“Hello, Annie. Are you back already?”
Annie felt gooseflesh break and spread over her body at the doctor’s direct stare. She shifted uncomfortably on the examination table, and the dry rustle of the paper beneath her caused a quiver to quake up her spine. “Well, yes, Dr. Mike, but you see…”
“Yes, I see that I see you three times a week right now, Annie. You were just here on Tuesday, and I assured you that your symptoms would all disappear with adequate rest and a proper diet.”
“But, um, I thought I was feeling better. Until this morning, that is.”
“Tell me what happened this morning, Annie.”
“I noticed when I… well, when I peed, that my urine smelled. I mean it was strong, very abnormal.”
“Did you bring a sample for us to test?”
“I should have, I know. But the thing is, by the time I realized how dreadful it was, it was all in the bowl already, and I knew I couldn’t scoop it back out, so I just, you know, flushed. But it was bad, Dr. Mike, really awful. I could probably go now, if you want. I can go just about any time. My bladder is chronically overactive, plus I’ve been drinking lots of water, just like you told me to.”
“Good, that’s good, Annie. I don’t think we need a sample just yet. Any burning when you urinate? Vaginal discharge? Pain in your side or lower abdominal area?”
Annie shook her head to each question and watched as the young doctor’s thin lips became nearly invisible.
“Any other symptoms at all, Annie?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve been quite flushed, and I have a sore neck, or throat, I’m really not sure which. It kind of hurts from my shoulders right on up.” Annie unbuttoned the top of her blouse and smoothed the material back. She expected that the doctor would examine her and discover a golf-ball sized tumor. She was positive one had taken root in her neck and was destroying her glandular system. Instead he lowered himself into the chrome arm-chair, rubbed his hands across his face a few times like he was trying to wipe something off and sighed deeply.
“Have you been taking the medication I prescribed, Annie?”
“Every day. I wanted to ask you about that too. You know how backward my system is, and Omigod, I swear to you those anti-depressants are making me downright depressed.”
“It takes a few weeks for the medication to enter your system and become effective. Be patient, Annie.”
“I’m trying, but should I be getting worse in the meantime?”
The doctor sighed again, so deeply that the paper by Annie’s leg fluttered and made her shiver once more. “Define worse, Annie.”
“For starters, I have this horrible taste in my mouth all the time.”
“That’s a very common side-effect. Did you read the patient insert with your prescription?”
“Of course, and it didn’t say one thing about breast pain, not one darn thing. And I have serious pain, Dr. Mike, like someone’s trying to yank them right off my body, ya know? If I lay down a certain way in the bath there’s a lump too. It was just a teeny one, but I swear to you it’s nearly the size of a golf ball now.”
Dr. Mike braced his hands on his knees and pushed to his feet. For a man who couldn’t be more than forty, Annie thought he moved awfully slow. Her heart rate accelerated and her breath grew short as it occurred to her that maybe her doctor had picked up some virulent disease from one of his patients. Annie had seen the sort of people that accumulated in the doctor’s busy downtown Toronto office. None of them looked good; grubby little kids with runny noses and rheumy-eyed old people with wet, nasty coughs that made them sound as though they were trying to hack up a tuna casserole. Annie shuddered and wondered if it would be too rude for her to don the paper face mask she wore on the rare occasion she rode the subway.
Dr. Mike leaned across the counter; his exhaustion became more apparent to Annie with each passing second. He flipped through her fat patient file. Annie turned away from the germ-ridden expulsion of breath that accompanied his weary sigh.
“Annie, we gave you a full physical eight weeks ago; there was no sign of anything in your breasts other than small, fibrocystic clusters which may be uncomfortable, but are completely normal. The low dose pill I gave you should help within another package or two.”
“Right, about that pill. Omigod, I swear it gives me PMS thirty days out of the month. I mean, it’s not just the boobs, I’m bloated, I have cramps, and my back has just been killing me.”
“Then stop taking it, there are plenty of other viable methods of birth-control.”
“Birth-control! Omigod, the way STD’s are so rampant these days it’s safer for a single women to let a guy stick a gun in her mouth then a penis in her—well, you know. And what about my head?”
“What about your head?”
When Dr. Mike sighed this time, Annie actually felt spittle fly from his lips and spatter her bare hands. She reached automatically for the hand-sanitizer in her purse and applied a liberal dose. “You said the headaches might be hormonal and the pill would help, but it hasn’t. It’s gotten ever so much worse. I’m not just talking got a headache take a pill kind of pain; it’s like a pick-axe in my skull.”
“I’m not comfortable prescribing anything else for you with the medication you’re currently on. Standard extra strength ibuprofen should eliminate the pain you’re experiencing.”
“Oh, I can’t take ibuprofen. It makes my heart race. About my heart, Dr. Mike, I sort of feel it more than I think I should. As though it’s growing or something, you don’t suppose…”
“I saw that movie last week too, Annie, and no, I don’t suppose a healthy twenty-four-year-old woman has developed inflammatory heart disorder in the three weeks since her last blood work up.”
“Oh, well then.” Annie decided that Dr. Mike was definitely sick. They said that doctors made the worst patients and whatever his current ailment was, was causing him to get downright snappish.
“Well then, yes, indeed.”
Annie thought Dr. Mike’s sigh sounded relieved this time rather than exhausted. He thrust papers back into her bulging file and slammed it shut. “I guess that’s about all we can do for you today.”
“Do for me.” Annie had grown so short of breath that her voice emerged as a squeak, “But you haven’t done anything! What about my stinky pee? It could be a urinary tract infection, or a kidney infection, it could even be pelvic inflammatory disease.”
“It could be, but it’s not, Annie. If I had to guess I would say you’re likely taking too many vitamins and herbal supplements, and your system is struggling to flush them out.”
Guess? Annie wondered what kind of a doctor would guess at the health and well being of his patient. No wonder he called his office a family practice; he was obviously using his poor unsuspecting patients as guinea pigs. Guess, sheesh! Panic swamped her; her oversized heart hammered painfully in her chest and black spots began to dance before her eyes.
“Cut back on your consumption of over-the-counter meds, Annie, and try some pure cranberry juice; it’s a wonderful natural diuretic.”
Cranberry juice? Annie was sure that Dr. Mike had to be joking when he suggested fruit juice to treat a potentially life-threatening disorder, but he wasn’t smiling. What a shame, he had come so highly recommended, and he had beautifully framed and impressive diplomas on his office walls, but the man was obviously a quack.
Annie decided to give him one more chance; he wasn’t feeling well after all. “Dr. Mike, do you suppose we should schedule a scan, or an MRI or something? To see about my head, I mean.”
“Yes, Annie, I definitely think you need your head examined. You’ve gone beyond the realm of my general practitioners expertise, so I’m going to give you a referral to a colleague of mine.”
Annie sighed happily and felt her pulse rate drop back into the normal range. Maybe Dr. Mike wasn’t all that she had expected him to be, but he was wise enough to admit defeat and seek help when necessary.
“It’s a lovely clinic, not too far from here, Annie. You won’t even have to ride the subway to get there.”
Annie took a deep, cleansing breath; much to her relief she felt the oxygen make its way to the bottom of her lungs for what seemed like the first time in days. Dr. Mike hadn’t proven to be much of a personal physician, but at least he was compassionate enough not to enclose her in a dead-aired, disease-ridden underground train. Annie wondered if the doctor he was referring her to would be as considerate. She hated the thought of having to travel to unfamiliar hospitals and be poked and prodded by strangers who had been exposed to God only knows what. “Will there be much testing for me…I mean, do you think…”
“I’ll forward a letter of introduction, and pertinent details from your file, Annie. Dr. Chandra has an exceptionally well-equipped clinic, I’m sure the majority of testing required can be accomplished on-site. I can assure you it won’t be physically invasive.”
“Oh, well then. I guess this is it. I’m sorry I proved to be too much of a challenge for you, Dr. Mike.” Annie noticed that the doctor suddenly appeared to be feeling better, colour had returned to his cheeks, and it seemed funny, but she could have sworn he was trying to hide a smile.
“Quite all right, Annie. You’ll be in good hands at the Wellness Clinic, and I wish you all the best.”
The Wellness Clinic, Annie liked the sounds of that. She wondered if it was a practice devoted to the holistic approach, she’d been reading about that a lot lately. It seemed to have some promise, but she certainly wasn’t prepared to abandon her dependence on good old antibiotics to cure the myriad of infections she was plagued with. No siree, a sensitive immune system required top of the line pharmaceuticals.
Annie fingered the fine, vellum business card the doctor passed her, Dr. Eve Chandra appeared to have extra initials behind her name, but the card didn’t say precisely what her specialty was. “Dr. Mike, are you sending me to a gynecologist, or an internist, or what?” Annie was surprised when her ordinarily grim doctor actually chuckled.
“Rest assured, Annie, if you tell Dr. Chandra everything you’ve shared with me, I’m sure she’ll be able to shrink your problems into perspective.”