The next day was my next hand appointment.
I woke up feeling ill. It felt like a hangover, that vaguely queasy and head-achey feeling, you know? But we hadn’t been drinking the night before. I lay there awake trying to make sure I was remembering it. Right. We had Chinese take-out with Barrett and Carynne. No booze. No drugs.
We’d made love but that never gave me a hangover before.
I decided it was psychosomatic. Like when you convince yourself you’re sick because you don’t want to go to school.
Or maybe it was allergies. It was spring, after all.
Whatever it was, I dragged myself into the shower. Hot water cures a lot of ills. I’d left Ziggy in bed, but by the time I was toweling myself dry, he had gotten up and was fussing around the kitchen area.
He’d made coffee and Pop Tarts and he had the most incredible bedhead. It looked like Frank Gehry had designed it. He pushed a plate toward me that had the coffee mug, the Pop Tart, and an artful streak of red jam that looked like a comet on it.
I kissed him on the cheek. “Breakfast of champions?”
“I figured I’d pretend to be domestic for a couple of minutes,” he said. “You’re off to the doctor’s?”
“Yeah. So how was it?”
“How was what?”
“Pretending to be domestic.”
“Oh.” He bit into his Pop Tart and mused. “All right, I suppose. I don’t think I’m going to make it a habit.”
I kissed the crumbs off his lips. “You’re sweet.”
“Strawberry-flavored, even.” He licked a spot I’d missed. “Do you want me to come with you?”
“To the appointment?”
“Yes. I will if you want me to.”
“Won’t that cause a stir?” Although I usually ignored it, I hadn’t forgotten the talking to Barrett had given us once after we’d nearly gotten mobbed in Chinatown. But that was at the peak of the “Do It” hysteria, I think. Wasn’t it? I didn’t think he’d attract quite as much attention now. Although there were paparazzi to worry about, I suppose. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”
“You mean Barrett wouldn’t want me to be seen at a hospital with you.” Ziggy took a sip of my coffee and then put the mug back. “I want you to forget all that and just tell me what you want.”
“I would love to forget all that, but I’m not sure I can compartmentalize like that.” I took a bigger gulp of the coffee. He’d made it just the way I like it, milky and sweet. “If we were just a pair of underemployed musicians would I want you there? Maybe, just because I would love to spend every waking moment together…?”
“Heh. Sweet talker.”
“I’m serious. But part of me says I should try to learn to handle medical stuff on my own.”
“And part of me says the more important thing is that you get good care and get the answers you need. Carynne’s going with you, right?”
“That’s good. She’ll ask all the annoying questions that you’re too shy to.”
“I’m not shy!”
He kissed me under the jaw. “Sure you’re not. You know what I mean, though.”
“Yeah, yeah.” I had felt something like that at the previous appointment, where I’d maybe started to understand a little of why Claire was so passive about her own medical care.
And maybe the doctor had felt like he was talking to a wall. I didn’t really remember much of what he said other than it sounded like he was trying to be reassuring about something that I knew was worse than he said. So I’d tuned him out.
There was a knock at the door. Carynne. Ziggy looked through the peephole and then undid the deadbolt. Carynne was standing there in a gray cable-knit sweater dress, with black and white paisley leggings, and short high-heeled boots. Her sunglasses and a hat were in her hand and she had another long sweater draped over her arm.
She swept in and gave Ziggy and me each a peck on the cheek before looking me up and down. “Again with the standing around in a towel.”
“Keeps the coffee and crumbs off my clothes,” I said, before finishing off the Pop Tart. “Remind me which doctor we’re seeing this time and why? Same guy as before?”
“Different guy.” She gave me a slightly quizzical look before slipping her sunglasses on.
I got dressed and put my hair in a pony tail. It wasn’t until we were in a cab that she said to me, “You know, I really didn’t figure you for the type.”
“Type of what?”
“I mean, you don’t have most of the usual rock star foibles. So it just surprises me when one comes up.”
“You know. You’re usually very self-reliant, compared to some.” She had her wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses in her lap. “I mean, okay, so you usually need to be reminded to eat, and you used to pay your sister to do your laundry, and when was the last time you bought new clothes…?” She trailed off and looked at me. “Well, okay, maybe you’re not as self-reliant as your image suggests.”
“I take public transit,” I said. “That’s where that image comes from.”
I was only half-joking and she knew it, favoring me with a light chuckle. “You’re more self-reliant than your mom.”
“Everyone is more self-reliant than her,” I said. “I should try to call her tonight.” It had been a few days and it already felt like a month had gone by. “What do you think about that stuff Tony was telling us, about hiring a home health aide?”
“It sounds like a great idea.”
“I didn’t even know you could hire someone like that.”
“Me neither, but it make sense.” She waved at the cab driver in the rearview mirror to get his attention and then made some comment to him about our route. Then she looked back at me. “I hope today’s tests clear things up.”
She rolled her eyes. “Honestly, D. I know you’re stressed out and that makes stuff go in one ear and out the other, but if you want to get better try to pay a little attention?”
“I’m not trying to be hard-headed about it,” I said, somewhat mulishly.
“We’re getting tests today and then seeing another doctor because the previous one couldn’t figure out what was wrong with you.”
“Oh.” I looked at my hand, first the palm and then the back. There was a matching scar on each side, about two inches long, from the valley between my middle finger and my ring finger to about the middle of my hand. The one on my palm was dark and red-looking and the one on the back of my hand was raised like a permanent welt. “You think they want a photo of this for my next album liner notes?”
“They used a shot that showed the scars on my cheek for the last one.”
“Scars you can barely see.” She squeezed my forearm. “This one is a bit more… graphic.”
“Yeah.” I stuck my hand in the pocket of my denim jacket.
I got to look at it plenty, though. We arrived at the doctor’s office and the first thing they did was send me to another office in the building for a new X-Ray. So they took several X-Rays of my hand. Then we say around and waited for them to be developed. A few years earlier and we would’ve had to wait until the next day to see the films, but not anymore.
Then a nurse finally called my name and said “Doctor Saguil will see you now.”
I had no idea what kind of name Saguil was, but I was still a little surprised to see a short Asian woman with a long white doctor coat over her dress. She waved brightly as we came in. “Daron? I’m Dr. Saguil. Please have a seat.”
Carynne introduced herself. “I’m Carynne Handley. I’m with him.”
“Yes, I have a note about you.” She gave a short nod like it was no big deal and indicated the exam table for me and a chair for Carynne. “May I see the hand in question?”
I took off my jacket and extended it to her. She took it gently and began to feel around with her thumbs in my palm and her other fingers probing the other side. While she felt around she looked up at the ceiling and I found myself glancing up just in case she was looking at something up there. The ceiling had typical square acoustic tile and a fluorescent light.
Then she asked me to do some of the tests I’d done earlier in the week: squeeze her hand, fan my fingers, et cetera.
“Your films look great,” she said, indicating the lightbox on the wall where two photos of my hand plus an X-ray were already up.
“The X-Ray doesn’t show anything?” Carynne asked.
“Correct.” Dr. Saguil began to pull on my fingers one at a time. “We could potentially do a CT scan if we wanted to look harder, but from what I can tell, it might be a waste of time and resources. The only thing it might buy you is peace of mind.”
“Peace of mind is for sale?” I heard myself say.
“To reassure you there’s no structural damage,” she said. “Bones look good, tendons and ligaments appear to be functioning normally, muscle strength is within reasonable bounds, and your dexterity is good.”
“But not great.”
“Well, we haven’t tested your limits yet, but generally speaking you are still more dextrous than the average person.”
“Than the average person who has to see a hand specialist, you mean?” I was thinking about all the arthritis cases my therapist had mentioned.
But Dr. Saguil wasn’t qualifying her statement. “No, I mean the average person. I understand you are accustomed to superior skills. I understand you are here because your skills are impaired post-surgery, yes?”
“Yes?” It suddenly struck me how this was a trap. I was here because I’d given my other hand guy the impression that I couldn’t play. But actually I wasn’t even sure what state I was in, because I’d been too afraid to try. “The, um, the last time I played with any regularity, I was having cramps and spasms so bad that the only way to prevent them was, um, with medication.”
“And he’s avoiding medication because of dependency issues,” Carynne added.
Dr. Saguil gave her short nod again. “I take it that quite some time has passed since your last medication, though?”
“Several months,” I said. I could no longer be sure what month it had been when we were in South America. September, maybe? “And then I was doing a bunch of post-op exercises… but then, I dunno, after Christmas I just stopped doing them.”
“So you’ve been treating your condition with rest for the past three or so months?”
I found myself blushing hard and feeling like I was about to be… what, fired? Sent to the principal’s office? Demoted from first chair? “Yeah,” I managed to say. “I wouldn’t really call it ‘treating’ it.”
She pursed her lips, but what came out of her mouth next was not a rebuke. “I think you are being harder on yourself than necessary. It’s likely that total rest was exactly what you needed. Deep down you probably knew that.”
“You mean I might have done it on purpose? I wasn’t just being…lazy?”
“Your body has a way of protecting itself,” she said simply. “I take it that you would have no objection to a topical medication?”
“Um, might depend on what was in it?” I said.
“Corticosteroids, mostly.” She pulled a prescription pad out of her lab coat pocket. “Here’s what I think. The scar tissue is the only remaining problem. If it’s physical, it’s because it’s still a little ‘stuck,’ if you know what I mean. If it’s psychological, well, then reducing the size and appearance of the scars may help you get past that, too.”
My mouth may have hung open a little. “Oh.”
She wrote out a couple of slips of paper and handed them to me. I handed them to Carynne, who put them into her purse.
“The first one is for a cream that you should rub in twice a day. The rubbing should feel pretty good. Rub along the scars this way.” She indicated an up and down stroke along the length. “If you want to rub it more than that, that’s fine, but just use regular hand cream. Use the medicated cream only twice. The other prescription is for a patch that you stick on before you go to sleep. Peel it off in the morning. Follow up with me in six weeks and we’ll check your progress.”
Then she pulled a little tube out of her pocket, put a tiny dollop onto her thumb, and then rubbed it into my palm. “About that much,” she said. ”
In the cab on our way to get the prescriptions filled, Carynne said what I was thinking: “I’m not used to doctors who will tell you, hey, this may all be in your head, but we’re going to go ahead and treat it anyway.”
“I’m not used to feeling like I’m going to die of embarrasment and then being told, good job, you were probably doing the right thing.”
She chuckled. “Your face was red as a beet.”
“I really… I mean…” I felt myself flush a little just thinking about it. “Priss won’t go so easy on me.” But then I thought about how she reacted last time I confessed I hadn’t been doing my exercises. Hadn’t she said something like well, you clearly expect to pay for your sins, so here’s a penance? Except she hadn’t used the religious language.
It’s funny. You never want to hear a doctor tell you it’s all in your head. Unless it’s true?
Unless it’s true.
(Skipping forward a couple of years for this song but it was too fitting to ignore. -d)