by Alexis Kelleher
The calendar page on the exam room’s wall has a white sand beach and palm tree extended almost horizontal, reaching for the ocean. A cushioned chair hangs from it, like you would find at a resort and pay a twenty-five-dollar day-fee to use. White clouds punctuate the flat blue sky without threat. Below the picture reads: January. Outside, January is bleak. Plows piled snow mounds so high they will last until March, pocked with plucked asphalt and ice-melt salt. The only sand here is sprinkled on the sidewalk to stop people from killing themselves.
I sit on an exam table. The barrier paper crinkles under my jeans I may or may not have to remove when the doctor comes in. I am waiting for the results of an ultrasound, for a “problem,” as noted in my appointment reminder on my smartphone’s healthcare app. I am neutral to the potential results; my expectation that they’ll be both nothing and something. Regardless of the results, I will move on with my day, or with the doctor’s orders. I have been in this position before. I have been waiting for the doctor for a while, and I make a game of matching the inseam of my jeans when I press my thighs together.
I am in the best shape of my life and the worst health of my life. My doctors, of which there are many, poke and prod me when I’m feeling good. They catch wind I’m only in minor pain, or I’m through a flare, or I put on some weight. This week they must have found out I qualified for Medicaid. I feel bad I told my general practitioner I don’t plan on seeing him often except for vaccinations. I get vaccinated for everything. My OBGYN, gastroenterologist, dermatologist, rheumatologist, ophthalmologist, and neurologist take care of most things. I don’t have an oncologist yet, but there is a good chance I’ll need one in the next few years if I let things go.
“Sorry your body is trying to kill you,” my husband said. It’s invisible, inside me. I believe it is genetic, but no doctor can confirm this for a disease of which there is no known cause nor no known cure. I insist grandma had it, aunt so-and-so who went blind had it. A drawn out no from Mom because no way, no how, not in our family. No imperfections allowed. And you don’t look sick. I have my good days and my bad days.
“You’re so skinny!” said the girl at the party. She wanted to know my secret. It’s no secret, but no one wants to hear the details, and that day, I didn’t want to go to the party. It is a lonely disease.
“You’re too skinny” my mother-in-law says. She wants to help, asks how I’m doing, but stops me at colonoscopy. I should have known.
My thighs press together, pull apart, together, apart. Another game is guessing if the stopped footsteps outside the door are my doctor’s or if they’re a nurse pausing and moving on. There are voices outside. I hear “congratulations”–someone else had an ultrasound, but not for a “problem.” It’s close to lunch and I think they might leave, forget I am in here, in exam room number two. The doctor knocks.
“Well, it looks mostly normal.” She points out dark circles on the picture, as clear as the black and white snow on a TV with disconnected cable. She tells me these cysts are not a concern, and this looks normal, and that looks how it should. But because of . . . in case of . . . we should do a biopsy. “We could do it right now if you don’t have to run.” The mechanic says the same about rotating my tires or changing an air filter when I come for an oil change. Could we swap out some of my parts? Get rid of the worn-out ones and push another fifty thousand miles out of me?
“Why do you need a pneumonia shot?” someone asked at book club when we were talking about flu shots and our aging parents’ health. Most of the book club members are nurses, and nothing fazes a nurse. “I’m actually a ninety-year-old in a younger woman’s costume,” I said, and laughed so they knew they could laugh too. I don’t know them well; I spared them the details.
I do have to change. The doctor leaves so I can undress. I hide my underwear between the folds of my jeans like she’s not about to take a direct look inside my vagina. It takes me seconds to hop back on the table, using the rubber-mat step, but I wait again, cold this time in a paper shirt. The paper crinkles under me and I think about lying down and taking a nap. She returns, pulls out the stirrups, pokes and prods. I was feeling good before this, but I know I won’t for the rest of the day. She will call me “either way.” I miss the “we’ll only call you if there’s a problem” days. Every result is a problem, even if “mostly normal.” Mostly normal, for me.
Alexis Kelleher earned her BA in English with a certificate of concentration in creative writing from the University of Connecticut and was a panelist for the university’s literary publication, Long River Review. Her short fiction has appeared on The RavensPerch. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two young children.