I am in a foul mood- my kids are not well, their ears are sore and they are grumpy; the weather is miserable and it’s five degrees colder in TinyTrainTown than anywhere else.
I tap my foot impatiently as I wait at the doctors, haughty and irritated. I’m here for a referral. A general practitioner that doesn’t know me- I’ve only needed to come here three times since I’ve been living in the area- is required to write me a referral for the trauma psychologist I’ve been seeing, in order for Medicare to foot the bill.
The irony of it pisses me off. But I can’t afford the fees myself, and God only knows I need to see Charlie.
The doctor who attends to me is new- brand new, fresh out of internship or study or whatever normal people do to become raised to the level of doctors. He has an extremely thick accent, and I’m normally good at understanding speech that is impaired in one way or another; but I don’t have the patience today. I catch only that he’s new and will consult with a more senior doctor over the phone if needed.
The appointment is labored and boring and seems to drag on forever as I’m asked about allergies, sleep, moods and appetite. The doctor fumbles and flushes when I ask him to repeat his question about my menstrual cycle, and I pretend not to hear him the second time too. It’s intrinsically nasty but sometimes I just cannot help myself- I am so used to making people uncomfortable just by being me that when I sense weakness I poke them harder in that spot. It feels like firmly pinning a squirming moth to a board.
The doctor balks at referring me to my shrink because the relatively new practice Charlie works for isn’t in the computer system of this medical centre, nor in the direct area. He suggests others and I am forced to argue my point frustrated and bored with myself already.
‘Anxiety’, he notes on my file, assuming correctly that this is the basis of my condition, given the heavy dose of the medication I take. “I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”, I say, wondering why that’s not on my file, haven’t I told them this already, on a previous visit? Maybe not, maybe I’m thinking of elsewhere. I have a script in my head for medical situations… “The children’s father suffered a psychosis and took his own life early last year.” It’s crisp and brittle and costs me very little, emotionally, and I’ve practiced it so it can be that easy, that fluent, and I can say it without seeing things in my head.
“Why? What triggered this PTSD?”, asks the doctor, eyes on the computer screen.
And because I’m a foul mood, and this sterile clean little room and this polite, difficult to understand doctor are pissing me off; I wait just a beat too long to reply, long enough so he’ll look me in the eye. And I say, without breaking his gaze “My husband hung himself in front of me last year. He died. I screamed for help…”
And I think to myself… “Boo!!!!!!!”
I watch with a grim, ugly satisfaction as the doctor’s eye widen in shock, and it’s his turn to wait a beat too long before responding. I know that pause… it’s a pregnant one, filled with dismal expectation. He’s waiting for me to say something, anything, to make that statement not quite as ugly as it is. To make this situation more comfortable for him.
I say nothing.
He can’t print me off a referral quickly enough.
I’ve always had a dark sense of humour.
It was intensified working at the children’s hospital- most people who have worked with or come into close contact with death on a regular basis develop a wickedly morbid appreciation of what’s funny. (A mandatory monthly group counseling session, years ago, attended by all the entertainers I worked alongside at the hospital, and we’re discussing this very thing. Another seasoned entertainer relays a joke told her by the parents of a gorgeous three year old boy named Luke, his blonde curls and tiny eyelashes stripped cruelly by chemotherapy, “We call him Lukie,” says his mother in mirth, “its short for leukemia!” It’s not funny, not funny at all, but it was the only thing Luke’s mother could find to laugh at and we laughed too, until our bellies were aching and we couldn’t make eye contact for breaking into more peals of it; as two new staff members stared on at us in abject horror.)
While Tony was in the ICU, and in the nightmare that was the first few months after he died, that warped sense of humour became invaluable.
Laughter, no matter the source, is light. Let yourself get too heavy, and you’ll sink.
The only benefit I could find to feeling like a walking zoo exhibit was the ridiculous nature of it all. I viewed people’s reactions to me through a veil of wonderment, watching the real world go on while mine caved in. (“Am I real? Do I exist? Did I die, too?”) Some people seemed to stare at me, waiting for me to explode, or scream, or cry… (“I’m not going to do what you all think I’m gonna do, and just… flip out, or something.”) and through my veil of surreality, there was a part of me that wanted to make them jump, to engage them in uncomfortable conversation… to draw them into the whirlpool of this reality of mine, rather than have them stare at the puppet show that was my life from the comfortable boundaries of their normality.
The fact that they could look at me look like, that they were people who Didn’t Understand, it just made me jealous.
And it tickled some dark, wicked funny bone I have. It felt like a precipice… scream “Boo!!!!!” and watch the normal people flee, while I laughed.
Hysterically. So hysterically it echoed all the way to the asylum.
Liz, my other shrink, she understands, as much as someone can who hasn’t been there can. She stands with me in the hospital, the last day in the ICU, and together we watch.
In rolls a tiny Asian man with a massive x-ray machine, to take a photo of my husband’s dead lungs. In strolls a group of organ donation coordinator, all ribbons and pink and roses and whispers of “Sign this, please…”. In waddle two coppers, one short, one tall, and the short one is in tears when they leave.
In and out, in and out, a string of people. Some of them weeping, saying goodbye to man who was their world… some of them just work here, and this is just another day that will blur into the rest.
I can’t stand it. My husband has been dead for hours, days in reality… this feels ridiculous and it’s pushing that funny bone the wrong way. Liz can see it through my eyes, and she verbalizes it for me where I cannot… this is farcical. This is comedy. This is a Shakespearean play where the ship’s run aground but everything will be OK in the end.
I’m still waiting for the
punchline. I’m still watching the play.
It’s just not fucking funny anymore.