Recovery, my husband’s new primary care physician reminds us, is different for everyone. We’ve heard every version of this line from the moment he was first admitted to the ER. Every answered question is hedged with unknowns and “individual variations.” I’ve stopped expecting an answer when I ask “what’s next,” as I’ve learned that understanding the brain is an art form, not always easily predicted. But I ask anyway.
We’re at our first doctor’s appointment since returning to Vermont, and I reach for the hat I’m knitting, looking to grab onto the smooth bamboo of my circular knitting needles. Despite being less than a month old, my needles already have witness marks, indents in the wood making it easy to slip into my preferred hand positions. I’ve knit the same hat five times this week and memorized the pattern. I have it down to a science.
The hat isn’t there, though. I left my knitting in the car, not wanting to be rude. One of the requirements of leaving in-patient rehab was getting a primary care physician in Burlington. This doctor is one of the best in the state. He isn’t taking new patients, but he agreed to see us as a favor to a family friend. The appointment is over his lunch break.
Both the doctor and my husband are quiet. I realize that there was a question directed towards me. With no knitting to occupy me, I find that I’m wringing my hands–a description of a nervous habit that whenever I’ve seen written I’ve dismissed as an overused writing trope. The red blotches and faint bruises covering my skin, though, make me realize it’s less trope, more misnomer. “Wringing” doesn’t seem to convey the violent friction connecting my two hands as they squeeze and twist around each other. Or maybe, I think, as the tips of my fingernails turn red under the pressure of my own touch, I’ve just never understood the definition of wringing.
“He is doing so well. I know we’re really lucky.” My answer is automatic, practiced and honed over many medical appointments. An injured brain is notoriously unreliable so there is a moment in every appointment where the doctor, or therapist, turns to me to ask the pertinent questions.
I always start the same way, making sure I begin with praise before I get to the meat of my answer. At first I felt uncomfortable describing his mood and cognitive deficits with him sitting right next to me, but I got used to it. There are always two chairs. This is why I am here. This is expected.
There’s a soft knock at the door and a nursing assistant comes in to announce that the lab is ready to take my husband’s blood work. Before I can jump up to accompany them, they’re gone. The chair next to me is empty.
The light touch of the doctor’s hand on mine surprises me. This isn’t expected. His voice is gentle, but firm, when he says, “That isn’t what I asked. I asked how you were.”
This doctor is kind. Rather than hurry us out after the medical examination is done, he has taken the time to ask me how I am feeling.
He spends the next 15 minutes going over different services throughout the state that I qualify for to get help taking care of my husband. He explains the ins and outs of insurance covered transportation, weekly home health visits, and wellness programs specifically for caregivers. At the end of the visit he walks me to the back of the building where my husband is waiting for me, having already finished his blood work.
“I’m very impressed,” he tells me as we say goodbye. He isn’t looking at my husband. He is looking at me. For the first time since the accident I start to take a little bit of pride in all that I’m doing. I decided not to ask “what’s next.” Whatever it is, I can handle it.
Two months later when we come in for updated blood work he will tell me how much better I’m looking. His nurse will compliment my hat.
“Thanks,” I will tell her. “It’s a new pattern.”