"Beautiful Heart", 3/11, NYC. Juliana Beasley
"Take off everything except for your underwear and put this on, " the nurse technician said, as she passed me a paper gown. I hadn't done this for years.
"Oh, tie in the front." She closed the door and I began to undress, hanging my clothes on the back of the door. I took off my beat up sneakers and socks, shoving the latter into the former. I placed them side by side next to the examining table.
I had called the week before to make an appointment for my yearly physical with Dr. Orbach. We hadn't seen each other in over ten years. I sat down on the hygenic tissue paper rolled out on the examining table, my legs swinging and dangling like a bored child in a waiting room. And I did feel like a child. Soon enough, the nurse technician returned. She wore a pair of standard scrubs with a little flair: a pastel design motif that accentuated her youthful appearance. In between taking my blood pressure and taking my pulse, she pulled out from her pants a cell phone protected in a hot pink case that matched her long fingernails. She glanced at it quickly and put it away.
"Lay down. Please."
She untied my robes and put suction cups on my breasts connected to tubes hooked up to an EKG machine. When she was finished, she asked me to stand on the scale.
"Please, don't tell me how much I weigh, " I asked as I stood backwards on the scale.
There were several years that I had refused to know how much I exactly weighed, whenever I went in for a check up. I didn't want to know anything definitive. Now, I know more or less. I just don't want to hear it come out from someone else's mouth, as they jot it down permanently in a records.
"Now, Ms. Beasley, just let me measure you." She balanced the metal rod on my head.
"How tall am I? " I asked.
"5'2"", she said.
Shit, I had lied for more than half of my life about my height. And I planned to continue lying and adding an inch to the truth for the rest of it too.
"How is everything", I asked when she finished.
"Everything is normal," she said. "Dr. Orbach will be with you shortly."
Really, everything is normal?
That unchartered passage that exists between the time the nurse technician leaves you alone with sterilized cotton balls and stainless steel cabinets, until the time when the doctor walks through the door can be agonizing and tortuous. Or at least, it is for me. I'm bored, I'm nervous. I have no purpose except to sit, wait. trust. I looked down at my hairy unshaven legs.
What will I say when she comes in? And where are those osteoporosis and golfing magazines? I'm trapped. Why do doctors always over schedule their patients and make you wait?
I pull out my mobile phone and start checking to see if I have any new e-mails or text messages. Nothing there. I am not on my time. I am on doctor time and that means I am completely out of control. And I am wearing nothing but a disposable napkin.
The door opened and a thinner older Dr. Orbach walked in. She looked good.
"Hi!", she said. It had been over ten years since I had last come to see her. The last time I saw her I was still working as a stripper and living in the East Village. I could still afford to pay for health insurance out of pocket. I had seen other doctors after I stopped going to her, but this was my first doctor's visit in more than 3 years.
"Wow, " she said, "Look at you! You have grown up." I imagined she was eye-balling the grays contrasted against my dark brown hair. I suddenly felt very self-conscious. I was already anxious in her presence but now, I felt like I might be noticeably trembling.
I knew Dr. Orbach beyond the normal patient/doctor relationship. I had picked her name randomly from a list of doctors that my health care provider had sent me. I picked her based on two things: she was a woman and I could take the crosstown bus to her office. But, the strange coincidence occured way before I was born, we had already made a connection. She knew my father, but she never knew that I was his daughter.
One day when I came in for a routine visit. At the end of the appointment, she became very serious.
"I have something to tell you, " she said. "I've known for a while. And I think you should know."
She informed me that my father had interviewed her as a young pre-med applicant to the medical college where he worked as the dean of admissions. She adored and admired my father. When she received word of his death, she was shocked to discover a photograph of me standing next to him printed on a memorial card sent to her in the mail.
"You can come up anytime and we can order in lunch," she said to me. I did. I ate a bagel with cream cheese and chives and drank a coffee. We were sitting in her office. I had nothing to say. I felt awkward, yet priveledged. I never went back for lunch after that.
Dr. Orbach was and is a very nice cardiologist and GP. She has four kids and often travels to Israel. She has a cousin that is a very famous writer. I don't know more.
I started to relax. I think I stopped trembling. After a three minute update on my life over the last ten plus years, we got to business. She asked me the usual. "What medications are you on?" "Do you smoke?" "Do you have a history of any illness in your family?"
And then she had me roll over on my side and repositioned my body.
"I'm going to do an ultrasound of your heart."
She applied a cool jelly and moved a microphone-like device around my chest. Thump, Thump, Thump.
And than I could hear delightful sounds that reminded me of being underwater, something I imagined, a pregnant woman might hear when getting a sonogram of her unborn child. I have heard it on TV.
"How does it look?", I asked.
"Beautiful! Beautiful!," she said.
"Are you sure?"
"Just beautiful", she reassured me.
I was beaming.
She ripped the long strip of paper with my heart prints from the printer and looked at them in the light.
"Can I have one of the photographs? " I asked.
She folded the paper, ripped off a section, and handed it to me. She showed me the different chambers.
She left the room, I wiped the gel from my body and looked at my heart.
Beautiful. Just beautiful.