For contrast, a typical-of-my-mother conversation. It’s Friday morning, she’s just made us some breakfast–I offer to cook, every time, but she turns me down every time. Declan has eaten two pieces of French toast and retreated to the living room to watch tv news with my dad and read comic books on his ipad. I’m at the table drinking my thoroughly adequate coffee. My mom is wiping something down on the counter, she turns to me and says “I keep thinking of this patient we had at Dr Levine’s, his name was Lou.”
My mother was a dental assistant and office manager. Dr Levine owned the group practice where she worked when I was in elementary school–he was a nice man and a good dentist, but he was also a Scientologist with a bad gambling habit. My mother has all of these stories about trying to cover payroll when her boss had a bad week at the track. I provide this context in part to say that if Lou was a patient at Dr Levine’s, this story dates to the late 1980s or early 1990s.
“One day Lou came in to the office, he didn’t have an appointment so I was surprised to see him, and he said that he wanted to say goodbye. I said, what do you mean, where are you going? He said, my time is up, the doctors can’t do any more for me. I keep thinking about that. He had this condition that made him itch? All over his body, he itched. He was a friend of Dr Levine’s, he came into the office a lot. And he just came to say goodbye. I think about him every day. And the time I called Mrs Carson to confirm her appointment and Mr Carson answered the phone, that was very unusual. He answered the phone and I said I’m calling for Mrs Carson to confirm her dental appointment and he said well I’m very sorry to have to tell you that she’s gone, she died last week, but I’ll be sure to pass on the message when I see her. Oh, Susan, you have no idea. We had this girl come in–she was a big girl, like you–” (for the record, I turn forty-five next week, a very big girl) “–and she was starting a new job, she wanted her teeth all restored. So she’s in the waiting room for her appointment and that fucking Dr Safai is just detained, you know, she’s in the back just talking with another patient, this poor girl is sitting in those chairs–”
At this point my mother walks into the next room and runs her hand down a dining room chair. “Like this, these horrible uncomfortable chairs.” In my head, I’ve caught up a little bit. Dr Safai was the dentist she worked for when I was out of college already, so we’re twenty years ago instead of thirty-five. “These miserable shitty chairs, I mean they’re fine if you’re just eating dinner, but this poor girl was there for an hour in that waiting room. Finally I went back and I said to Dr Safai,” and here she drops her voice to a thin whisper, points at her watch, “how much longer? There’s a patient waiting. And Dr Safai just looks at me and she says, what is it, Liz, what do you want? I tell her that there’s a patient who’s been waiting and she doesn’t look so good. I mean, what do I know, but she doesn’t look good, she’s white as a sheet, I don’t think we should leave her waiting. And Dr Safai says, Oh Liz, you’re so dramatic. Tell her I’ll be twenty minutes. So I tell her that I’ve already taken care of the payment and the paperwork, I’m going to leave, and she should lock up when she’s done. It’s six thirty on a Friday, I’ve already stayed late, I wasn’t going to give her any more of my time. And when I came back the next morning there was a message on the machine, it was that girl’s father. She died! That night, she died. She had an aneurysm. So much for that idiot Safai and her goddamned DMD. I knew.”
If this sounds like a weird way to start a Friday morning, it’s not, it’s like this all the time. It’s how we ended up at the urgent care on Friday afternoon–she’s fine, it’s okay–but she stood out in the full sun at the beach for close to an hour talking to a woman who might have been her friend Cynthia’s ex-husband’s sister-in-law, I lost track, the point is my mother had a spot of heat exhaustion. It could probably have been fixed with a bottle of water and a few minutes in the air conditioning, but her health is so fragile overall that she wanted a doctor, fine, we saw a doctor. She’s fine, everything is okay.
I know that I need to get back to a place of calm and kindness with my parents, for so many reasons. I am working on it. (Today’s card is Justice, which the guidebook says is about a choice that weighs heavily and the ways that your actions affect your outcomes. Maybe this is my choice to make today.)