She walked into the quiet waiting room with faded blue chairs looking ready to walk down a runway. She couldn’t have been older than twenty-five but seemed as if she had all the answers to the world’s mysteries. She flashed a quick smile to everyone she passed, making them feel as if they were special.
Elizabeth sat slumped in the corner, absorbed into the couch as if her backpack was carrying the contents of her locker. Lacking elegance, she was dressed in an oversized sweatshirt and pajama pants, an outfit she considered to be normal for school. But at moments like these Elizabeth always wished she had taken the two extra minutes to brush her hair or choose a respectable-looking sweater. The sympathetic smiles from her teachers all day asking “are you ok,” weren’t very helpful in her search for self-confidence.
Despite all this, Elizabeth sat up. “I’ll start reading,” she thought, “that way I’ll look worldly and classy.” Elizabeth’s small commotion caused the other woman to look up from her phone, where she was probably solving world peace or saving lives (something obviously very important), to look at Elizabeth. The smile she flashed was not like the ones she gave everyone else. Elizabeth perceived it as pitiful, as if the woman were saying, “Poor girl, don’t even try. Nothing you do will turn you into me.” Elizabeth squirmed under her gaze, eyes darting from her shoes to the fluorescent light. Finally, the woman chuckled and looked back at her phone.
Elizabeth became irate; the tips of her ears had turned bright pink, which obstructed her desire to hide her emotions. She gave up the small amount of hope that she might not be seen as the slob she knew she was in another person’s eyes, especially such a put-together, intelligent woman who was not much older than her. Besides, the nurse called her in for her check-up and she would most likely never see this woman again. She struggled to pick up her heavy backpack, turned as to give the woman one final polite smile. She wanted to curse her out, or flip her off. But knowing that type of stuff never worked well for her she smiled and made her way back to meet the doctor with one final thought: “Oh, maybe I’ll pull it together tomorrow.”
The nurse walked with a limp, dragging her left foot while putting too much weight on her right. Maybe it was old age, maybe an injury. Either way, they made their way to the appointment room slowly – Elizabeth was in no rush to be poked and prodded yet again.
Doctors’ offices are not enjoyable places. The air conditioning makes the room too cold, the LED lights hurt your eyes and the walls are too white. But when she was younger her favorite hobby was going to the doctor. When she was only six years old she found Web MD, internationally renowned as a useful, reliable source of medical information. She would quickly convince herself she had deadly diseases such as tuberculosis, the swine flu and pneumonia. She started going to the doctor whenever she believed she had a new disease, which happened often. The practice became oddly soothing. Elizabeth would have an itch on her hand, go online and discover that itchy skin is a symptom of chickenpox, inform her parents of her “disease” and they would bring her to the doctor.
They continued this practice until the influenza incident of ‘09. Elizabeth was playing at the 69th street playground in Central Park, a regular hangout spot at the time. It was mid-May, the sky was bright blue with some clouds that looked like the powdered sugar she liked to put on her waffles and the park was filled with the sounds of birds. She was playing with her friend Owen and he sneezed on her without covering his mouth. Elizabeth could almost feel the germs traveling through her skin. Disgusting. A nine-year-old should know to cover a sneeze. Elizabeth was in shock, then cried, then screamed, then ran to her nanny and asked to be brought to the doctor. Her nanny knew the routine at this point, and with a sigh grabbed Elizabeth’s hand and walked her there. When they arrived, the doctor, who was unsurprised to see them, brought them back into the best room: the monkey room. The walls were decorated with bright green trees and cartoon monkeys, which always seemed to take away from the overwhelming fear of being in the presence of shots and needles.
She recognized the smell– those chemicals that burn your nose smelled good and bad at the same time. The doctor entered and Elizabeth, as usual, told her the diagnosis and how she would like to be tested. In the past, the doctor had been happy to play along with this little game, finding it comical that a little girl was so confident in her information. But today, she decided it was enough, and Elizabeth would have to learn a lesson. The doctor smiled and said, “Okay Elizabeth, put on this robe and I’ll be back in a few minutes with the influenza test.” With approval from Elizabeth’s mother, she left the room and came back with three empty vials and a scary syringe for taking blood. Elizabeth put on the scratchy blue paper robe, which felt rough on her bare legs. The paper that kept the exam table sanitary made a loud crunching noise when she sat down. Elizabeth saw the needles and started panicking a little bit. She never had to get shots or blood tested when she came in for her many diseases. She always just had her temperature taken and then got a lollipop and stickers. She had the perfect setup. The doctor smiled and started taking her blood. Blood is not supposed to be outside of your body. Elizabeth felt shaky and lightheaded and passed out. She awoke on the exam table feeling dizzy with her robe not covering her underwear. Embarrassed, she immediately got dressed, grabbed her nanny’s hand and ran out of the office without taking a lollipop or sticker.
Since that day Elizabeth had avoided doctors’ offices and Web MD at all costs. But she had to go, in a week she was leaving on her summer program at Stanford. She was going to study Ancient Greek mythology. Though she knew she would end up liking the class and making friends, part of Elizabeth did not want to go. Perhaps it was the resentment that comes when your parents (most often your mom) make you do something. The final part of her application that remained to be turned in was a necessary doctor’s note.
Catherine was rushing out of her cab. Her black high heels made her feet hurt as she sprinted from the car. Always running. Rush hour was the worst time to travel in Manhattan, but a mother’s duties never stop. She knew the reality of Elizabeth’s doctor visits and how they could turn out very badly. Elizabeth was already upset with her about the whole Stanford experiment, and she knew Elizabeth might sabotage the appointment.
Her phone started buzzing again. Catherine’s heart dropped. “One hour,” she thought, “all I ask for is one single hour to myself where I can be a normal mother whose sole worry is her kids. But I am a corporate lawyer who’s always on the clock.” She picked up the phone, swiping past the background of her family trip to Florida to pick up the call.
Catherine paced up and down 68th street between Lexington and Third. The trees were in full bloom and covered in little pink flowers. Kids were running, skipping and scootering all with smiling faces. She wished she could go back to a time when life was that simple, and she did not have to listen to her colleagues talk over each other on yet another conference call.
After finally getting to speak and getting off the call she entered the red brick building through the door hidden by layers of ivy. Only a small sign indicated that it was a doctor’s office. She walked in and saw the woman who was old enough to think she knew all there was to life but too young to understand that she knew nothing, that early twenties phase.
Catherine was called back by one of the nurses she became well-acquainted with during Elizabeth’s hypochondriac phase. After polite small talk to catch up, Catherine was led into the exam room. Elizabeth had an unconcerned look on her face, but Catherine knew her daughter well enough to know she was hiding some fear from the necessary, but understandable incident. Catherine and Elizabeth made eye contact and shared a small smile, the same smile. Elizabeth was lucky enough to get her mother’s smile. Despite the strained and sometimes forced relationship, they could still share these nice moments of peace and understanding.