Ask Your Doctor

 

Jeanne Holtzman

 

 

Ned probably would never have seen that commercial if the foot pedal on his computer hadn't jammed on an old pizza box. Or maybe it was a coke can, or a petrified sock. He'd been too engrossed in his new game to take the time to investigate.

Both of his computers were humming along in peak performance. Parts to a third, along with his artificial intelligence books and a few porn mags were scattered on the bed that once belonged to his roommate. That roommate was history. He'd quickly found a girlfriend with a single room and jumped ship.

Most of the time Ned kept the lights off and the blinds drawn so he could get the best image on his monitors. A device he'd installed on one of his computers let him watch TV in a resizable window, pause and instantly replay TV shows, and capture high quality stills. He'd gotten a great collection of Star Trek pics that way. And the foot pedal kept his hands free for the joystick, keyboard or mouse.

In constant control, Ned rarely watched commercials, unless you count those late night infommercials. But when the pedal jammed, the TV window clicked open, and at full volume the entire screen filled with happy young couples playing frisbee in a field. They held hands and strolled around a lake, laughing gaily as they watched little children feeding the ducks. An upbeat country swing soundtrack played softly behind a reassuring female voice, confident, sincere, and sexy. "Do you spend more time with Lara Croft than with any living female? Do you know Avagadro's number? Do you wear it on your tee shirt? Are you on a first-name basis with the employees at Radio Shack? Have you ever been stuffed in a locker? You may be suffering from Neuro-Eccentric-Relationship-Disorder, or NERD. Recent scientific studies have shown that NERD is caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Some people may be comforted just to learn that NERD is a medical condition. A prescription drug called Popula may help. Ask your doctor if Popula is right for you. Popula isn't habit forming and isn't likely to make you drowsy. Tell you doctor if you are taking any other medications. Some people might experience side effects like headache, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth, constipation, and in rare instances, death. Talk to your doctor today about Popula, or log onto our website at www.popula.com. Just because you're brainy, doesn't mean you're a loser. Popula can help."

Ned blinked uncomfortably, like someone had thrown on the light switch. He pushed back his desk chair, crushing a desiccated, curled up slice of pizza, and turned to see himself in the mirror. His long dull hair, matted and straggly, was pulled back with a rubber band into a thin, wispy pony tail. His pasty face still erupted with acne. A frayed Comdex tee shirt hung from his scrawny frame, while a twist tie gathered together 2 belt loops to hold up his pants. "Popula," he snorted. "It would take more than Popula to get me a date. Besides, who wants to be part of that world of superficial, phony people?"

How cruelly mistaken he had been to think that college would be better. That at college he would meet kindred spirits who cared about more than dances and fashion and sports. He remembered with horror his first day at the university when he was greeted by The Goon Squad - a pack of carousing upperclassmen wearing straw hats plastered with beer cans and vigorously chanting insipid school cheers. Ned frowned and shook his head. He really needed to get it together and transfer out of this joke of a school.

Ned walked to the window and drew apart the thick curtains. Immediately his room was assaulted by blazing sunlight and he blinked again as he pushed the window open and tried to focus outside. Patchy piles of gray snow littered the grass like old newspapers. A balmy breeze swayed the daffodils and blew into his room the smells of moist, thawing earth, suntan lotion, and lust. Girls who all winter had been bundled, lumpy shapes trundling between buildings, now unfurled breathtaking expanses of naked skin as they lay on towels in skimpy bathing suits, revealing tattoos and belly rings. Or they giggled as their breasts bounced in sports bras, running after balls tossed to them by their jock boyfriends. Someone had pointed stereo speakers outside, and a few couples interrupted their kissing and groping to dance barefoot in the grass, the tops of their feet in summer, their frosty soles still in winter.

Ned briefly felt the urge to join them, to feel the sun on his face and escape the rancid stench of his room which suddenly sickened him. But then he came back down to earth. He wasn't going to toss a ball, or lie on the ground. He couldn't read outside in all that sun, or see his laptop screen. And, at best, he was invisible to these people. If he tried to talk to them, they looked at him like they weren't sure where to fix their gaze, as if his eyes were pointed in different directions, and they couldn't tell which one to look at. If a girl ever did talk to him, ask him for directions or whatever, he could never control his nervous compulsion to yawn.

Ned snapped closed the window and the curtains, and tried to ignore the hard-on pressing against his pants. "Ask your doctor," he snarled to himself, "ask your doctor." Ned imagined his allergist, a small man who spoke with an alien speech impediment, his voice so soft and nasal that you had to strain to catch a word. His dermatologist looked like Mr. Peepers and his gastroenterologist never peered up from the computerized medical record except to poke at Ned's belly with hands borrowed from Planet of the Apes. "Right" he thought, "like I'm gonna ask one of them for help."

Back in his power seat, Ned brought up his browser, typed in the URL, and frowned as he read the the Popula website. "Neuro-Eccentric-Relationship-Disorder: What is NERD? Do you have it? How is it treated?"

Multiple graphs and charts demonstrated that various traits once mistakenly attributed to personality or character, upbringing or individual choice, were now proven to be determined by disordered brain chemistry. Pictures of beaming couples were accompanied by testimonials declaring how Popula had saved them from a life of deprivation and social isolation.

The site included a self-diagnosis quiz that could be taken on-line, in the privacy of your own home. After answering the questions, and entering your zip-code, the results would be submitted to a local doctor who specialized in NERD. His office would then e-mail you with an appointment time.

Just another on-line quiz, Ned thought, Why not? This would be like when he answered questions to find out his I.Q., or which Star Trek character he was most like. Ned quickly clicked his way through the questions, entered his zip code and clicked on "submit". Then he went back to his computer game, and forgot all about it.

The next morning, as usual, before taking a whizz or brushing his teeth, Ned checked his e-mail. He was deleting spam so quickly that he almost deleted the message entitled, "Your Appointment Time," from The Office of Dr. Norman Stock. He clicked it open and read,

"Dear Ned,

Thank you for your interest in Popula. We have received your quiz results, and feel that you would benefit from a consultation with Dr. Stock, a leading expert in the field of Neuro-Eccentric Relationship Disorder." Ned copied the appointment for the following week into his PDA/phone/ camera, but he was sure that when the time came, he would blow it off.

The next Tuesday, Ned got off the bus in front of a sleek, modern medical complex. The list of doctors engraved into plaques included specialists in body parts Ned didn't even know he had. He found Dr. Stock's name, and entered his office suite. The waiting room was pleasantly but blandly decorated, and was empty except for one girl about Ned's age. He thought he may have seen her around campus. Her clothes were so baggy he couldn't tell if she was skinny or fat. Her feet were in mismatched socks jammed into flip-flops. She had her head down, immersed in a "Reptiles Today" magazine and her dull hair hid most of her face. He could see a splotch of egg dried in the corner of her mouth as he walked by, and he noticed that she smelled like a pet store. "Bio-lab," he thought. She didn't look up as he checked in, took a seat in a corner, and started playing games on his PDA.

A bored medical assistant led him to the exam room. Dr. Stock didn't keep him waiting long. He strode into the room dressed in khakis and a casual shirt, his handsome, tanned face topped by sandy hair. Warmly he extended his hand to Ned and introduced himself.

After a barrage of questions and a brief exam, the doctor looked directly into Ned's eyes, his friendly face crinkling with sympathy and wisdom. "Ned" he began earnestly, "after considering the results of your online test, your history and physical exam, I think that there is no question that you are affected by NERD. A moderately severe case, I would say. As you likely know, this is not a life-threatening disease, however, left untreated it may continue to advance. Many people who ignore their condition wind up significantly disabled by it, socially isolated, unfit for employment due to their profound lack of social skills. They never know the joys of intimacy or the comforts of family. Some studies suggest that NERD is associated with a higher risk of suicide. I have developed a multidisciplinary approach to NERD that includes drugs as well as other modalities."

He reached for a glossy brochure from an immaculate rack and handed it to Ned.

"As you can see, there are treatment guidelines for mild, moderate or severe NERD. Within each category, there are options so that we may individualize treatment. For moderate NERD, you can use up to two items from column A and up to three from column B. To be effective, one of the choices from column A must be Popula."

Ned scanned the brochure. In column A he saw a list of drugs starting with Popula, and including medications to treat depression, attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, obesity, social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder and Œother'.

Column B included anti-acne medicines, Viagra, medically approved anabolic steroids, and a discount book for plastic surgeons and dermatologists, spas, hair and nail salons, personal trainers, and tanning salons.

"Once we determine the correct combination of pharmaceuticals, we prepare them into an artificially sweetened orange-flavored powder. Just mix this into a glass of water, and drink it once a day. All of the drug cocktails also include a special ingredient new to the market, a type of amnesiac. This ensures that you will never have to be burdened by the memory that you once had NERD."

Dr. Stock explained how every participant also got a free half-day with a personal dresser, and a choice of 2 items from a list how-to books. Then he looked at Ned with grave concern. "Some of our patients get overwhelmed by the program, and think they can just change cold-turkey, or by taking Popula alone. Unfortunately, their success rate is dismal. The approach that I have suggested is state of the art, the gold standard against which all other NERD programs are compared. Your case has progressed to the point that I strongly advise you to begin treatment immediately."

Dr. Stock checked off boxes from each column on a preprinted order form, handed it to Ned, and told him to pick up a week of free samples and drink one packet each day. Then he flashed a perfect smile and walked out of the room.

On the way to the front desk, Ned watched a smartly dressed and efficiently attractive woman wearing a "Popula" tag head to the back of the suite carrying piles of food and drinks. Even with the aroma of her movable feast, he still thought he sniffed that pet-store odor outside one of the exam room doors. When he got to the waiting room, the bio-lab girl was gone.

Back in his room, he tossed the samples on his roommate's bed, and didn't think about them again until he got thirsty later that night. He rinsed out a coke can and added the powder and water. Hey - it didn't taste bad, and it was free.

Ned drank every one of his cocktails. By the end of the week, his skin started to clear up. It might have been his imagination, but he thought he was filling out his tee shirt a little better. And he had spent an afternoon and a box of garbage bags cleaning up his room.

Bio-lab girl was in the waiting room when he went back the next week. This time, she glanced up from her magazine and sort of smiled when he walked in.

"Hi," he muttered.

"Hi," she said. Her hair was shinier, her face was clean and her clothes seemed to fit better.

"You go to S.U.?"

"Yeah," she said.

"Me too. Science major?"

She squawked out derisive laugh. "Yeah. Good guess. Bio-chem."

"Engineering."

There was an awkward silence.

"Uh, I'm Vivian."

"Oh. Yeah. I'm Ned."

Dr. Stock's assistant called Ned into the exam room. As he sat waiting for the doctor, he realized that during the entire conversation with Vivian he had never yawned, not even once.

Dr. Stock was pleased with Ned's progress. "Since you are tolerating the drugs so well, I think we can increase the dose, try to hasten the recovery process." He handed Ned a new slip for a year's worth of cocktails and his coupon book, and asked him to call in one month and come back in three. Ned took his packets and coupons and left the office. He was disappointed when he walked through the waiting room and saw that Vivian wasn't there.

After a week on the stronger drugs, things started to change quickly. First, Ned noticed that he was getting bored and restless after merely a few hours of playing his computer games. He checked his e-mail only once a day. His engineering classes were getting tedious and difficult to follow.

He used the coupon and became a regular at a local gym. He started to hang out with some of the other guys that lifted, going jogging, or watching sports on TV. He got friendly with some of the girls at the gym too, and even went out for coffee or lunch a few times.

It was the end of the semester, and his grades were slipping, but he didn't care. Ned had made a decision. Engineers never really got to decide what to do. It was always the suits that called the shots. The engineers were just lackeys. To be in control, Ned realized he would have to change his plans. He went to the Dean, dropped engineering and declared himself a business major.

Once he made that decision, everything else fell into place. He used his half day with the personal dresser, and bought himself a whole new wardrobe. A day at the spa taught him how to take care of his skin and his hair and his nails. The cocktails and the gym had definitely pumped him up, but he was dissatisfied with his spindly legs. With the discount for a plastic surgeon, Ned got calf implants.

He decided to stick around for the summer and take a few business courses to try to catch up. Arriving early for his first class in ŒIntroduction to Marketing', he watched the rest of the students trudge in. Lots more girls than in engineering. So far, no one he knew. Whoa! What was this? A real hottie, a perfect 10. Between her foil streaked hair and her coral toenails was an amazing body. And then he saw her face.

"Vivian!?"

"Hi," she chirped. "Is that you, Ned?" Pouty lips stretched over brilliant white teeth. Her eyes glinted as green as her tee shirt that was so tight he could see her breathe.

"Yeah. Wow, Vivian. You look smoking. Great - we're in the same class. Maybe we can chill with some coffee at Starbuck's after?"

She giggled softly. "Sure."

Ned and Vivian gazed into each other's eyes and saw the universe. They moved in together and when they weren't throwing boisterous parties, they were having passionate sex. They worshipped each other's bodies. She never noticed the tiny scars behind his legs. He ignored the small scars under her perky round breasts and never suspected that after she got her first Brazilian wax, she was so horrified by the size of her labia that she had plastic surgery to make them smaller and more dainty.

Together they rode in Vivian's new Miata convertible to their follow-up appointments with Dr. Stock. He was overjoyed at their recoveries, but cautioned that NERD is a chronic condition that is not cured, but only controlled. "You must continue to take maintenance doses for the rest of your lives. he warned. "And yes," he twinkled at Vivian, "it is safe to take the cocktail during pregnancy."

Right after graduation, Ned and Vivian got married and moved to a suburb of Boston. She was thrilled with her job as the manager of a cosmetics counter at Nordstrom's. He interviewed with some high tech firms, but didn't like the atmosphere there and was afraid that the entire industry was dead. Instead he landed a job as a drug rep for a major pharmaceuticals firm.

By the time she was seven months pregnant, Vivian felt too frumpy to stay at her cosmetics job. Ned was doing so well that they certainly didn't need the money. After she quit, the other stay-at-home moms in the neighborhood swept her into their homes taken over by squalling babies and insistent toddlers. The moms filled her with war stories of labor and delivery, sleep deprivation, colic, febrile seizures. They fretted about immunizations and contaminants in baby food. They warned her that now was the time to sign up her baby for the best preschools and kindergartens.

Madison was beautiful, and extremely alert from the very first day. Her big brown eyes seemed to burn through everything she looked at. She was never happy lying down, but always had to watch what was going on around her. Vivian had imagined a baby like warm bread dough cuddling in her arms, but Madison wouldn't even sit on Vivian's lap. Instead she stiffened her legs to stand on her mom's thighs and look out at the world.

Ned worked all day, and the evenings that he didn't have to put on events for the doctors, he stopped at the gym. By the time he got home, he was beat, and tired of talking to people. He just wanted to sit and relax.

Vivian was haggard. All day she tended to Madison's needs. Maddie was beautiful and smart, but she was not an easy baby. Every night around dinnertime, Madison would start to cry, and no amount of pacing or singing or cooing calmed her down. Vivian walked and sang, walked and sang, and watched the clock. Where the hell was Ned? Why couldn't he just come straight home after work and help her out. Why did he get to go to the gym?

Vivian suffered in silence, until one night she attacked Ned as soon as he walked in the door. "Can't you just skip the gym now and then? You're never home. I'm here all day, alone with Maddie. I could use your help."

Ned heaved a sigh, and tried to be patient. He wearily explained that he needed to unwind from the stress of his job, and that he had to stay in shape, that it helped him to sell the products. Ned had seen the way the women doctors looked at him. He was sure that his build and good looks got him extra time with them, and that time with the docs was what it took to convince them to prescribe his drugs,

He sat on the couch and clicked on the TV, adding, "Besides, I always play with Maddie when I get home."

Vivian wouldn't give up. "Sure, you play with her, and even make a big deal about changing her diaper. But you're not here all day. And you're never the one to get up in the middle of the night when she cries she whined.

"Why should I? I have to get up for work the next day." His voice was angry and superior.

"You never have to plan when you take a shower. I can only take a shower after Maddie's morning feeding, when she naps for forty-five minutes, and always with the door open in case she cries. You get to just waltz into the shower whenever you feel like it. You just get in and and close the door."

Ned didn't bother to respond but just stared at the TV, and Vivian stomped up the stairs to the room she had taken to sharing with Maddie. But even in her anger and fatigue, Vivian was overjoyed at being a mother. She wondered if all mothers felt this same ferocious, tender love that overwhelmed her.

Of course it was Vivian who was the first to notice that something was not quite right. She watched Madison constantly, comparing her to other kids. At first she thought it was just that Maddie was alert and intelligent. She was amazed and proud when Madison said her first words at seven months old. At a year, Madison learned to use the remote and Vivian often found her watching not cartoons or Sesame Street, but Scientific American Frontiers or a show on ancient Egypt, or even the Spanish or Portuguese channels. Vivian set up a booster seat so that Madison could play computer games, and Maddie had temper tantrums whenever Vivian made her stop. Vivian worried that Madison didn't show enough interest in other children and she cringed when the neighbor women started making comments about Maddie's unusual development. At sixteen months, Maddie was already speaking in sentences but she also babbled long paragraphs of nonsense. Or at least that was what Vivian thought until one day at a neighbor's house the cleaning lady overheard Madison and asked Vivian who taught the baby Spanish.

One night, after putting Maddie down, Vivian slumped down on the couch next to Ned, interrupting his TV show. "Ned, I'm getting scared." Her face was crumpled with what looked like pain. " Have you noticed anything different about Maddie? I mean, I know you don't spend a lot of time around kids her age, but do you think she's, uh, different?"

Ned let out a short laugh, and turned to face her. "Viv, honey, I think you are spending too much time alone with the kid. You overanalyze everything she does. Why don't you go out this Saturday? I''ll stay home with Maddie. You go out, see your old friends, or just go to the gym."

Ned didn't say what he was really thinking. That maybe if Vivian went out, she'd fix herself up a little. Get out of the sweats she was always wearing, put on some clothes without food stains, take out those silly baby barrettes that she wore to keep Maddie from pulling her hair. Maybe even put on some makeup to cover up those rings under her eyes. He hoped that with a little time away from the baby, Vivian might even get more interested in having sex.

But Vivian didn't go out. Maybe having a baby had changed her metabolism, or maybe it was just motherhood, but Vivian was starting to feel more like her old self, before Popula. In the afternoon, with Ned at work and Madison napping, she searched the internet, hoping to find out what might be wrong with her daughter. She worried it might be autism. So many kids were affected these days. She should never have let Maddie get those shots. It must have been the mercury in the vaccinations. She read about Asperger's, Pervasive Developmental Disorder. None of it quite seemed to describe Maddie. She tried to convince herself that nothing was wrong.

But at Maddie's eighteen month checkup, Vivian saw concern flash in her pediatrician's eyes. While she tried to reassure Vivian that it was just a variation of normal, the pediatrician referred Madison to a developmental specialist. Ned was too busy to take time off work, so Vivian had to take Maddie to the specialist by herself. Dr. Albert, rumpled and kindly, patiently put Madison through a series of tests. He even got blood samples, not only from Madison, but from Ned and Vivian also. Vivian could barely eat or sleep, seized up with fear at what the doctor would find.

They left Madison with a neighbor, and drove in rigid silence to get the results. The gray haired doctor sat opposite them at a big wooden desk messy with papers, journals, patient records and toppled pictures of his family. "I'm afraid the news isn't good," he began. "As you know, your daughter's development is outside the range of normal. The tests have ruled out autism. But after analyzing the blood samples from both of you as well as your daughter, the explanation for her symptoms is clear. Madison is suffering from a severe case of Juvenile Neuro-Eccentric-Relationship-Disorder."

Vivian started to sob softly. Ned clenched his jaw and his fists and wondered what kind of a cruel joke this was.

Dr. Albert paused for a moment, and then went on. "New research has shown that NERD is a genetic condition. People who inherit only one affected gene usually have a mild to moderate case, for which there are many effective treatments. Unfortunately, if a child inherits the affected gene from both parents, NERD can be alarmingly severe. It has an onset at a much younger age, and progresses swiftly. In the past, before medical science was able to identify these children, they most often grew up isolated from their peers and became misfits and hermits, unable to function in society. History is full of stories about "mad scientists". Now, with early detection, we are hopeful that early intervention will help. We advise a rigorous course of rehabilitation supported by medications such as Popula. These medications have not been extensively studied in children, and we are not certain of their efficacy or their long-term side effects, but the reports are promising. And, when outpatient treatment fails, most parents wisely choose to send their children to special boarding schools set up on the outskirts of many major cities. In fact, there is a very reputable center not too far from here. These centers are staffed with social workers, psychiatrists, psychopharmacologists, physical and occupational therapists as well as teachers who are experienced in meeting the rigorous educational needs of these children whose intelligence is often profoundly advanced in math and science. With this aggressive program, these children can lead as normal a life as possible. There are even many who thrive, and become quite accomplished scientists and mathematicians."

Vivian wept uncontrollably. She was afraid that she might throw up right there on the doctor's rug. Ned jumped up out of his chair and paced the office.

Dr. Albert continued. "While I realize how difficult this is for you, you need to know that there is still hope for you to have a normal family. Of course, you could choose to adopt. But if you want to have your own normal biological children, this can be achieved with the latest techniques in reproductive science. You could identify an affected fetus while still in the womb, and chose to terminate the pregnancy. Or, you could undergo in-vitro fertilization, and submit your embryos to pre-implantation genetic testing. That way you would discard the affected embryos, and implant only those that were negative for J-NERD. You could even chose the sex of the child that way."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Ned shouted." You have a fucking lot of nerve to call our daughter a freak, and then blame it on us. You're a Goddamn quack! Give us all of Madison's records. We're bringing her to someone who knows what the hell he's doing. And I'll be calling my lawyer. Come on Vivian, let's get out of here."

Vivian stared at the floor. She hadn't heard anything the doctor said after he suggested sending Maddie away. Her body felt both leaden and unbearably fragile. She cringed away from Ned's angry voice.

Dr. Albert nodded wearily, his shoulders slumped with resigned sympathy as he walked toward the door. "Of course, of course. We'll get Madison's record ready for you to take with you right now. It is always wise to get a second opinion in matters this important. Please do contact me if you have any questions about Madison's future care. I wish the three of you the best," and he shut the door softly behind him.

Back home, Ned ranted about flying across the country with Madison to consult with other doctors. He had contacts through his job. They had to know if Dr. Albert was right. They had to do what was right for Madison. Vivian insisted that Madison had already been put through enough testing, and they should just leave her alone. Just leave her with Vivian, just leave them both alone. Maddie would be fine. Ned and Vivian finally agreed to repeat the blood tests, and send Madison's records to three other doctors who would review the case and mail back their responses. They wouldn't decide anything until they had gotten the other opinions.

Vivian suspected that Ned really wanted to send Madison away. Maybe it was for Maddie, or maybe Ned just couldn't stand having a freak for a daughter, especially if it was inherited. People would look at him and wonder. And maybe with Maddie was gone, Ned hoped his perfect little wife would reappear.

 

Every minute that Madison didn't need her attention, Vivian researched Juvenile Neuro-Eccentric Disorder. She read studies in professional medical journals . One article, with the headline "NERD is Underdiagnosed" quoted statistics from a study on how many cases of NERD were being missed, to the detriment of the sufferers. At the end of the article, small italics announced that the study was sponsored by the drug company that made Popula. She read about medical insurance and reimbursement, about profits of the pharmaceutical industry. She read the alternative medicine sites, where claims were made that certain herbal remedies could cure everything from J-NERD to fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome to cancer. And she found a site for and by parents of children with J-Nerd, greedily read their support group message board, and even called several of the mothers on the phone.

Vivian got angry. She remembered her own painful childhood. She was ostracized in grade school for being different, for collecting bugs and worms and salamanders. Junior High School was agony. Going to Bronx H.S. of Science had sealed her identity as the cream of the nerd crop. At least when she was inside that school, she could almost feel normal.

But it was back to reality in college, and she had seen the Popula ad. It seemed to be talking right to her, to know her pain, and offer relief. She had a disease. A pill would make her better. In college there were plenty of kids who took pills to make them better. Fidgety kids who took pills for ADHD, shy kids who took pills for Social Anxiety Disorder, worried kids who took pills for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Medicine offered hope for all of our maladies. So many of us were sick. But we could all be cured, made normal. She went to see Dr. Stock.

And now it was Madison, her beautiful daughter, who wasn't perfect, who had a disease. Or did she? It seemed to Vivian that it was a giant conspiracy. The medical-pharmaceutical-media complex. Any time the drug companies invented a drug, they invented a disease to go with it. Then glossy ads and smiling drug reps educated doctors about these important new diseases, and offered them a quick solution. No tedious patient education, or doomed behavioral advice. It took only seconds to write out a prescription, and in this day of wretched reimbursement, doctors had to see patients as fast as possible. Next came the direct-to-consumer ads. Weight loss, cosmetics, fragrances, shiny floors and shiny cars are no longer enough to achieve happiness. Now we are told that we have symptoms of a disease, and we eagerly line up to buy the cure. Show us perfect, beautiful people, laughing and happy and we will believe we can be just like them. All we need is the right medication, and maybe a little enhancement surgery thrown in for good luck. That it is our right. And we understand, that if we don't take the cure, if we remain different, we will be left behind, cheated out of a happy life, unable to compete. Vivian stopped drinking her cocktails.

She hid the doctor's letters when they arrived.

Even when Ned was home now, he spent all his time shut up with his computer and his piles of paper. His company was launching a new drug, and he spent hours reading massive amounts of material, in preparation for a meeting in South Carolina. He still went to the gym after work every day, and one day he ran into a gorgeous nurse from one of the offices he visited. She looked incredible out of her scrubs, spandex gleaming, all flushed and glistening from her workout like she'd just gotten laid. They joked about the doctor she worked for and decided to get some dinner.

Ned got home especially late that night. Madison was already sleeping. Vivian was sitting in a chair, immersed in "Parents Today" magazine; she didn't bother to look up when he walked by. Her limp hair hung in her face, and a streak of sauce from the pizza she had delivered smeared the front of her sweatshirt. The house smelled like dirty diapers.

Ned packed for his trip to South Carolina. He had asked Vivian to find a sitter for Maddie and come with him. He would have his nights free. The weather would be great. She could swim in the pool, go shopping. The hotel even had a fancy spa. It would be just the two of them again, like before they had Maddie. But she angrily refused, protesting that no one knew how to take care of Maddie like she did, and Ned felt vindicated. He drove himself to the airport.

Vivian placed the doctor's letters in the middle of the kitchen table along with a short note to Ned. While Maddie napped, she packed the mini van with diapers, a portable crib, high chair, toys, booster seats, the computer and a few weeks of clothes for each of them. In her pocket was the lease for a studio apartment about an hour away in western Massachusetts near Amherst. Just up the street was The New Age Country Day School, "Where Exceptional Children are Ordinary, and Ordinary Children are Exceptional." She had learned about it from the support group. They celebrated unmedicated diversity, not just of race, but of personality. She planned to start working there next week when Maddie would start attending.

Ned and the nurse had already had sex twice that day. Before they headed out to dinner, he tried to call home and was puzzled when he got the answering machine. Had Vivian actually gone out? Or was she just not answering? Well, he'd be home tomorrow anyway. He put down the receiver, ran his hands over the nurse's body, sniffed her spicy scent, and groaned. He figured they could just call room service later.

 

Dr. Stock boarded his flight from Boston to Washington. The night before he had been wined and dined by the pretty Popula drug rep at an "educational meeting," and had assured her that he still was totally behind Popula. She knew that he was among a group of experts, mostly educators, that had been called to testify in front of a special congressional subcommittee. They were investigating why America produced so few scientists and mathematicians.

 

 

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Author Bio

Jeanne Holtzman is an aging hippie, freelance writer and women¹s health care practitioner, not necessarily in that order. Born in the Bronx, she prolonged her adolescence as long as possible in Vermont, and currently lives with her husband and daughter in Massachusetts. Her personal essays have appeared in The Providence Journal, Writer's Digest, The Drexel Online Journal and The Iconoclast.

 

 


 

 

"Ask Your Doctor" Copyright © 2004 Jeanne Holtzman. All rights reserved.
Published by permission of the author.

 

This page last updated 07-27-04.

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