It’s rude of her, I think, to come marching into the room like that. Especially after that nice doctor before her had set the bar so high. Unlike with him, there was no courtesy knock, and she let the door bang loudly against the doorstop, striding in without bothering to look up from her clipboard.
In the three seconds it takes her to strut into the room and take her seat, I size her up. She’s another youngish staff member — maybe in her late 20’s. She has light brown skin — maybe Native American or Indian — and straight, shoulder-length black hair. She’s thin and looks athletic — maybe a tennis player, I speculate.
Damn, she’s beautiful, I think. As she comes closer, pulling up a chair and continuing to study her clipboard, my eyes are locked onto her face, examining its perfect symmetry. In the time it takes me to sit up and face her, my mindset has quickly changed from one of irritation to one of curiosity. She doesn’t have the same uniform as either the nurses or the doctor. Who is she?
“Hi,” I offer, both looking for and expecting some acknowledgment of my presence.
“Hi…,” she sighs back. She’s writing now, and it’s clear she hasn’t prepared in advance like she’s supposed to. Why? Is it because she’s just busy and tired, or irritated and looking to dispatch with me as soon as possible? I need to know.
I silently watching her as she explains without looking up that she is a dietitian.
“Okay,” she says, while assertively dropping her pen in the clipboard’s holder and making eye contact for the first time. “We did not find any sign of a physical problem in your blood.”
That’s the best news of the day, but I don’t spend much time rejoicing. I’m preoccupied by the way her eyes have narrowed into a frown and her lips are pursed when she isn’t talking. It’s a kids-like-you look, I think, one that conveys disdain. And what was with her emphasizing the word “physical” when she said they didn’t find a problem? Was that an allusion to the mental stuff again? Every time she speaks, I notice how her hand gestures betray her impatience.
This is an important conversation about my health, but I can’t help but feel a tinge of disappointment anyway. I wonder what she thinks of me, why she dislikes me. She must’ve seen one too many frat boys trying to score some Prozac for their buddies, or whiny emo-kids who can’t cope after getting dumped. I begin to feel resentment at being lumped in with those groups, and I’m soon frowning too.
I don’t like this girl. She’s lecturing me. There are too many why-didn’t-you’s and you-should-be’s in her speech pattern. I can’t get a word in edgewise, and it wouldn’t matter anyway.
When she finally stops talking, her silent and expectant stare makes it clear she’s done and just waiting for me to say I don’t have any questions so she can leave.
“So…” I begin, looking for a way to convey my incredulity and unwillingness to drop the subject without being to rude. “I’m just supposed to eat on a schedule, indefinitely, and completely ignore the fact that I have no appetite?”
Her response is immediate and unapologetic.
“Look at this.” She stands up, swings around and leans against the bed next to me so we’re both facing her empty chair. She thrusts the clipboard in front of my face.
“You’ve lost 12 pounds from your weight at last checkup.”
I can’t tell what she’s pointing at. There are notes scribbled everywhere. I’m feeling chastised.
“You’re dehydrated, and your blood sugar is very low. Your potassium levels have gone way down too, and that’s what your heart depends on–”
“So I should eat a banana?” I interject, looking up at her.
Her head immediately cocks back and she laughs out loud. I’m not sure how to take it.
“That’s right!” she says, her eyes confirming that her reaction isn’t meant to ridicule or patronize me, but rather, it reflects her pleasant surprise at meeting a guy who knows something about nutrition.
I feel my spirits lift. That was a big risk, throwing the banana question out there. I knew I was right, but she could’ve kept on steamrolling me anyway. It would have been embarrassing. But it paid off, and hopefully now we’ll at least get along.
I decide to impress her further by telling her I eat double-fiber, whole grain bread. And Gardenburgers, and soy milk, and nutrition shakes, and cans of mixed vegetables, and a daily multivitamin. We’re really getting along now.
“Listen,” she says, leaning toward me and speaking in an almost confiding tone. “When you don’t eat, your body goes into starvation mode. Your metabolism slows down, and your body keeps going by using whatever fat and nutrients you have stored away.”
She pokes me twice in the ribcage with her pen. I laugh and sheepishly point my smile away from her.
She lifts the clipboard again and points at another spot that I can’t read. “Your body is breaking down muscle to keep you going,” she says, serious now, and turning to look me in the eye.
The door opens again, and in walks the doctor. I surmise that he doesn’t knock first when he knows the patient isn’t alone, and nothing untoward should be going on. The dietitian stands up, pats me twice on the shoulder and walks past me toward the door. “Take care of yourself,” she shoots back over her shoulder.
“Okay, thank you!” I watch her walk out.
The doctor sits down, studying me and waiting for my attention to come back from the girl who just left. As I turn to him, I sense impatience growing within me.
“So,” I ask, partly pleading but mostly exasperated. “What’s wrong with me?”