On my way to see the doctor this afternoon, I left a message on a complete stranger’s voicemail. Someone I have never seen before. Never have known, and likely will never encounter.
I held on to that stranger while I sat alone at the doctor’s office.
Aspergers was on my medical chart, listed under conditions.
I have this tongue thing, like a gag-reflex tongue I suppose, and a long tongue at that, and my tongue NEVER cooperates, especially with dental x-rays and the like. It truly has a mind of its own. No kidding. As it happened, the doctor lost his patience with me. He tried all ways to get a culture of the white patch at the back of my throat with this long Q-tip thing. But my tongue kept blocking the pokey stick like it was sparring. I was embarrassed, to say the least.
The doctor threw the stick away, and huffed. Quietly and professionally, but the frustration was obvious. Me, being my nervous giggly self, offered: “Are there any tricks? Something you can teach me to help?”
I think he was fed up with the tips he’d already offered throughout the procedure. He kind of snapped, “Tricks? No, I don’t have any tricks.” I felt all of twelve.
My demeanor makes me come across as a stupid-head sometimes: the posture, the anxious laughter, the inflection of my voice. And I fumble with words as my voice squeaks in all of its youngness. You’d think I had the IQ of a horsefly. My un-brushed hair and sloppy attire of the day, likely didn’t help to set the mood of ‘got-it-together-woman.’ I was wishing at this point I’d dressed up for the doctor, at least had my hair up and not all straggly in my face.
Still seeming a bit perturbed, the doc summed up I likely didn’t have strep anyhow. The chances were very unlikely: no fever, no swollen glands, etc. But I knew I was feeling super lousy; I knew when I’d flushed bright red earlier in the day, I’d had a fever, and I knew I couldn’t risk getting sicker. I had an important trip planned and my husband was out of town. I had to know. The anxiety grew.
He left the room without telling me anything except to explain it was basically a sore throat and to gargle. I opened the door and asked a nurse if I could go. I don’t think the doctor appreciated that. He seemed bothered when he explained the procedure of when I could exit.
At this point my resources of zen-being and lovey-dovey-ness, were all but empty. I had a lot on my plate and felt like crap. I don’t remember the particulars, but somehow the subject came up again of tricks. And the doctor said, very bluntly: “I know tricks for kids. I teach kids tricks. I don’t teach adults tricks. Adults should know.”
Man, that wasn’t nice. I swallowed and felt my little heart race. I retorted, “I have to disagree. I have autism and my son has autism. And sometimes adults need tricks too, because our bodies work differently.” He kind of gave me a glance, and that kind of made me feel worse.
He then said, in a demeaning tone, “Have you ever heard of the phrase: Where there’s a will there’s a way?”
He asked if I wanted to try again.
I said, “Yes,” already doubting myself, coaching myself with the silent you can do it, and feeling terribly inadequate. As the doctor prepared another culture, I offered kindly, “The reason I want to rule this out and take care of it right away is because I have to drive in a few days a long distance.”
The doctor approached with the long thing. This time after several more minutes of ‘ahhhhs’ and ‘look up at the corner’ and ‘no stick your tongue back in your mouth’ and much more, the doctor sighed saying he’d likely gotten something, hopefully.
Again the sense of not enough.
Somewhere in the time line after something or another, that I can’t recall now, I lost my equilibrium. I don’t know if it was one final shrug or sigh on his part, or my urge to speak my mind. But I kind of unraveled in a calm but definitely I’ve had enough of this way.
Exhausted, I asked: “Do you not know what Aspergers means and how it affects people?”
He responded, “No.”
I said, “I write for a psychology journal; would you like me to leave a copy at the desk, so you can learn?”
He kind of looked either perplexed or bothered or preoccupied—I couldn’t tell. He said something that indicated agreement.
I said, “You know you were kind of rude to me. You didn’t treat me well.”
His back was still mostly to me, as he stared down the culture. I was thinking this guy was definitely undiagnosed Aspie. I explained, “You sounded like you were belittling me.” I was on a roll then, like when you finally get the ketchup in the bottle unstuck, after that final hiccupping glob, and the rest of the red comes pouring out swiftly.
I continued, “When you talked about not having to teach adults tricks. And you asked me if I knew what Where there’s a will, there’s a way meant. You sounded like you were mocking. And who doesn’t know what that means? You insulted my intelligence. Did you have a bad day or something? I mean the way you were…oh I don’t know what you were. You just weren’t nice.”
I felt a bit like I was in ‘Gone with the Wind,’ in an important scene. Only I was in old blue jeans and wearing socks with my sandals.
He mumbled, “Well, I’ve never had an adult who could not do a culture.”
I said, with a rising voice, “Well do you think I was doing it on purpose?”
He probably wasn’t too keen on being in a room with me at this point. Poor man. I should have given him my husband’s number, so they could commiserate.
The doctor left.
I had some time to wiggle and squirm and text a friend of my experience.
When the doc returned, indeed it was strep throat. He handed me some stick and started to explain about the red line. I said, “It looks like a pregnancy stick.” Now he was nice. He was smiling. He was more relaxed. He was finally sitting and looking at me. He seemed like a different person. He actually seemed genuine and concerned. I could have sat with this person for hours. He was much changed. I sat there hunched with a blank stare contemplating the reasons for his demeanor.
I was thinking: 1) He realizes I wasn’t a moron because I told him I write for a magazine 2) He is feeling kind of wrong for assuming I wasn’t sick 3) He is realizing he was a boob 4) He has no idea what else to do but to give in 5) He thinks I am nuts 5) He is so happy I am about to leave.
As I was leaving I said, about my strep throat confirmation, “Yes, I thought so. I usually can tell stuff about myself and my health.” I imagined I would have talked more and more, if he wasn’t ushering me out the door. I was fine then. He was like my new found friend. I’d forgotten all about the rest—the stuff before he smiled. He’d been kind and that’s all I’d needed.
I reflected back to the stranger, to the voicemail message I’d left:
“I was out of sorts when you left the note because I’d just returned from the airport. I was dropping off my husband there; and now I am headed to the doctor’s because I think I have strep throat. Your random act of kindness kept me from feasibly having that ‘last straw.’ My mother-in-law died this morning. I thought you should know you made a difference.”
When I was parked downtown earlier, she had left a business card on my van’s windshield. I hadn’t seen the note until an hour later, as I was getting into the car for the drive to the urgent care center. She’d handwritten on the back of the card: I wanted to let you know, I saved you from an $18 parking ticket.
She’d put money in the meter.