I’m not sure why, but the doctor’s office is always cold. The temperature difference was obvious as soon as I’d walked through the sliding double doors. The parking garage had been two blocks away, and walking that distance in 98-degree heat had me sweating. Maybe that’s why the cold air inside the building had felt stark enough to cause goosebumps on my arm.
I had no idea if I’d come in the correct doors. Nurses in masks and other people walked by me briskly, sometimes even bumping into my shoulder, but in too big of a hurry to care. The elevators were easy enough to find, and I looked over the TV screen that showed the different offices of different doctors on different floors. It was overwhelming, but I finally found Dr. Samvel’s office. Floor 3, Room 316.
When the elevator door opened, I walked slowly, analyzing the number of each room I passed. Room 316 was at the end of the hall.
The waiting room was empty except two other people. We were pretty spaced out, an air of gloom settling over each of us. I pulled out the copy of the email I’d printed off to make sure of the room number, the time, and everything else that Dr. Samvel’s secretary had mentioned.
My hands trembled slightly, but I figured it was because I was just cold. Even the secretary – or nurse, whoever sat behind the sliding window – wore a thin black jacket over her scrubs.
I figured the wait would be a while, despite arriving precisely on time, so I pulled a book out of my bag. I kept the back down on my lap as I read.
The story in the chapter I was reading mentioned the history of William Marshall, his cruel father who had abandoned him to be executed, and the kind king who had refused to do so.
I nearly jumped when a nurse opened the doctor’s door and called out for someone. Before I had a chance to return to reading, someone else walked in. Instead of an older loner, like most people in this part of the large medical institute, it was a mother and her daughter who looked to be around eight or nine. The child wore a smile, which lifted some of the heaviness off the room. They sat along the wall, directly in my line of view, but I went back to reading and didn’t think anything else about it.
When the nurse returned to call for another patient, I nearly jumped again. From the corner of my vision, I could see that the little girl was staring at me. She smiled and held up a book she’d been reading. It was the same one that I had. I returned the smile, a little embarrassed that I had lifted the book off my lap enough to someone to see it.
It wasn’t that I was ashamed of what I’d been reading, it just wasn’t a book typical of someone like me, but it wasn’t a book typical for a little girl either.
We were the only three in the waiting room now, and the mom was busy on a phone call. The girl tilted the book over to show me how much she’d read. That’s when I noticed the cast on her arm. She then craned her neck like she was trying to see my place as well. She was much farther along than me. I tilted my book to show her too.
Excited, she flipped back to a previous chapter and held it up. I shook my head. It was still too far ahead. I counted up the pages till my next chapter. Three. I held them apart and lifted my book to show her the chapter and the three pages I still lacked.
The girl flipped back further to where I was, then mouthed the words William Marshal? I nodded. She went ahead several chapters and pointed at the pages. Sad, she mouthed.
Her mother noticed her holding up the book and gently pushed it down against her lap. Then, she noticed me and smiled. I returned the smile as best I could. The mother was beautiful and wearing a business suit and three-inch heels. She made me feel very insecure for some reason.
The girl began flipping to the back of the book when the nurse reappeared and called for me. I stood, tucking my book into my bag. The little girl stared after me disappointed, so I forced a smile. I didn’t know what else to do.
The checkup went well. Nothing had spread.
“The patient who is coming in after me…” I began, but Dr. Samvel raised an eyebrow, as if he believed I should know better than to ask about another of his patients. “That little girl,” I persisted. “She was reading the same book as me.” I pulled the book up near the top of my bag to give Dr. Samvel a glimpse.
He smiled and said, “Yes, I know who you mean.”
“She’s going to be okay, isn’t she?” I thought about the cast on her arm, wondering if she even knew better because of the good mood she’d seemed to be in.
“Well… she isn’t my next patient, if that’s what you’re asking.” He raised another eyebrow at me with a stern expression, as if he’d already said too much.
I got up to leave and thought about the mother, her perfect nails and confident smile. Had she been wearing a wedding band? What would happen to the little girl? Did her daughter even know?
“Keep up those dietary changes, and we may not have to do anything invasive,” Dr. Samvel called out. “Talk to Melissa up front about coming back in another six months.”
I waved goodbye over my shoulder as I walked away to talk to the lady up front about my next appointment. Despite getting used to the temperature, I had chills again.
As Melissa went over the different dates for potential checkups, I felt someone lightly hit my arm. I looked down to see the little girl.
“Nice book,” she said grinning up at me, even as her mom gently pulled her away and down the hall towards the examination room.
“Nice book,” I returned, and I smiled, because I didn’t know what else to say.
Photo by Annie Spratt