I thought she could help me with night terrors, this nice new therapist. The night terrors started a few weeks after my son went to prison–five words I had never thought I would string together.
I’ve had nightmares since childhood, but these are extraordinary. I tumble into slumber, then wake myself screaming bloody murder, like the woman in Psycho.
I lay on the pavement weeping, my bicycle on its side. I’d received the blue Schwinn on my 9th birthday, and it was still too big for me—a small-built girl with weak legs, just recovered from mono after a year spent sitting out most activities. No jump-rope, hopscotch, or bicycle, the pediatrician said. For months, I just sat on the patio (for fresh air, mother said) reading or drawing.
Have ever felt that sense of unease on a cellular level? Like something is amiss. Like nothing feels quite right in a visceral way. That feeling sneaks up on me at certain points it the year. Like when it is time to transition back to school. Or, deep in winter. Or, the anniversary of a difficult event.
The last two years of my father’s life were interesting. Our previous roles were reversed: Dad was now the child, and I the adult. I moved him to a new city and state, getting him close enough to keep an eye on him. He was already suffering from dementia, a realization I came to after he had forty thousand dollars stolen from him.
That’s right. Forty thousand dollars.
Sauntering into the dark hospital room, I was dazzled by my patient’s radiant smile. It spanned her face and crinkled her eyes; her crooked teeth peeked through her lips, making her seem approachable and kind.
“Hi, Ms. Radha, I’m a third-year medical student,” I said. “Is this an okay time to chat? I’m here on behalf of the psychiatry department.”
I was out of this clinic for almost four months.
When I came back, I realized that everyone was unsettled and upset. Apparently, this clinic was closing, another one was opening in the same space, and many of the staff were leaving. There was one recurring theme amongst the worried staff and providers, as time ticked on, relentlessly, towards D-Day. What will happen to all these patients who will fall through the cracks?
He has sharp right abdominal pain.
The pain comes and goes. It started as dull and general, but he feels it’s now concentrated on his right side. He had a similar pain a year ago, he adds. It’s worse now, so he came to the hospital.
He has a cough due to COVID.
The cough has been going on for a couple months. He had COVID in November, and it resolved. But he got COVID again in February and since then has had this lingering cough. He’s vaccinated and boosted.
One winter morning in 2020, I was called to the reception desk to meet my patient Esther and her husband Hertzel. Some time earlier, I’d asked Esther–somewhat awkwardly–if she’d be willing to talk to me about her experience of being diagnosed with and treated for advanced breast cancer, and she’d willingly agreed. Today was the day.
Eighteen months earlier, Esther, in her sixties, had come to my hospital’s ER at her rabbi’s urging.