I’m horrified when I encounter people where they’re not “supposed” to be. I’ve had this phobia my entire life. Church people must stay at church, school people must stay at school, music people must…you get the picture. If someone ever popped up where they weren’t supposed to be, things just got awkward. What exactly does one say to one’s professor in the pasta aisle at Trader Joes? “Nice orzo?” Ivan blames this quirk on the fact that I was homeschooled all the way through high school. I’m not so sure. After all, he has surprisingly few conversations when he spots coworkers while he’s running errands. But I digress.
Occasionally I wonder if a particular blog post prompts God to test if I really believe the things I write. After blogging that I was thankful for some migraine improvement – even if said improvement did require lots of needles – I got hit with a migraine that felt like we were back to Square One. Or Square Zero, considering I’d just had another round of injections. Last Saturday, I started an untriggered migraine, which is an anomaly considering mine usually follow a seizure. Unlike most migraines, this one didn’t respond to at-home pain meds. Even prescription ones. I can only take pain medication once or twice during a migraine since I’m on so much other neuro medication, so by Day Two I was au natural, as they say. I’ve had my share of horrific migraines, but this one probably sets a record for insomnia, nausea, and – of all things – dental pain. By Day Four, I was pretty convinced that there was something disturbingly wrong with the left side of my jaw. Maybe I just needed to see a dentist and the whole headache would go away? (Never mind the fact that my teeth were “perfect” at my last dental checkup.)
Mom and Ivan convinced me to call Neurology on Day Five and ask for special injections they save for intractable migraines. I hadn’t ever asked my current neurologist for them since being transferred to his clinic last August, and I was embarrassed start asking now. The fact that I was having an untriggered migraine right after my regular injections made no sense, and I’ve learned the hard way that neurologists can be very quick to label you as a “type” of patient. The last thing I wanted to be was “melodramatic,” or “needy,” or some other unflattering modifier. But by Day Five of struggling to put words together, I decided I didn’t care. He could call me whatever he wanted. I just wanted the shots.
Unfortunately, getting the injections wasn’t as simple as (potentially) giving up my self-esteem. The neurologist didn’t have any appointments until Day Six, Thursday. And he was only doing video appointments, which would make getting the shot more complicated, even if he ordered it. I booked the appointment anyway. Nothing was coming between me and those shots.
That Thursday, the minutes between Ivan’s 5:40 am alarm and my appointment at 3:50 pm felt eternal. I technically had a paper due that night, but I hadn’t been able to work on it all week. The best I could do was open the Word Doc after lunch and try to focus my eyes on the screen instead of the pain in my head. Sometimes it worked. I think I edited three sentences in two hours. But when my phone alerted me that it was time to log onto the Kaiser website for my video appointment, two things struck me simultaneously.
1) This was a video appointment
2) Neither of us was where we were supposed to be
I was only moderately alarmed by the fact that my neurologist was not where he was supposed to be since I assumed he’d have some sort of white backdrop. That wouldn’t really feel that different from a doctor’s office, would it? What concerned me more was finding a “professional” location for myself. The only place my pain-addled brain could think of was Anna’s old bedroom. It’s identical to how she left it the day she got married: a white, wooden twin bed draped with the turquoise bedspread she brought home from her dorm room, and accented with cute beach décor that’s a composite of both our high school aesthetics. The only recent change is a mound of clothes at the foot of the twin bed. Mom’s currently using it to sort through old clothes now that summer’s over. Still, I thought Anna’s bedroom would be the perfect spot since 1) I could lock out the cats, 2) it had good WIFI, and 3) I could tilt my camera so it would only show the white wall behind my head. How much more professional could I seem? I logged onto my Kaiser account and closed my eyes while waiting for the video to connect…
“Grace? How are you, Grace?”
Great. So much for being professional. I opened my eyes to discover my neurologist wasn’t in front of a white background. He also wasn’t wearing a white coat. I don’t know why I’d been counting on the white coat, but it seemed like a prerequisite for any legitimate medical exchange. Alas I was wrong on both counts. My neurologist was sitting in his living room, wearing an amethyst-colored shirt.
“Hi…I’m…ummm…” Here I was at a loss. I did not know how I was. In extreme pain? Disoriented? Wishing I’d asked for a phone appointment instead? “…Well, I still have the really bad migraine.” I also desperately wished I did not know that his living room fan had bamboo blades and gold pull chains that seemed slightly too long.
“Yes, and you had injections how long ago? Two weeks. Well we can look at your other medications…” And suddenly he was running through current dosages, discussing potential tweaks, and contemplating my at-home prescription pain meds. All this would have been difficult to follow with any migraine, but combining my uber-migraine with an amethyst shirt and a bamboo fan made intelligent conversation almost impossible.
“Smile for me?” I must have done the opposite of that because he quickly clarified.
“So I can see both sides of your mouth. For the exam.” The exam. I forgot he had to do a quick neuro “once over” if I showed up with an acute problem. We moved through the exam relatively easily – until we hit the walking test.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I need you to walk. Ten feet maybe. Forwards and backwards.”
“I’m not sure you’re going to be able to see –“ Of course he would be able to see. I just didn’t want him to know that I was not where I was supposed to be, either.
“Tilt the camera please? Push back…a little bit more. Very good, thank you. Now walk.”
And so I walked back and forth, in front of Anna’s twin bed with the bright undergrad-ish bedspread, in front of the pile of grown-up clothes that seemed to have been unceremoniously dumped by someone in a hurry. The pain had distracted me from many things that week, but it couldn’t keep me from wondering if my neurologist noticed the incongruity.
You see, my neurologist really likes Ivan. He likes Ivan because Ivan’s getting his doctorate. He likes Ivan because they’re both immigrants (he’s fascinated by Ivan’s lack of accent). He likes the fact that we got married so young, and that Ivan tries to come to all my appointments. Coincidentally, Ivan missed my last appointment. And now, I appear to be living in my high school or college bedroom. That’s okay, I told myself. He has so many other patients, and now that he’s doing video health, there’s no way he can keep everyone straight.
“Good, thank you.”
I walked back to my laptop and flipped the camera away from the bed and onto the wall behind me, just in case.
“So I put in the new medication, and you want the shot to go to infusion clinic, yes?”
I started to say “Thank you” and sign off, but he interrupted me.
“Grace – can you play violin any?” He smiled sympathetically.
Violin. He knows exactly who I am. The only time I’d discussed violin with this neurologist was at an intake appointment three years ago, before I’d been transferred to other specialists. He’d mentioned he’d taught at SUNY Syracuse and I said that I’d studied violin at the Eastman School of Music for a couple of years. How on earth does he still remember this?
“Well, no, the violin is a left-handed instrument, and you know all about my hand.” I considered how to salvage the moment. If he was sharp enough to remember Eastman, I was positive he was wondering where Ivan was or what I was doing in a single bedroom, and I had no desire (or mental ability) to divulge our housing situation. “But I’m back in school to be a writer, and I’m working on getting some short stories published.”
“Good, good, so wonderful to hear. Well, I hope the injection helps and let me know about the medication. ” He seemed genuinely pleased as he signed off, but I think I was probably more pleased, first to get the injection but also to return each of us to our “proper” environments.
I wished that video call ended my day of people – and things – surfacing where they were not supposed to be. It didn’t. The previous two times I’ve received the “rescue injections” were pre-COVID, which meant I could show up to a medical facility and receive it in a regular doctor’s office. This is more important than it might sound since the injections go…well, they’re the opposite of head injections. Hence the importance of an exam table. Due to current COVID policies, the only place to get prescribed shots is the injection clinic. This makes perfect sense, as long as your injection is supposed to go in the arm or the stomach. When the MA called me over to a vacant cubicle, she looked at the order, then at me, then at the order. “It says you’ve had these shots before…”
“Yeah, I know where they go.” We both looked at the single vinyl chair that was completely pointless.
“Do you pass out easily?”
“Nope.” I have never once, in all my post-accident fiascos, passed out.
“I guess you’ll just have to stand up then. But try to relax.”
That incident was awkward for everyone involved (including the innocent bystanders, since the injection clinic is really only designed for stomach and arm shots), but everyone passed with flying colors. I’m also pretty sure we were all relieved to return to our “proper” environments. Even if I was the only former homeschooler.
Praise God, the rescue injection did break the following night. We’re hoping that was an isolated incident (both the flare-up and the video call), but thankful that my neurologist was willing to make some tweaks just in case. And as far as my previous post – it is tempting to be frustrated with what seem like needless episodes, especially when my “partial solutions” already seem to come at a rather uncomfortable price. But now that I’m able to contemplate things from a more objective (i.e. relatively pain-free) perspective, this year has been measurably better than last year. And it would be wrong to take one bad week and say that it cancels out a treatment that works relatively well.
That being said, I would greatly appreciate it if everyone would stay where they are supposed to be, at least in the near future! 😉