I saw Dr. Mielke within the 72 hours. He studied me as I was trying not to expose myself while sitting on the hard floor. I was wearing a black mini skirt, black thigh highs, and a pink sweater that was loose in the sleeves, because tight sleeves exacerbated the nerve pain in my arms, but it was tight around my torso, showing off my almost six-pack abs. My fused back and sprained lower vertebrae made it impossible for me to sit in his client chair. I had acquired the toned stomach by tightening my glutes and abdominals whenever my back was too sore to walk or stand — which was always, so I did about fifty flexes a day. My abs were the only muscles that had not atrophied. I was wearing powder to obscure my freckles and tried a new look with my Prestige kohl eyeliner. I usually drew on the bottom lids of my eyes, but today, I thought it was elegant to wing the top and leave the bottom lids untouched. I didn’t get out of the house much, so when I did, I would dress like I was ready for a photoshoot.
Dr. Mielke had asked me a few questions, such as was it hard to motivate myself to get dressed in the morning and go out? Did I have problems making decisions or falling asleep?
I told him no to all of the above, while constantly shifting on the floor to get comfortable.
After a beat, he asked, “What are you doing here? You’re not depressed.”
I looked at him, stunned. How could he know this, so easily, so soon? Was it because I was all dressed up? He didn’t bat an eye as to why I was lying on the hard floor, with a mini skirt, constantly fidgeting.
“Who sent you?” He scratched his silver beard.
I sat up on the floor with my feet tucked below me. “Dr. Typhon.”
“He said he knew you.” What is happening?
He shook his head.
He didn’t even know Typhon? What the fuck? I couldn’t help but laugh to myself a little.
When we got home, I told my mom what Dr. Mielke said. She then recounted to me in great detail what Dr. Typhon said to my parents at the last visit. He told them that I “obviously” had an eating disorder because I was wearing a big coat to “hide” my body, not because it was the dead of winter. He brought up what I had told him about Christmas. He said to them, “Who doesn’t have a good Christmas?”
“I just didn’t respond to him because he was so off-base about everything. Well it’s not like he waited for my response to anything,” she said.
“And, Dad? He was quiet?”
“He was, for a change.”
My dad was having a much harder time coping with my illness than my mother was. It was partly due to the fact he himself was a doctor and he couldn’t fix me. He felt like he failed me. Maybe he wanted to believe Typhon?
But I still didn’t know why my mom didn’t cut Typhon off because he was so wrong in his assumptions. I didn’t have an eating disorder; it was just physically laborious to eat. I knew I was “too thin” and I was ashamed of it. Strangers would come up to me to ask if I had an eating disorder. It was demoralizing. I just wanted to weigh over 100 pounds, like I did in high school. I had gained “the freshman 15” pounds in college but had lost it all at this point.
I later told Dr. Piepgrass, the psychologist I had been seeing for the last eight months, about my forced appointment with the psychiatrist.
“Dr. Typhon did give me a call,” Dr. Piepgrass told me.
“What? What did he tell you?” Why the fuck did he not say this earlier?
“He fancies himself an amateur psychologist.” Dr. Piepgrass gave me a wry smile, his arms akimbo. He then said Typhon had a suspicion about an eating disorder and brought up the depression theory. Piepgrass had told me months ago that I didn’t have clinical depression, and if I did, I was very good at hiding it.
“Why didn’t you tell him he was wrong?”
“He just kept talking. It actually was fun to listen to his strange ideas. He did say there was some ‘tension’ between the two of you.”
I wrinkled my face. “If he meant his being rude and disrespectful, yes, there was ‘tension’ between us.” I looked mournfully at Dr. Piepgrass but he had no reply.
“How are you doing?”
I tossed back my hair. The orange stripes were finally growing out. Shiny dark hair encompassed most of my head now. “I’m doing pretty well! I’ve been spending time with friends and walking a lot.”
“How is your arm pain?”
“It is bad, but it takes the locus of the pain off my back and legs. I’m able to strengthen my legs by walking and getting cardio.” I extended my legs to look at my calf muscles that were still visible and became distracted by the indigo remnants of nail polish on my toes.
“It sounds to me like you’re in denial.”
“What?!” I shot my head back up. I couldn’t be in denial of the physical pain that was impossible to even compartmentalize. The pain changed every movement of my new life, dictating every swing of the hips and point of the toes. I gave him a wide-eyed look that transformed into a death stare only my brother was familiar with, until now.
“Your arms still hurt and you didn’t even mention it until I asked,” Dr. Typhon berated.
That was the final straw. I would no longer let him dictate how I was going to navigate my pain and my attitude. For the last ten months, I had felt like an avenged ex-lover was constantly poking a voodoo doll of me, attacking me in new places every week. I needed my pain to improve and I had come to him for help.
“Dr. Typhon, last time you told me I needed to change my mindset and said I was too negative. I can’t win.” I raised my voice and decided I was going to be the authoritative one. I looked at his cold hazel eyes behind the sturdy designer glasses. “I’m not going to let you talk to me this way anymore. Last time I saw you, I cried because you made me feel so bad about myself.”
He snapped, “You made yourself cry. You did that to yourself.”
The young resident who had examined me earlier and briefed Dr. Typhon about my condition shifted his stance, watching us with a quizzical face.
“No!” My eyes watered up again. I couldn’t believe he had told me that my crying was my fault. I shivered from his icy tone, but I persisted. I tried to eliminate any shakiness from my voice. “You told me I was being negative and I visited that psychiatrist and he said I wasn’t even depress—”
“I’m not getting sucked into this!” he yelled.
After the appointment, I asked my mom why she didn’t defend me. She told me she thought I could handle him on my own.
“He was terrible! I could have used your help!”
Then she admitted his comments made her frozen, unable to process, and she could not say anything. “I was in shock,” she said.
While waiting for Dr. Typhon to enter the room, I looked over at my mother whose legs were shaking.
“Are you scared for this one, Mom?” I asked.
“I’m fine. I’m just cold,” she said, as her voice got higher and higher.
I giggled at her. We were learning how to deal with this through gallows humor. While waiting in the doctor’s office, we’d make up games. This time, my mom brought up cannibalism.
“Who do you think the tastiest would be in our family?” she asked me.
I stared at her with love and fear. I never knew how dark her mind would go for laughs.
“Your brother would be too tough, hard to chew. You’re too skinny. I would taste the best.”
“Oh my God! Mom!” I smiled the smile I inherited from her, and covered my perennially pale face with the delicate hands I also inherited from her.
Other times, we would wait in the office rating the O.J. Simpson attorneys in order of attractiveness on a scale from one to ten. She wasn’t just my mom anymore. We were a team battling these wretched appointments. We were bonding as adults for the first time.
Dr. Typhon entered the room.
I asked him, “What do you think of getting me a handicapped placard for days when it is harder to walk? Would it be possible for you to write something up?”
“I can write you one but what do I think of it?”
I nodded, ashamed, still under his stupid spell of condescension.
“Well, to me, it means you are a cripple who refuses to get better. Watching your progress is like watching grass grow. To me, you are no longer the fearless young woman who stormed the campus of U.C. Berkeley right after major surgery.”
“Fearless?” I scoffed. “I’ve never been fearless in my life!” He does not know me at all. Oh my God! “I’m doing the best I can and you’re making me feel like it’s my fault!” I shouted at the top of my lungs and started crying again.
“I’m the one who diagnosed you with fibromyalgia. You wouldn’t even have known you had fibromyalgia if it weren’t for me.”
I thought back to the article my great-aunt had sent me. I retorted, “Actually, I knew I had fibromyalgia. I just needed an official diagnosis and had to pay you $300 after you saw me for TEN minutes.”
The rest was a blur but I remember shaking hands with the young resident doctor. “Thank you!” I said to him, “You were a good doctor.” I rolled my eyes at Typhon as a parting gift.
We then left the office and I bawled all the way home in the car.
After I told my father about this fight, he told me I could see his colleague Dr. Oliver instead. It just took longer to get an appointment with this man, but I could have spared myself months of verbal abuse. Dr. Oliver ended up being one of the most intelligent, respectful, and kind doctors I have ever known. I still have a pulse of 120 when I am in the rheumatology office, though.
Not long after that final appointment with Typhon, my father gifted me a “voodoo doll doctor.” It was small and green. The doctor had a dorky face and if I squeezed it, it would say, “Hello, I am your doctor.” I don’t think it came with any pins, though. In hindsight, I don’t know if I appreciated this as much as I do at this very moment. It was an incredibly empathic gesture. It must have been humbling for my dad to recognize that such a gift denigrating his profession would give me the comfort I needed.
To this day, it is seared into my brain that it is my fault that I still have pain and I am still not better. Dr. Oliver always made me feel better about myself. After the appointments with Dr. Oliver, my mom and I would go to Baskin Robbins, see the birds at the local bird farm, or go to the local independent bookstore as a treat because I would want to reward myself for subjecting myself to the trigger of the medical building.
Years later, I was on the phone with my friend Bonnie, an older student whom I met at the University of Redlands. I was not able to get back to Berkeley, but I continued my education and completed my degree.
We were talking about doctors. She said, “Oh, but the one I saw in Vista Verde, he was the worst out of the thirty years of my having lupus.”
“Oh my God, was it Dr. Typhon?” I pulled another pillow under my head for comfort and possible “tea.”
“That petite man? The brunet?!”
“Yes!” I started laughing so hard. I loved it. The brunet.
“He was the worst! I still remember the fear in his eyes when I stood up to leave in the middle of the first appointment. He was jolted by my height.”
Bonnie is 6’1” and a former model. She would have towered over him.
“You left in the middle of your first appointment?” I hadn’t even thought to do such a thing.
“Yes,” she said. “I heard a man yelling at the nurses while I was waiting and thought, ‘Ooh, that better not be my doctor!’ He opened the door and I thought, ‘Oh no.’ He wanted to prescribe me eyedrops that I had already tried and had given me adverse effects. I said, ‘That’s it, I’m leaving!’ I stood up and he nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw how much taller I was. And I went home.”
“Wow! How did you know to leave right away? I felt I was in an abusive relationship with him for months before I knew I could even leave.” I traced the eyes of my 27-year-old teddy bear as I positioned a pillow between my legs.
She said, “Because I’ve spent almost my whole life seeing doctors. I knew he was a waste of my time. But then he called me when I got home.”
“He called you? What?”
“Yes! He whined, ‘Why won’t you let me be your doctor?’ He even apologized!”
“He apologized? That’s all I wanted, was for him to apologize to me!”
She continued, “I said, ‘Don’t apologize to me! Apologize to your nurses. They don’t deserve to be treated that way.’”
I am glad I can laugh about him and bond with others who have shared in the experience of being his patient, but the doctor trauma changed my life forever. When I encounter doctors who are ignorant and/or rude, I cannot help but turn into a feral animal, uncaged, ready to attack the white coats who shamed me, never believed me, broke and bruised my body and spirit at the tender age of 19. I don’t trust myself with them. I must bring a chaperone.
Return to “The Brunet Part I”
About the Author
Tamara Hattis is a writer and collage artist in Redlands, California. Her art and poetry have previously been published in The Sand Canyon Review, Ghost Town Literary Magazine, The Deaf Poets Society, Incandescent Mind (Sadie Girl Press), Cholla Needles Magazine, and Wordgathering. She published her first full-length poetry collection/memoir in 2019 titled Colors of My Pain, which documents her adult life with chronic pain. Her work is also featured on her website Tamilani.com and she can be followed on her Instagram page @tamarahattis.
Tamara Hattis’s art, “Barbie Bubble” is Published in this issue of Wordgathering.