On my third visit to her, I saw her in white coat and a stethoscope dangled around her neck. Her golden hair tidily tied in a tight bun, she sat across the desk from me. I sneezed into a hanky and she slid a mask over her face depriving me the view of her full lips.
Unlike the last two times when I had faked symptoms, this time I was really sick.
“So how long has this been going on?”
‘Since I first saw you outside your clinic,’ I wanted to say. Instead I said, “Feels my body is burning all over.”
“Yes, you’ve a fever of hundred and two degrees. Have you been to Mexico? Or foreign country?”
“No, but would like to go. Would you?”
“Yes, I would.” With a dreamy look in her sparkling eyes, she said, “Once this swine flu epidemic is over.”
Would she go with me?
“Take deep breaths.”She moved her stethoscope on my chest and then on my back. I wished instead of the cold stethoscope, I could feel her warm fingers, but she had worn gloves. When she slid them off I saw no ring on any of her fingers.
I let out a sigh of relief.
“I would like to check a few other things. You haven’t been to a doctor for five years before you saw me the first time. Right? I insist on an annual routine checkup. And we start now.” She scribbled on a printed paper. “Here are the tests I want you to have.”
When she handed me the paper her fingers lingered over mine.
In my follow up visit, she said, “Your cholesterol is a bit high. And it will benefit you to exercise five times a week. And I’m glad the fever is gone.” She put down my chart on her desk and was on her way to the wash basin.
I had developed a gut feeling that she liked me. If I didn’t ask her now it would never happen. “Will you have a dinner with me?”
She stopped, then swirled around toward me. Her deep honey colored eyes narrowed and focused on me. “Incredible. Do you know what you are asking? Getting romantically involved with patients is against Medical Ethics? I don’t do such a thing.”
She slumped into her chair, shook her head and covered her face with her hands. For a minute, neither of us spoke. Then she picked up my chart, stole a glance at me, turned page after page.
“No patient ever asked me to a dinner before.” She shifted her gaze to the floor, moved her face closer to mine and whispered inside her mask. “But on the other hand,” she said and beamed. “I can. Just to educate you on the importance of selecting healthy food from the menu to bring your cholesterol down. Is tonight okay with you?
“Tonight? Yes, indeed.”
We met in an Italian restaurant and she ordered for me – a salad which she would share with me, a lean fish entrée and virgin olive oil.
“We need to raise your good cholesterol.” She put a forkful of salad in her mouth. “Choose food with a lot of omega three fatty acids, exercise, eat an avocado a day, and a few almonds. And for us a glass of Chianti Classico for now will be good.”
Dinner over, she shook hands with me and left. A few feet away, she turned back. “Hey, I also need to teach you carb counting. And we need to talk about Greek yoghurt. So is Sunday all right with you?”
“Sunday is fine.”
“But don’t you dare think we’re dating. Ok, sweetheart?”
“Whatever you say.”
She had chosen a Chinese vegetarian restaurant. The fragrance of her cologne drifted across the table. What a relief from the anti-septic odor of her clinic.
She fished out her cell. “What’s your height and weight, Danny?”
Her tone sounded apologetic. I told her. She made some calculations on her hi-tech cell.
“Your BMI is twenty five point three. I need to lower it to twenty four.” She shifted her eyes towards mine, smiled and said, “Sorry. And you need to eat no more than a hundred and eighty grams of carbs a day. And I’ll — “She spoke like she forced herself to say things she didn’t want to say.
“Wait a second, doc.”
“Call me Sophia. We’re not in the clinic.”
“Sophia, I’m developing a problem. Whenever I think of you or see you, I feel fullness in my heart and it skips beats.”
She creased her forehead. “Really? Hm. I need to take your EKG. You need Holter monitoring and a stress test.”
Couldn’t she realize I was already undergoing the stress test just sitting in front of her?
She stretched her hand across the table and her fingers, no longer inside gloves, curled around my wrist. I closed my eyes in ecstasy.
“Your heart is beating too fast.”At hundred and twenty beats a minute.”
Because it beat for both of us, honey. I opened my eyes. Damn, I didn’t know she was feeling my pulse.
“Maybe you are de-conditioned from lack of exercise. If your tests are normal I’ll teach you to exercise. Would you like to join my gym? Or you can jog with me in the early morning. I can supervise you.”
She had not let go of my wrist – an encouraging sign. The waitress brought us our check and fortune cookies. I asked her to pick one.
“I believe in what those cookies say.” She shook her head. “So I’m scared to open one. I prefer not to know.”
“How about I open mine and open yours too. I won’t tell you what it says.”
“That’s okay with me.”
So I cracked open mine and pulled out the slip of paper. ‘Your dream will come true,’ it said. Hers read ‘your lucky numbers are 2, 5 and 9.’ I crumpled them into a ball, aimed and threw it towards the rubbish bin.
“What did mine say?”
“You said you didn’t want to know.”
“It’s not fair that you know but I don’t. If it’s bad don’t tell me.”
“No, it wasn’t,” I toyed with a spoon. “If you continue to do what you’re doing you will be happy in life. That’s what it said.”
She chuckled like my words tickled her. “Really.”
She promised to schedule an appointment for me for the tests, shook both of my hands. “You know we’re not dating. Right?”
“I know what we’re doing.” Of course, we were dating but she was in denial. Damn her Medical Ethics.
“You’re not mad at me for saying so. Are you?”
“I’m mad for you,” I wanted to say. But out loud I said, “No, I’m not mad at all.”
Next day, I got a call from her to tell me the dates and times for the tests.
“I’m troubling you too much.” There was a pause. I thought she hung up, but no, I heard her troubled breathing “I can hook you up with another doctor. He’s an angel. To tell you the truth, I’m rather inexperienced. I’m in practice for just over a year. He is middle aged, experienced, a nice guy.”
“I refuse. I want only you.”
“Why don’t you understand, Danny? Listen. There is a new vegetarian restaurant on Eighth Street. They have heart healthy menu. Should we go? It will give you wider choice for food selection.”
I lay in bed thinking. Did she want me to see another doctor to remove the barrier of Medical Ethics? Stupid of me to refuse.
So we went. It turned out to be an Indian restaurant with statues of Lord Ganesha, Shiva and goddess Laxmi in three different corners. Paintings of medieval kings and queens covered the walls. An incense stick burned near a replica of the Taj Mahal behind the cashier who wore a saree. Only one other couple occupied a table at the far corner.
I hung my coat on the rack and helped her take off hers.
That’s when she put her arms around my neck and kissed me.
“I can’t believe you kissed me.” I kept my arms around her.
“No. That wasn’t a kiss. I just wanted to sniff your breath to find out if you smoke. It’s all your fault. Why did you open your mouth? No, that wasn’t a kiss. I didn’t mean it.”
“If it wasn’t a kiss, what was it? Direct transfer of body fluid through oral means?”
She clapped her hands. “You’re learning medical language. If you felt it that way, it was only a side effect of my action. Whatever doctors do always have side effects.” She nudged my side with her elbow.
Her eyes twinkled in the candle light and we took our seats. Could love be a side effect of her medical jargon?
“You don’t test every patient for smoking this way. Why me?”
“Shut up and listen. Indian green chilies have a pain killer Capsaicin and turmeric has a reputation to prevent dementia. And cinnamon improves the insulin sensitivity.”
I gulped down the lemon scented water and rolled my eyes.
“Am I not a good company? Tell me everything about yourself then.” She planted her elbows on the table, cupped her hands and rested her chin on her palms. “I needed to know all of your personal, social, occupational and family history. A thorough knowledge is necessary for the perfect management of the patient. We don’t get enough time in the office for this, that’s why I asked you to a dinner. So don’t think we’re dating.”
“Sophia, I understand everything.” Then I talked and talked to tell everything about me.
“Wow. You had such a difficult life, Danny. But you’re an achiever. I had a tough life too. I lost my mother when I was twelve. My dad took care of me alone. Yes, he had a few relationships but he never allowed them to interfere with my upbringing. I’m what I am today because of him. When you meet him, you’ll like him.”
She wanted me to meet her father? I had no idea things had advanced that much in her mind.
I noticed a hint of tears in her eyes. “You don’t have to tell me any of this.”
“But I want to. Especially to you. I don’t want you to look at me only as a doctor. I need you to understand me as a human being.” She made an effort to smile.
“I love that dimple on your cheek when you smile. It is so cute.”
She blushed. “There is nothing cute about it. It’s an anatomical defect. The skin spot is tethered to the deeper muscles by a band of fibrous tissue.”
A swinging door opened and a dark brown complexioned waitress floated towards us on a wind of spicy aroma. She set down our dishes.
“I can’t wait. I’ve got hunger pangs.” She dipped her spoon in her curry.
I was starving too. I gobbled a few spoons of biryani rice that turned out to be too spicy for me. I refrained from complaining but beads of sweat formed on my forehead. When she saw them, her spoon stopped halfway toward her lips.
“Too hot for your taste? You’ve got gustatory sweating.” She picked up a paper napkin and mopped my forehead. “Mine is very mild. Have it. I’ll eat yours.”
We exchanged our dishes.
My test results came out normal.
“Would you like to join my gym or would you rather jog with me?”
Why did I want to talk to her in a crowded gym? “I’ll prefer to jog with you.”
“Good. Here’s my address.”
“You don’t live far from my place.”
“I know.” She bit her lip. “I remember your address. It’s in our office computer. Be at my place at 6:00 a.m.”
Damn, she even remembered my address. I would have shown up there at 4:00 a.m. “There is still one more problem. When I lay in my bed and think of you I can’t fall asleep.”
“Is that so? A good night’s sleep is essential.” She opened her purse took out a small plastic bottle and shook out a small green pill on my palm. “This is a sleeping pill. This will help you tonight. It helped me last night. But don’t drive, operate machinery or make important decisions when you are still drowsy.”
“Important decisions like what?”
“Like ….. like .. like falling in love with somebody else or… or investing in stocks. A pill is a temporary measure. We have to find a permanent solution. Right?”
‘Somebody else.’ How important that ‘else’ felt.
For the first week when we started jogging she had to slow down for me to catch up with her. We jogged through the piles of leaves strewn across the streets. We also ran through the rain. Then one night it snowed. She didn’t disappoint me by calling to cancel so I sloshed through the snow to her place.
We sprinted to reach our goal but on the return trip I slipped on a patch of black ice. I fell on my outstretched hand. An agonizing pain shot up my arm and I screamed. She helped me sit at the side of the road and her trembling hands touched my injured forearm.
“Oh my God. You’ve what we call Collie’s fracture. Your radius and ulna are broken. The first rule is to make the patient comfortable.” She muttered to herself and held my head against her chest. “Once the bones are aligned and immobilized your pain will ease a lot, honey.”
She held a cab and helped me get in. “St. John’s hospital, ER please,” she told the driver.
“How did you fall? Did you drink last night? You don’t smoke pot, do you?”
Next thing, she brought her mouth close to mine and inhaled deeply, brushing my lips with hers. This time I was in no mood to open my mouth.
“No sign of alcohol or cigarettes.”
“I told you the first time we met that I don’t smoke. Hey why are you crying? Haven’t you seen this kind of fracture before?”
“I’m not crying, stupid. It’s the disturbance in my limbic system that’s stimulating the parasympathetic nerves to my tear glands.”
“And what’s causing that disturbance in whatchacall system? I am the one in pain.”
“You have pain there.” She pointed toward my deformed forearm. “But I have a pain here.” She placed her hand on her heart.
She laid her head on my shoulder and continued to sob.
To tease her, I said, “I don’t like weak-hearted doctors. I am going to change my doctor to that middle aged man you told me about.”
“Really? Thank you.” She threw her arms around me. “That makes me free to–”
“You’re in love with me, darling.”
She moved a few inches away from me, visibly embarrassed, and looked in my eyes. “You can call it that if you want to. I’ve been taught not to argue with a patient in pain. But according to Medical Ethics–”
I put my mouth over hers and shut her up.