Diagnosis (Reflection Arc IV) - Short Story

Short Story May 4, 2021

It has been seventy-two days and twelve hours since I first saw that vision of another dimension. Not that I have been counting or anything. It’s just that I haven’t been sleeping. I’ve barely been eating. In my dreams, in my wakefulness, I see that other place. Sometimes, it’s dark and colorless, like it was in the woods, other times it’s those iridescent, alien lands.

I hear movement constantly. Whether it’s whatever creatures scraped my back in the woods or something else entirely, I have no way of knowing. I still have scars from where I was scratched. It’s a wonder I didn’t come back to my family cut into ribbons, blood all over my favorite flannel. What a way to celebrate the news of my first granddaughter’s coming.

They would be here soon and I needed to be better by then.

It wasn’t just movement, though. There are voices on the wind, whispers that I can’t ever quite make out. That night in the forest, that was the clearest I’ve ever heard anything. I know one thing: the voices need something from me. They want something. And I don’t know how to give it. I don’t know if I’m even willing to give whatever it is they want.

And I’ve started to forget simple things. Birthdays of my family members, not knowing why I walked into a room or what I was going to do next, maybe even the current day and month slipping my mind. I don’t know if it’s from the lack of sleep or if I’m just finally losing my mind. Sometimes, I think it would be better that way, to just drift off to sleep and become blissfully unaware. Numb.

A hand gripped my shoulder and I jumped, surprised when my head didn’t hit the ceiling.

“C’mon, honey. It’s time,” He said.

I’d been that way lately. Jumping at shadows, at touches, at movement, at every little thing.

He took me by the hand and lead me through the heavy, swinging door. The day had finally come for the doctor’s appointment I had agreed to. I don’t know why it took so long for them to get me in, but part of me was grateful. While my life had been a living hell lately, I had been able to put off confronting whatever was the cause of the monsters under my bed.

I let him lead me straight to the sliding glass window where the receptionist sat, wearing a bored expression as he picked at his nails.

“Name?” he asked, after sliding it open, still not looking up.

“Bernard Coté,” my husband replied, not even giving me a chance. “For the one o’clock appointment.”

He had been doing that a lot lately, talking and answering for me. My whole family had started to treat me like I was an invalid. They knew I was sick, whether in my mind or elsewise, it didn’t make much difference to them.

It was all, ‘Here, Dad, let me get the door for you’, or ‘I’ll cut the steak for you, honey.’

I might be insane but I wasn’t crippled. I wasn’t incompetent. I could handle most every task of daily living.

Hopefully, today would shed some light on the root cause of my issues. Maybe, they would stop babying me. Hell, the appointment might only make things worse for all I knew. Only time would tell.

We sat by the window in leather seats that were comfortable, but not too comfortable. I guess they didn’t want us to overstay our welcome.

Nearby, a mother watched her child as he played with a familiar toy. It consisted of multiple colored tracks that held circle and square shaped beads that could be brought up or down any given track. I had seen the toy at countless doctor’s appointments for my kids. My middle child, Andy, had loved that thing. He would spend hours pushing the beads back and forth. I never understood the appeal. It always seemed like an exercise in futility to me. The beads would never change. They could only go back and forth on the same track, to the same point. But Andy, he was enthralled.

Boy, I missed that kid. His memory had been at the forefront of my mind a lot lately.

He had been so full of spunk and ambition and curiosity. I loved teaching him about my hobbies. We’d often sit at the dinner table for hours, working on crossword and jigsaw puzzles. My favorite was the thousand-piece puzzle of the old Star Wars movie poster. It took us weeks to finish it, but the look of satisfaction in his eyes made it worth the effort and frustration and hours spent working on it.

After all that, all the time spent investing and cherishing and getting to know my boy, all it took was one drunk driver, crossing over head on into his lane, and he was gone. Twenty years of life snuffed out in a single, unforgivable instant.

I gritted my teeth against the pain of my welling grief. Even fifteen years later, his loss left a hollow hole in my chest, still aching like the day the police had shown up at our door, their eyes downcast, their expressions sorrowful.

“Mr. Coté? The doctor will see you now,” a young attendant stood with the door cracked open, searching the room for the first person to stand.

“That’s me,” I said, groaning to my feet.

My husband was close behind, his hand at my shoulder, as if I needed the guidance and support to walk the hundred feet to the examination rooms.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Coté. If you’ll just follow me.” He gestured down the hallway. “We’re in room three.”

The place smelled of gauze and alcohol, and not even the good kind, I’m sad to report.

Boy, I could use a drink right now, I thought wistfully.

The nurse led us into a cozy examination room and motioned for me to sit on the cot covered in white paper. It crunched under me as I plopped down. The feeling always made me cringe. It was like they wanted to make you as uncomfortable as possible. The room suddenly started to feel less like a doctor’s office and more like a torture room as I waited for the doctor to barge in and extract the necessary information I held, by force if necessary.

Despite the growing claustrophobia, I answered all the basic questions that the aide asked.

‘Do you drink enough water?’

‘What’s your diet like?’

‘Do you smoke?’

‘Do you drink?’

I hated that last one. They always looked at me with judgement in their eyes, like they knew my life story. A medical chart couldn’t begin to scratch the surface of what I had been through.

“The doctor will be right with you,” the aide said curtly and excused himself. I let out a deep breath. Almost finished.

He rubbed his hand across my back. “It’s going to be okay, honey. Just tell the doctor what you’ve been experiencing and I’m sure he can help.”

I just grunted, not really wanting to talk about it. It wasn’t my choice to be here, but I knew it was the only thing that would appease my family.

Around fifteen minutes later, a knock came at our door.

“Come in!” My husband said for me. That was really beginning to grate on me.

The doctor let himself in, closing the door softly behind him. He was a small man with a bulbous nose that carried overly large, circular spectacles. His eyes grew ten times their size when he lifted his head and focused on me.

“Mr. Coté?” he asked, as if he didn’t know it was me.

“Yeah, that’s me,” I said quickly before my husband could butt in again, achieving one small victory.

“So, it says here that you’ve been having…” He gazed down his nose at his clipboard. “...hallucinations? Sleeplessness? Forgetfulness?”

I cleared my throat. “I suppose—”

“—oh, doctor. It’s been horrible,” my husband interrupted. “His eyes go distant, he speaks in gibberish, he sees things that aren’t there. You’ve got to help us here. What could it possibly be?”

He was ridiculously dramatic, but I was too tired to fight it so I just collapsed back onto the crunching cot.

“Well,” the doctor began, “You’ll need to describe the symptoms in more detail.”

Just as he finished his sentence, his nose began to extend, growing larger and larger until it resembled a giant, flesh colored gourd. His eyes bulged out of his head, pushing his glasses to the floor, then seemed to suck back into his body, leaving only sockets. The corners of his mouth drooped into an eerie, impossibly low frown, and the rest of his body seemed to follow as if melting towards the floor.

I glanced to my husband beside me but he was gone, as was the counter full of medical supplies, the medical posters, even the small window that had let in a meager light. The room remained a cubicle of sorts but it only held me and the morphed doctor.

I opened my mouth to speak but the doctor, or whatever he was, spoke first. “Who are you to come to this place?” he asked.

“I don’t even know what ‘this place’ is!” I said. “Who are you? Where’s my husband? What the fuck is going on?” I was tired of it, tired of the confusion and the sleepless nights and the stares that said I was insane. I needed answers.

“Ah,” he said, undulating his sloughing flesh. “You seek someone. He is gone, but here you can see him.”

“And to think I thought I was good at riddles. Then, you opened your mouth,” I said, trying to keep things light, witty. If I didn’t, I think I might’ve just cracked then and there.

I shook my head. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Who is ‘he’? I’m not trying to seek anyone. All I want to do is live a normal life, free of this shit,” I said, suddenly feeling exhausted.

“Would you like to hear from him?” The horrifying caricature of the doctor asked.

His flesh had morphed into an unrecognizable shape now, his mouth barely identifiable, his gourd-like nose the only true distinguishing feature.

“Hear from whom?”

“Andy.” the monster said.

Ice ran through my veins as I froze.

No. That’s impossible. He can’t mean Andy… my Andy is dead.

My vision swam. I gasped, breathless, my chest burning with pain.

“Lean him back, quickly now,” a man’s voice insisted and my head slammed back into the crackling paper. “He’s going into cardiac arrest.”

I’m okay. I’m okay. I tried to speak the words but my lungs hated me and refused to obey, the words dying on my lips.

A soothing hand stroked my head. “I’m here, honey. Just breathe. I’m here.”

“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to step back and wait outside,” another voice commanded and I felt his comforting touch slip away.

Then, everything went black.

When I came around, there were voices speaking in hushed whispers over me. The sterile smell of hospital greeted my senses along with the sharp beeps of medical monitors that sent pins and needles into my already throbbing head.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Coté. Your husband suffered another heart attack,” a male voice said. I think it was the doctor with the bulbous nose and goofy glasses, Dr. Anders, hopefully back to normal and not his chilling, melting counterpart.

There was sobbing somewhere nearby.

“I have… other news,” the voice said.

“I’m very sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but we’ve diagnosed your husband with a rapidly progressing form of Lewy Body Dementia.”

“Lewy Body?” My husband asked.

“It’s a form of dementia where protein deposits develop in nerve cells located in the brain, resulting in a progressive decline in thinking, memory, and movement,” he said, sounding like he was reading straight from a textbook.

“What does that mean? What can I expect to see? How long…” He sobbed again, then sniffed and got himself under control. “How long does he have to live?”

“One of the main reasons we identified this particular type of dementia was the hallucinations, which are very common. You can also expect to see Parkinson’s like symptoms which involve slow movement, tremors, and rigid muscles, in addition to the normal sleep disturbances and cognitive loss associated with other dementias, of course,” the doctor said.

“How long, doc?” He insisted, his voice filled with that fiery passion I loved so much.

“It’s hard to say, Mr. Coté. There is no cure.” He paused as if thinking, and his sobs resumed. “Sometimes, patients see anywhere from five to seven years of life. In your husband’s case, with the comorbidities of heart disease and liver damage, we could be looking at… one to three months? Maximum, I’d say,” he said, matter-of-fact, calm, like he wasn’t telling a man and his husband that he had less than a quarter of a year to live. “Perhaps, we should talk about your options. Hospice care is…”

Their conversation died down, their voices becoming too distant as they walked out of the room, and my mind trailed back into a deep sleep.

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Pranav Sharma

I’m a year 12 student at St Marks Catholic College. I specialise in science and mathematics, as well as full-stack software/hardware development. I am currently employed as a Network Administrator.

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