While sitting in the waiting area of the neurologist’s office, a woman with curly hair, glasses, and a very distinct, bright smile looked over. “Hey, is your doctor here because mine hasn’t arrived yet.” and began a contagious, shoulder-bouncing, laugh.
I saw her even before she said hello, walking past while being escorted to the examination room. The first impression I had was that there was something strange about her. Not a positive or negative assessment, just observation. While my arm was cuffed into the automatic heart rate monitor, I didn’t even think twice about what I had thought, just a passing moment, nothing more.
After my vitals were checked and temperature a-okay-ed, I was brought to the waiting area. Not truly a waiting area, more of a hallway with ten chairs lined against the wall, half being of a different pattern. I saw the woman again, sitting, looking at her phone and decided to sit two seats away from her. A good distance, not too close, but not too far. Far from what? I’m not sure, but there was something comforting about not being a lone ranger waiting in an unfamiliar place.
She continued to talk after her initial hello, telling me about a friend whom she said was a nuisance, talking about the same subject, over and over to her. She would call her, day and night, text her, and I found out they were roommates for over 20 years. She told me about her parents and how she was so ready to move out and that it was the only reason why she decided to become roommates with this crazy friend. This friend, is neurotic, attention-seeking, and lonely. I didn’t get much time to really say anything, just listen, and at first, I wasn’t sure if she was talking about herself or her friend as my mind was starting to feel overwhelmed with no break in sound. But, for some reason, I continued to listen.
Then, the conversation took a turn.
She asked me how long I had been coming to the neurologist’s office.
I said it was my first time.
I asked her if it was her first time.
“No, I’ve been coming here since I was young. I have epilepsy.”
For a minute, I wasn’t sure how to respond.
I’m usually quite good at things like this, being able to associate, understand, and yet, the way her smile suddenly disappeared, her shoulders, hunched as she looked at her hands, picking at her nails, and her curly hair covered her eyes. My heart stung. And, I was lost for words.
Then, as if breaking out from a trance, she looked up, smiled, and said, “Well, people get scared of me, of things they don’t understand.”
I quickly Googled epilepsy to make sure I wasn’t mistaking it for any other thoughts in my head and to address her sincerity with equal respect, or try, at least.
Now, my curiosity, coupled with compassion, kicked into overdrive.
“What do you mean when you say people get scared?”
Episode upon episode pour out from her lips. Stories of strangers passing by, ignoring her cry for help as she reached into the air during one of her seizures, unable to speak clearly due to her constricting throat. Collapsing onto the sidewalk suddenly because of another attack or onto some random person’s front yard and instead of worrying about her situation, is riddled with thoughts of the owner coming out and kicking her off of their property. 7, 8 people pretending not to notice, only for the 9th person to finally come and ask if she needs help.
As each story was told, she was eloquent, educated, and well-versed. I couldn’t help but notice a wedding ring on her finger as she drew images of the stories in the air with her arms. My mind was racing, “How could people do such things! And is she married? Is her husband also epileptic? Are her strange motions due to her seizure episodes?” And while these sentences overlapped one another faster than I could decipher, she interjects with, “And you know what? It’s because of our backwards society! People are so scared of getting sued, of being responsible for things happening to them, to get involved with something they don’t understand. It’s sad. And it’s not just me. So many of my friends or those I’ve met throughout the years who have epilepsy or other medical issues have encountered similar situations, have shared similar stories. What happened to being human?”
We get caught up in what we see and equate that to something we had either conjured up in our minds or have decided as truth, when in reality, it could be the farthest from the truth. Before sitting and talking with her, I had my own thoughts, my own conclusions. And yet, here I was, learning another important life lesson from someone I least expected to be a teacher. I knew what she was talking about because I have been there. We have all been there and yet, we forget. We forget because once it has passed or we see another as a separate being from us, it becomes distant. But what she taught me was before all else, to be human. That’s relatable, because, we are all human, after all. It is what connects us all.
As I was having this awakening conversation, internally riled up from dots connecting at lightening speed, now wanting to talk more, learn more, a nurse came and called her name. She jumped up and said, “That’s me!” and just as quickly as she jumped into my awareness, she leaped away behind the doors that read Personnel Only, calling out from the corridor, “Father! Father! I’m going in to see the doctor now. Come! Come!”
I see a gentleman, in jeans and a t-shirt, slowly walking past me, maybe in his mid-70’s, maybe a bit more, multiple bags under his eyes, creased down lips, staring blankly into his cell phone.
The thought that runs through my mind, “There must have been so much more to this story.”
(Painting: SURGE, close-up. Photo: Nitsa + Tasya for Women With Superpowers)