The young man had been struggling for a some time. The days had turned into weeks, and those weeks, advancing and growing like a virulent storm front, had transformed into months.
It was a silent battle known only to a few.
Those around him, closest to him, were privy to the extent to which his life had been altered, the extent to which he stoically faced his challenge. Braving the short nights and long days. Doing the needleful to survive. In his mind, a solitary, terrifying thought held fast: the way things were going, he wasn’t sure if there was an end in sight.
Eventually, the young man knew he needled help. From an expert. From one who had spent years in training and who had the tangible experience to assuage this struggle, to show him a sharp path to enlightenment. Doctor Google would no longer suffice. It was time.
After almost a month and half of doing seemingly endless battle, he went to his family physician. A cry for help. There he was, a handsome, brave young man at the end of his rope, reaching out to another more learned, experienced man who may have more rope. A dangling life preserver.
The Waiting Room
Upon arrival at the clinic, the young man presented his health card as required and was asked to take a seat in the bustling waiting room. It was early morning on a frigid Sunday and yet, all these others had come just like him, to be delivered from what ailed them.
The weighted, heavy silence was often punctuated by a smattering of coughs and sniffles; those seated, at every disturbance, surreptitiously craned their heads up from their typical smartphone posture, to see if they should move seats, to minimize contact with the pestilence that now surely filled the air. The air they were all breathing in together.
In the end, however, through sheer dumb luck, or through the invisible yet powerful forces of social construct, no one moved. It could also have been the fact that there were no empty seats, and when faced with standing for indeterminate time or inspiring a multitude of airborne illnesses, humans will invariably choose the latter, to be afflicted albeit in the comfort of the hard plastic Ikea chairs.
Deep in one corner of the waiting room, while on one of his surreptitious post-cough scouting missions, the young man noticed the silent whirring of an inconspicuously placed Dyson air purifier, languidly turning to-and-fro, it’s presence as symbolic as the imagined whirring sound he’d created in his mind.
With his eyes fixated on the mesmerizing motion, he was startled to hear his name called. His full name. Quickly sitting upright, he looked around, confused, broken from the hypnotic Dyson trance. That same daze that hits those woken at 4 am by their smoke detector battery warning going off, with the same trill as if a 4 alarm fire was blazing on their stove top.
Quickly, he was returned to the present time. Realizing that doctor’s staff member had called him, he stood up shakily, his balance off, and followed her through the opened gateway into the hallowed back hallway with many doors visible down the length.
Please go into room 3 and wait there.
Clinic Inner Sanctum
He couldn’t be sure how much time had passed since his arrival. It could have been 15 minutes. It could have been an hour. He could have looked at his smartphone clock and calculated, but as of now, only Dyson knew. But what he did know was that the wait would likely be shorter now that he had entered the inner sanctum. From his experience, this is where time sped up, where it caught up to where it needed to be.
He wasn’t wrong.
It was mere moments before the physician knocked on the door and entered. After quick pleasantries, the doctor acquired the chief concern and current medical history through his sharp, pointed questions, already being privy to the past history on his computer screen.
Hop on the table, let me have a look
With those words, the physician commanded action. The young man, ever the dutiful patient, hopped athletically up on the examination table and did as he was told. Mouth opened, tongue proffered. Head tilted to each side, to expose the external auditory meatuses one after the other. A frigid stethoscope gliding along cotton T shirt material, it’s cold only imagined from past experience against flesh. Ears, throat, chest. All clear.
This Too Shall Pass.
The verdict: viral. No treatment required. Rest and plenty of fluids. Over the counter medication, if required, to manage symptoms. With the advice to follow up if things got worse, the young man returned back into the world to face the untold number of viruses that surely infected him, that wracked his now slimmed body.
And battle he did.
Relentless, the purported viruses attempted to bring him down. Forcing heaving night coughs that held sleep at bay, keeping dreams undreamt and sorrow ever present. He battled through the days, working for the man, to pay his bills, to survive. He made it through the day times, where the cough was tamer and the symptoms softer, until the night fell and the monster awoke, thrashing and crashing about, leaving nothing but misery and anguish in its wake.
During the entirety of his ailment, he could count on his one constant companion, the crushing fatigue.
From a man who normally slept six and half to seven hours a night, to wake up fresh and full of vigour, he became but a mere shell of his former self. Eight, nine, ten hours. Slumber was long but fitful, broken as he was. Restless as it was requisite. Like a long ago unrequited love, there was no satisfaction. No closure.
Often assailed by a dry, hacking cough, the young man was reminded that these little beings, these viruses, could do untold harm should they choose to do so.
In two weeks time, voice cracking, eyes sunken, the now haggard young man could battle no more. He conceded defeat. He needled help. Again.
This time, there was incredible pressure around and behind his right eye. And that fatigue. Encompassing. Out of the ordinary. It called for investigation. Something wasn’t right. And something was wrong.
His preliminary research prior to re-engaging his professional helped him elucidate some preliminary diagnoses: it was likely cancer or a brain tumour. Potentially a concussion. These were plain to see on the Internets with even a cursory search of his symptoms. But these differential diagnoses would have to be independently verified by one who could actually make them. And treat them. The duly licensed doctor with a degree from an actual medical school, not the Google one.
With that realization, he returned to his family physician.
Seated on that examination table once again in room 3, the crinkly paper affording but a thin veneer of sanitation between the shiny table surface and the back of his shrunken thighs, he waited patiently as the doctor did his thing. The symptoms were concerning enough that the doctor decided the young man required an elevated level of diagnostics: gallons of blood drawn, head and chest x-rays, along with a starting course of simple antibiotics. Requisitioned and prescribed, respectively.
The next day, at the crack of 9 am when the imaging laboratory opened for the day, the young man was there, requisition in hand, ready to possibly find out what ailed him. His homemade diagnoses had been discarded for the more plausible pneumonia or sinusitis, with the latter edging out the former with verified bookmaker odds of 17 to 1.
As the technologist set up the machine, he was pleased to note that she had ensured the proper placement of the lead skirt pad around his now extra narrow waist.
The machine whirred and hummed, a click here, a click there. Within minutes, the technologist confirmed that the images were clear and useful, that the radiologist would be able to interpret them prior to sending the detailed report to the family doctor.
Three days passed from the follow up, three days of that simple course of antibiotics. And one day from the x-rays. The phone rang. The call display flashed a name. It was the family doctor calling. With some level of trepidation, the young man answered, coughing his hello.
Sinuses affected. Chest clear.
The doctor, based on the imaging results wanted to change the antibiotics. Same class of drugs, but stronger. Much stronger. The prescription was changed and lengthened. A week longer. It was what it was. There was no way around it. Drugs. Some are good. Some are bad. Here, these were the good ones. Like vaccinations.
Over the next five days many of the symptoms dropped off. The cough, abated, reduced to an occasional sputter, less harsh, less insistent. A friendly titter here and there. The veil of fatigue lifted, it’s gossamer threads pushed aside, present but a ghost of its former self, an echo.
On the sixth day, the morning gave way to the evening.
And with it came the return of incredible right sided sinus pressure. This should not have happened. The young man was 2 pills away from finishing his course of antibiotics and a reversal of symptoms had reared it’s ugly head. As he lay his weary head upon his soft, goose down pillow, he knew, in his heart of hearts, that something had gone terribly wrong and he would need to call his family doctor again.
His third cry for help. The last vestiges of his toxicly manly pride stripped off his being like forty year old wallpaper flippantly peeled off the living room wall, exposing the ragged underbelly, jagged and vulnerable.
The next morning, he picked up his phone and made the call. After briefly explaining the situation, the receptionist conferred with the doctor. Without delay, they would see him later that evening to plan a new course of action.
The Third Visit
Having been squeezed into an already full schedule at the last minute, the young man realized the wait would be long. He arrived prepared with his hand computer fully charged, outrage inducing articles at the ready.
Eventually his name was called and he was shuttled back to his familiar room 3. The doctor arrived promptly and with no preamble the young man recounted the last 24 hours, explaining the worsening of the right sided sinus pressure even though there was only one more antibiotic pill to take later that evening.
The doctor looked at him. Was that concern the young man saw etched in the lines that marked the physicians forehead? Or perhaps the lines of force from the doctor’s frontalis muscle contracting as he pulled his eyebrows together while analyzing the problem at hand? We would never find out.
In any case, the physician decided that further investigations were needled – the fatigue, the pressure – as these were not normal for the otherwise robust and healthy young man. The lack of change after the initial two courses of antibiotics also gave reason to pause and ponder. As he was submitting the diagnostic requisition, the physician paused mid-typing and said simply:
I may have another solution…
The Solution: One Word. Two Meanings
The young man was all ears.
The doctor then mentioned injectable antibiotics. Two shots, two days in a row. A third generation drug. A different class from the previous interventions, known to be effective against more resistant bugs. Stronger than what went before. If these failed, the doctor said, it was unlikely that the issue was bacterial.
And as luck would have it, the doctor would be able to inject the medication right there in his office, using samples supplied by the government. The power of universal healthcare.
The young man watched as the doctor prepared the solution, carefully drawing then injecting the contents of one small vial into the contents of the slightly larger vial using a sterile syringe. In the physicians deft hands, the mixture was gently rolled back and forth, the molecules blended in perfect rolling rhythm. Two became one, their power magnified, summated.
Opening a new hypodermic needle blister package, the doctor carefully attached it to the syringe after discarding the initial mixing needle.
Meanwhile, as the physician was preparing the treatment, the young man thought that he would be helpful, that he would save the doctor some time and get ahead of the process. While the doctor was occupied, he slipped his arm out of his shirt, leaving the meaty flesh exposed on the counter, ready for injection.
The syringe was finally ready and prepared to deliver it’s precious solution. The doctor looked up, a smile played on his lips, only to be revoked almost as fast as it came out. Or was that imagined?
It won’t be in your arm, but in your buttock…
Eyes widened. And they were not the doctor’s. A soft “oh” was heard escaping from the young man’s parted lips. Realization struck.
Louder this time. Again, it wasn’t from the doctor.
The young man assumed the position as requested. And the doctor kept up the friendly banter about how these new high tech needles barely make a prick.
As quickly as it began, it ended with only a dull ache, a throbbing deep within the left cheek. The young man had completed the first shot of two. He would return the next day for the second dose, advised that within 3 days if symptoms didn’t significantly improve they would have to continue to investigate further.
The Next Day
The young man opened his eyes. Blinked twice. Closed them. And opened them fully, willing his eyelids to reach their end limits.
It was a miracle. Or sorcery. Or magic, white or black, it didn’t matter.
The sinus pressure was virtually non existent. The fatigue having dissipated like the steam rising from a hot cup of coffee, becoming nothing from something. Only a mild ache in the left buttock remained as a reminder of yesterday’s penetration.
If that was the effect of the first dose, what would be the effect of both? That was the young man’s pressing thought as he made his way to the doctor’s office once again. His excitement was palpable. And why wouldn’t it be? This was the best he had felt in almost two months.
He arrived and after a brief wait was escorted to the back. Room 3, again. As though mirroring the set up of yesterdays visit, they were both seated the same way. Both in the same position, under the same context. Today held none of yesterday’s pleasantries. There was no preamble again as the doctor prepared the vial in the same manner, with the same care and attention. The syringe was readied, the solution measured.
This time, without pulling his arm out of his sleeve, the young man stood up, pulled down his pants, and turned the other cheek.
Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash
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