Ms. Darcey had been my patient for over four years. She was one of those fortunate few who made it to the doctor’s office only for their yearly physical exam. One day she showed up unexpectedly, in a wheelchair, her head tilted to one side. She had arrived at the diagnosis before I could make an attempt.
Cranio-facial dystonia. There, before my eyes, the muscles of her neck and shoulders contorted, wrenching her head, as her eyes winked and her voice staggered.
Our subsequent meeting was months later. Meanwhile, she had been diligently following up with her neurologist. Her symptoms remained unchanged, but her medication list had expanded.
The next time she visited, I happened to see her sitting in the waiting room, her eyes glued to the overhead TV screen, her hands rubbing her husband’s shoulder. Her muscles must have decided to behave during my vigil, for not one of them dared to twitch while I watched.
But as soon as she stepped into the exam room, her muscles retaliated, as if with a vengeance. Something did not quite add up.
Upon a little prodding, she admitted that her symptoms abated with distraction and human touch, a sign of psychogenic rather than true dystonia. Although it was a challenge convincing her to seek psychiatric help, I did eventually succeed. Today, she walks free with her head held high above her shoulders.
As medical professionals, we are adept at searching. We search extensively, in the hopes of reaching the roots of our patients’ ailments. We conduct our search, for the most part, by drilling through words; words that spill out from the patient’s mouth on their own accord, and words that scrupulously make their way to the patient’s chart at our discretion.
But what if we haven’t searched a place that lies within our close proximity, where stories reside without the aid of words? A place where stories skulk around, staring at us through the walls and doors, waiting to be seen, but only when looked at. The place we call “The Waiting Room."