Robert Bard

The Waiting Room

In Mimesis on August 30, 2011 at 6:38 pm

On one side of Reginald stood his mother, and on the other, stood Elizabeth. They had been waiting for hours already, and moving deeper and deeper into the heart of the hospital, passing stations at which Reginald was examined by more and more doctors and nurses. They had started at the emergency room waiting room, and then had been transferred to the psychiatric ward waiting room, where Reginald had been asked to strip out of his street clothes and put on blue “paper clothes.” Now, after hours of waiting, the nurse was telling Reginald that he could only have one visitor with him in the innermost waiting room. Reginald hated to choose. Here was the woman who had given him birth and been with him through all his hardships, his most constant advocate. She had fought so hard for him when he had gotten expelled from his school—both times—all to make him have a better life. On the other side was the woman that he had loved since elementary school, and the woman that he had hoped he would someday marry. It was really an impossible decision. He was frustrated to have to make this choice. He turned to Elizabeth, “C’mon, let’s go.” With that, he turned his back on his mother and followed the nurse into the interior of the psychiatric ward, abandoning his mother to the cold, bright waiting room. He looked back over his shoulder; she looked heartbroken.

In the interior waiting room Elizabeth held Reginald’s hand. “You’re going to be alright,” she said to him. “Everything is going to be just fine.” Reginald could feel his anxiety growing, but Elizabeth was like a shot of heroin right in the jugular, and calmed him down immensely. He felt he could not do this without her. There were other patients in the waiting room with them, eating strange, awful tasting hospital food, and Reginald could feel their eyes upon him. This close scrutiny made him perspire, and the cold drops of sweat ran down his brow.

Reginald and Elizabeth watched the waiting room television silently; Jeopardy was on. It was Children’s Jeopardy, and every once in a while Elizabeth would whisper the answer to Reginald. For some reason he thought this was a sign of Elizabeth’s brilliance, though the children on the show were no more than thirteen. As time went on, Jeopardy turned into Wheel of Fortune and Reginald could feel himself growing increasingly impatient. He was not like the loonies in here, he was thinking to himself; he was sane. His outbursts at home—though increasingly violent in nature—were typical, and no cause for alarm. He was excellent at rationalizing to things to himself, and could manipulate anyone with his words into thinking anything; now, he would manipulate them into thinking he did not need to be here.

As they waited to be seen by the doctor, Elizabeth held Reginald’s hand, and tried to calm him down. It was evident from Reginald’s face that he did not want to be here, and she spoke encouraging words to him. She was the only reason he was here, and the only reason he could be here. The thought of an involuntary hospital stay terrified Reginald more than anything in the world, but he trusted Elizabeth more than he had ever trusted anyone, and if she said things were going to be okay—though nothing seemed to verify it—he believed it. They had always shared a special bond, and it moved Reginald that Elizabeth not only did not run away during this time, but that she was here in the hospital with him, holding his hand. He knew that he had a long history of mental disease, but so did she, and though their love was in a way bizarre and dysfunctional, it comforted Reginald. This union of two kindred souls put Reginald’s heart at ease, even amongst so much anxiety. He knew he was not like the other people in this room, and the thought of having to spend an indeterminate amount of time confined within the walls of this hospital with them was driving Reginald to panic. Thank God, he thought, I have Elizabeth here.

After an hour or so in the interior waiting room, Reginald was called to see the doctor; Elizabeth came with him. They walked slowly along the brightly lit corridor. Hospitals make a person feel insane, even if they are not. The lights are blinding, cold, and sterile, and the walls are painted white with no ornaments on them. Everything that could be used to hurt oneself is removed, or hidden away—even pencils and pens. All the beds in the place have straps on them so as to secure patients if they get too restless, which adds to the paranoia and claustrophobia. Any sane person would not want to be in one of these places, even to work. They entered the doctor’s room, and sat down. The doctor was a large, robust, Indian man of about forty or fifty, and had glasses that made him appear slightly fish-eyed. When he spoke it always appeared as though he were just catching his breath. “So what appears to be the problem?” he asked Reginald.

With great difficulty Reginald thought about what to say. Though he had been having violent outburst recently, he did not want to be confined here. He simply wanted a strong anti-anxiety medication to relax him. “I’ve been having a lot of anxiety lately,” he said at last, “and frequent outbursts.”

The doctor looked at the chart, flipping through the pages. “Did anything precipitate these outbursts?” he asked Reginald. He was studying Reginald. His eyes moved over him as a mechanic studies an engine with a malfunction. It was hard to tell if the doctor even saw people anymore, rather than patients. The people who come in to mental institutions are perhaps at their weakest moments; they are fighting for their lives. The doctors work as though they are on an assembly line; they make adjustments or send the car back for repairs to the shop upstairs.

Reginald knew he was playing a game here. If he were to get the desired medication he would have to make the right moves. Unfortunately there was no disguising the truth in this situation. In some ways he would have to be brutally honest and just hope for the best. “I took some ecstasy and acid and I seem to be having a manic episode,” Reginald explained to the doctor; “To add to that my hands are shaking considerably.”

The doctor swiveled back and forth on his chair. His clothes looked tight on him in some areas, and loose in others. The suit did not quite fit him. Suits are not quite made for large people. The doctor scratched his chin and scribbled some notes into Reginald’s chart. Reginald could not see what he wrote, and he had always wondered what it had been anyways when he had seen doctors. They were always scribbling notes furiously. “Do you have a history of drug abuse?” the doctor asked Reginald.

Do I? Reginald thought to himself. He thought back to the years and years of drug abuse that he had been through. He had first had a drink at five years old. It had occurred when he was downstairs in his parents’ basement with a friend playing near the liquor cabinet. He had often seen his father drinking scotch, so he decided he would take a swig. Never before had anything ever burned his throat like that, and he rushed upstairs and started chugging orange juice. His mother had inquired as to what had happened, but he just said he was really thirsty, and she just shrugged it off. Later on, when he was around seven, he had gotten drunk off his parents’ wine with his younger brother when no one was home to watch him. He had started smoking marijuana in sixth grade, and had become a regular user by ninth. It was also in ninth grade that he started getting drunk more regularly and started smoking cigarettes. He stopped going to school and started getting high or drunk every day and ended up spending two and a half years in ninth grade. This was the beginning of Reginald’s substance abuse problem. By fifteen or sixteen he had started shooting up coke and heroin, and experimenting with mushrooms. He ended up getting arrested and quitting those drugs for the duration of his probation, but still drank and smoked weed. Somehow he never failed a piss test. His method of “smoke for three weeks, and then don’t smoke for a week” seemed to work for his monthly drug tests, and the probation officer let him off after two-and-a-half years for “good behavior.” He remained clean off hard drugs for a few years after probation, but by his early twenties he was back to shooting coke, and when he wasn’t doing that, snorting it as well—which never had the desired effect. He experimented with acid during this time, and fell into a nasty DMT habit, which nearly resulted in his committing suicide after a severely bad trip. This most recent episode had included ecstasy (which was cut with heroin and methamphetamines, as Reginald later found out), acid, marijuana, and a research chemical that Reginald knew little about. When the doctor asked him about a drug history, he was unsure of how much of this to relate. “I’ve done heroin, coke, mushrooms, acid, ecstasy, DMT, marijuana, and alcohol,” he finally related.

“How much,” the doctor inquired.

“Not much of anything,” Reginald said. “Just experimenting really.” It was true, in some ways. Reginald did do a lot of experimenting; the drugs he’d done the most of had been marijuana and alcohol. For the most part he had limited his use of the other drugs—not because he didn’t want to do them—because he couldn’t afford them.

“Anything else going on?” the doctor asked. The doctor’s skin was glistening with sweat. The hospital wasn’t even that warm. His belt was around his navel, his pants up outrageously high. It was like he was wearing a zoot suit.

“No,” Reginald lied.

For the first time, Elizabeth spoke up. “Show him your legs honey.”

Reginald felt betrayed. They might keep him now if they thought he was a danger to himself. He knew that Elizabeth was only acting in his best interests, but he didn’t give a damn about his best interests. He just wanted some goddamn Xanax to calm him down and get the fuck out of there. The doctor looked at Reginald with a quizzical look on his face. “What is she talking about?” the doctor asked.

“I cut my legs,” Reginald squeaked out. He really hadn’t wanted to say anything about it. The room felt cramped with the three of them in there in the small office. Elizabeth was sitting to his left, and the doctor was sitting in front of him. The door was shut, and even if Reginald wanted to run, he couldn’t get out of the interior waiting room; the door to the waiting room was locked. Reginald began to feel very claustrophobic. He suddenly felt as if he may not go home. For the first time in his life, he felt anger towards Elizabeth.

The doctor nodded. “Show me,” he said, and gestured for Reginald to get up. Reginald’s paper clothes crinkled as he stood up, and he pulled down the pants so the doctor could see his naked thighs. The doctor inspected the cuts on his thighs. “These are superficial,” he said bluntly.

Reginald felt relieved and offended at the same time. Superficial? he thought. I cut myself with a Buck knife! Outwardly he breathed a sigh of relief. This meant that the doctor did not think he was a danger to himself. “Yeah,” Reginald said. “I wasn’t really trying to harm myself.”

The doctor explained to Reginald and Elizabeth that he thought Reginald only needed a medication change, and that he was going to write Reginald a prescription for Xanax and Cogentin and adjust the other medication that Reginald was on. He wrote the prescriptions and told Reginald what Reginald had been waiting all night to hear: that Reginald could go home—and with a Xanax prescription as well.


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