I sit in the waiting room where I have sat every six months for the last seven years. Clipboard in hand, time to refill my basic medical information for the dentist’s records. Major medical condition? Usually I leave it blank. This time I confidently write Post Concussion Syndrome. Definitely a major medical condition.
I don’t bother reading a magazine. The fluorescent lights and radio background music tear gently at my focus and strength. A large five foot tall window provides a charming view of a birdfeeder with five or six little brown birds flittering about and eating the seeds. I slip into that visual comfort. A little disassociation, a little bit of energy spent, and I can enjoy not-thinking. I watch as this bird or that bird flick to the feeder, eat, then flick back to a nearby rhododendron leaf. Soothing, to not-think. Peaceful. Something that my head injury has made easier.
Eventually, the ritual begins. My name is called and I rise and follow the dental hygienist to her room. Pleasantries are exchanged, at least by her. I mentally stumble, still returning from my time with the birds. At her inquiry, I confirm that I continue to experience symptoms from my head injury. She asks how my healing is going and I look at her blankly. Part birds, part fluorescent light, part I don’t know what the fuck to say.
Polite nothings are appropriate when one inquires about another’s health. A little something so the person feels like you are sharing, but not so much that their eyes start to wander and they begin to shift impatiently. “I’m doing okay. Still only able to work part time, but I’m slowly getting better” I say. There, a nice balance of honesty without too much honesty. Enough to grease the social wheels.
She is quite considerate. She repeats her directions when I don’t catch her meaning the first time through. She turns off the fluorescent lights at my request. She tells me what she’s doing before she does it. Then, she looks at her computer screen and confirms “Last time you where here, we scheduled time after the cleaning for the doctor to fill that cavity we found. Do you remember?”.
A sense of weakness, fear at an unexpected challenge. “What? No, I don’t remember. Will there be drilling? Will I have to be numbed?” Part of me cringes to hear my concern, the fear in my voice. Me, showing fear at a medical necessary? Me, avoiding some temporary pain? I was raised to do hard, sometimes painful, work without complaining… actually, without suggesting that it was difficult or that it hurt, ever. And now, here, I was showing weakness to a stranger about a 20 minute procedure.
We talk back and forth for a bit about what would be involved. I feel myself getting worked up inside. Damn, I have to decide before the tears came. “No, I can’t do that today. Can we do it some other time?” Awkward silence. She goes to let the front desk know, closing the door behind her. Conversation in low murmurs, about my weakness.
Although the decision is made, I am still upset. More and more upset as I think on it, as I wait for her to return. Tears welled up in my eyes and slide down my face. I am not really sure why. It has nothing to do with logic. Embarrassment perhaps, anxiety about not following through on a commitment, fear of pain, fear of being vulnerable. Luckily, my mental acuity has improved, so I realize that it is my thought processes that are causing me to cry. So, I think about puppies. Yes, really. I think about happy puppies in sunlight, scratching them behind their soft ears, rolling in the grass. And that helps, it stops the tears.
The rest of the appointment goes smoothly. The dental hygienist doesn’t meet my eyes again, or perhaps I don’t meet hers. One of the staff walks by the open door and looks in, our eyes meet. In that instant I know she was looking to see me, the person who refuses to get her cavity filled today. Quickly she breaks eye contact and moves on. No matter. My teeth are clean, my next appointment made, and I am out the door after receiving a quick wish of “happy holidays”.
I sit in my car to gather myself, my safe haven of quiet and familiarity. So much. That felt like so much. That took so much energy.
It is the little things, the little things that are so much harder. Something innocuous before my brain injury becomes draining, a situation that I have to be “on” for to communicate or advocate or ask for accommodation. So strange that after all of my healing, it is the little things that feel so unexpectedly difficult.