and his heart has lost vigour; for, we have over-run.
“In summary, the doctor appears to be withdrawn. His furrowed brows and interlinked hands indicate to me that he is troubled in deep thought. His downward glance demonstrates disappointment and his clenched jaw is tonic in solemn acceptance”
I leave, stage left. I look back as the curtain begins to fall and the deafening silence envelops my every breath. The loneliness is suffocating and I feel no comfort in its embrace. I sit in the car, ballet shoes and leotard firmly clasped to my skin, embedded. It has grown into me and I into it. They say your wedding dance is life changing, but tell me which wedding dance ever dared to change a single life. I cry out, only to be met with my grieving echo; acoustics so well designed that it torments to perfection.
Some days I can’t believe we were together. Others days I can’t believe how I’ll ever find someone who compares to you. I’ve idealised you to a point where my logic can’t even intervene. I feel myself losing my grip of our reality , and instead indulge myself in hours of fantasies. Desperately craving a kiss, and painfully missing your embrace.
I thought I was resilient, and so I am completely shocked and appalled at the discovery that my insides are not steel as I had hoped, but a pool of blubber. To say I am broken implies I believe I have a chance at being fixed, and yet in my most cynical of moments I feel liquid – lacking structure, and unable to be manipulated into a shape.
I wish I missed the idea of you and not the reality but sadly it is your presence I miss the most. Just you sitting in the room with me. Your light expanding into the void.
“Just sit on a bed with me”, I wish. Absorbed in your work, I stare at you as if you’re shrouded in a golden hue; admiring your furrowed brow and slumped shoulders.
“Breathe near me, so I can feel your warmth.”
I miss your smile. But what I miss most is your touch. Towering over me, your arms pulling me in close, as I surrender. Folding into your chest, nestled. Hearing your heartbeat, gripping onto your back. Feeling safe and protected. Feeling like our souls had met in the middle and had given each other a kiss. Feeling like slow jazz was playing in the background even though there was silence. Were we sitting in a gondola in Venice or on my sofa? I couldn’t tell.
The things I would do to dance with you to 80s pop or trap, in my living room, on loud. Allowing our bodies to just exist, without shame. Me laughing at how awkward your dance moves are (with love).
I’ve been on a multitude of dates since we ended. All varying shades of not quite right. There has been terrible, there has been ok, and then there has been I’m not sure. I miss your morals. Can you miss a person’s moral code? Because I yearn for yours. Every arrogant, sexist comment makes me think of you. Every episode of poor behaviour makes me compare them to you. Every awkward silence makes me think of how comfortable I was with you.
If I wasn’t sober, I think I would spend my days with a large glass of red wine and a pink bathrobe. Instead, its bedraggled hair and cake.
I debate whether I regret you or not. Regret our relationship. Regret having ever embarked on our love story.
“I was happy before”, I think to myself, living a life with considerably less confusion. Now, I am blubber, pining over a boy that has shown no indication that he is feeling the same way. I know my ego is begging to hear the pain in your voice.
“Cry too”, I plead with every ‘how are you doing’ text.
“Ache too” I beg with every ‘we should hang out soon’.
It comes in waves, this sadness. There are moments I don’t think of you at all. But you manage to enter at the most unexpected of places. Crawling into my mind like the remnants of a dream. Did it even happen? I question to myself, staring out of the window of a train. My life feeling more and more like the sad rain section of a romcom, or a 90s r and b music video.
I miss you sitting on my bed. You have a white sweatshirt I adore. And I imagine you lying diagonally with a grin on your face. You’re not far away. A few miles down south. So why does it feel like you’ve just left on a rocket to space. Where are you? Where did my best friend go?
I want to confide in you about stupid gossip. I want to run away to a different country. Scandinavia please. I want to stay in an isolated cabin with you. I want nature to be our only accomplice.
In my moments of weakness, I want to stand outside your door. Not a single word would need to be shared as you open it. I would walk steadily up to your room and enter . I would take my jacket off and collapse onto your bed. As if this was a normal occurrence, you’ll potter around, picking up a shirt from the floor, putting a book away. You will turn your speakers on and play some dulcet tones which will pierce my soul and shun anxiety . You will lie next to me, and hold my hand. We will stare up onto your white ceiling in silence, being carried by the music, listening to every drum beat , every piano note. Our souls will hum in harmony and we will be carried away by the waves. The tide will come again.
“Sometimes I trip on how happy we could be” – Prince, If I was your girlfriend
Alexandra Oti is a junior doctor who spends her days outside of work in existentialist day-dreams.