The first summer after we left Manhattan’s Upper East Side for the rolling hills of central New Jersey – when I was three – Jan enrolled me in day camp. I assume she explained “day camp” to me beforehand, but I have no recollection of said discussion. What I do recall is this: one warm June morning, I was enjoying a tasty bowl of Apple Jacks on the chartreuse velour couch, watching a show about three boys and three gold-haired girls whose parents were newlyweds, when a short bus pulled up at our door.
“The bus is here, Traci!” Jan announced.
And this relates to me … HOW?
“Time to go to camp!”
Hahahahaha, good one Mommy! Camp! As if!
The bus honked and suddenly the reasons why I was wearing only a yellow ruffled bathing suit, blue Keds and white ankle socks became crystal clear.
Um … uh-oh.
There was no escape. I had no choice but to face the reality that Jan wanted to get rid of me while my infant sister – future eager beaver diaper-clad toddler – got to stay home aaaaaaaaaaaall day.
Frick on a high-waisted, bell-bottomed stick.
And so I spent the day at this place called camp. I drank the camp fruit punch. I ate the cheap, camp duplex cookies. I endured the insomnia at camp naptime. I swam/tried not to drown in the camp pool, which to this day seems about 20 miles deep and really dark. I was civil to the other smurf-sized campers. But I was sure as hell not spending the rest of my life in this shithole.
Thankfully, a few days later, I fell down the stairs in our bi-level apartment. I fell down one stair, to be exact. And I slid gently rather than fell, to be exact. But after this tragic accident, I couldn’t put any weight on my left ankle. I was a three-year-old gimp.
Sayonara, short bus.
I had X-rays. I had pediatricians and orthopedists inspect the injury. I had ice and an ankle wrap of some sort. I had lollipops. I took a few spins in a wheelchair. Nothing was broken or even remotely wrong – most likely because nothing had really happened. But nonetheless, I remained unable to walk.
As thrilled as I was to be done with camp, I quickly grew tired of all the visits to doctors. Why did I have to keep going? I’d obviously never regain the use of my leg… why couldn’t we all just accept that and move on? I could still get clogs from Fayva, right?
Finally, Jan and Lew agreed there was nothing more the mainstream medical establishment could do for their daughter. They had no hope and no remaining options, so they decided to go to the mall. I limped my way out to the Volvo and we got in the car. We were almost there when the car made a sharp left into what looked a lot like another doctor’s office.
“You said NO MORE DOCTORS!” I yelled with rage.
Jan and Lew looked at each other and Lew said, very nicely, “This is a special kind of doctor. All you have to do is talk to him.”
Too dumb to feel duped or realize they obviously thought I was INSANE, I headed into the “special” doctor’s office, caressed the plaid cloth wallpaper, played with a few dolls, chatted him up a bit, and then walked out using both my legs.
The kiddie shrink told my parents I was stubborn, strong-willed and fine.
Unfortunately, with old age comes problems that no shrink can cure in one 50-minute period, and Dr. Plaid Walls was not the last “special” kind of doctor I’ve spent time with. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it either – panic attacks and depression are no fun, and neither is going through life angry, afraid or completely devoid of introspection. I am definitely one of those people who thinks we would all benefit from a few minutes on the couch every week.
Over the years I’ve “spent time” with an array of “special” doctors. Some needed serious help themselves. Some were totally creepy. Some were very good but stopped taking my health insurance. And one, I am entirely convinced, was actually a robot. I called him Shrink Tron and our conversations would go something like this.
Me: Blah blah blah. What do you think it means?
ShrinkTron [insert robot voice]: Idon’tknowwhatdoYOUthinkitmeans?
Me: I know what I think it means, asswipe. I want to know what YOU think it means. That’s why I pay you.
ShrinkTron: Idon’tknowwhatdoYOUthinkitmeans Idon’tknowwhatdoYOUthinkitmeans…MALFUNCTION MALFUNCTION MALFUNCTION SIZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZLE
Me: Uh … there’s like, black smoke coming out of your nose and like, your stainless steel leg just fell off. Is that like … normal?
ShrinkTron: YOURMOTHER YOURMOTHER YOURMOTHER YOURMOTHER …TIMEISUP TIMEISUP [insert massive explosion sound effect]
Finally, a few years ago, I found a “special” doctor I actually liked. I think she’s made a big difference, and even though I’m quite sure she finds me boring, repetitive and annoying at times, she’s always seemed to be fond of me overall. But after today, I’m not so sure.
Normally she greets me at the door to her office and I go right in. Today, even though I was a few minutes late and the session before mine had easily been done for 10 minutes, her office door was closed. I could hear her on the phone, although I couldn’t hear what she was saying. I didn’t know what to do — knock to make my arrival known? Leave? Wait outside? Sit there and inadvertently overhear something confidential? Assume some patient was in crisis and that’s why I’d been booted from my usual time slot? The minutes ticked by.
Finally, I started writing her a note explaining that one of us must have gotten our dates mixed up, that I was leaving and that I’d be back next week unless I heard otherwise. Whilst I was mid-note, she opened the door and appeared shocked to see me there. She apologized profusely and told me that for some reason, she just didn’t have me in her book for today.
Most likely, that’s true and it was just an accidental scheduling error. But on the other hand, as she and her fellow special doctors are so often known to ask, is there really such a thing as an “accident?” Did she get confused about the dates, or did she subconsciously want to avoid me?