The (not so) Perfect Comeback

Don’t you hate when you can’t think of a comeback to some jerk until long after a confrontation?

Most people who know me would probably imagine that I don’t have any trouble snapping back at someone who snaps at me.  They would be right.  Most of the time, I don’t.  I have my share of flaws, but I’m usually pretty quick-witted.  I can give a snappy answer when it’s called for–and sometimes when it’s not!

But I’ve had my weak moments.

I don’t know why I started thinking about this story all of a sudden, but it’s been on my mind all day.  I guess I’ve just been admiring all the things my daughter can do now, and how far she’s come, and it made me remember a man who told me none of it would ever happen.

Our medical journey with my daughter has been a long one.  I won’t go in to all of that.  The abridged version is that we made several trips to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and during the last one, we had our first appointment with a developmental pediatrician.  We had never seen one of those before.  I asked the neurologist out there why we had to see him, and she said, “Well, he specializes in development, so maybe he can give you some idea of Evelyn’s level of development and what you might be able to expect in the future.”  I should have been immediately skeptical, but let me give you some insight into my mental and emotional state at that point in time.

I was a wreck.

That was our fifth trip to Minnesota.  My daughter couldn’t walk or talk.  She was around three years old, but she had the cognitive ability of a little baby.  I was running out of options to find out what was wrong.  She had been tested for everything.  No answers.  No diagnosis.  Worst of all, no hope.  I didn’t realize it then, but I guess some tiny part of me was thinking that if someone could name what was wrong with her, maybe there was something that could be done to fix her.  All of that was coming to an end.  In addition to the Mayo trips, I had also spent a total of 31 days in Bethesda, Maryland, at a special therapy center that worked with non-verbal kids to try to train their brains to learn speech.  It was a wonderful thing for lots of people, but, naturally, it didn’t work out for Evelyn.  In short, there really wasn’t anything left for us to do.

So we went to the appointment with the developmental pediatrician.  I’m not going to name him, because in a minute I’m going to call him an asshole, and I don’t want anyone who might know him to find out he’s an asshole–you know, in case they didn’t already know.

I have no idea what the man’s face looked like.  I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.  I don’t think he ever looked me in the eye.  But I will never forget that room, or his stupid gray suit or his stupid maroon tie, or the stupid red leather couch in the office. He went through her chart and asked me a bunch of questions that had been answered eight million times already.  He asked me about the therapy in Bethesda.  Then he did some standard developmental pediatrician tests on my daughter.

He showed her shapes and colors and tried to get her to match them.  She couldn’t.  He gave her a pencil and asked her to write.  She couldn’t.  He watched her crawl, but not walk.  The best test, though, was when he showed her a block and then put it behind a little plastic wall on a table.  The idea was that she would reach around the little wall for the block–this is the concept of object permanence.  Evelyn tried to move the wall to get the block.  He had his hand on it, and wouldn’t move it.  Evelyn looked at me with that little look she has, like she was saying, “Can you believe this asshole?”

No, seriously, she just grinned at me then quit trying for the block.  She didn’t really give a crap about that block, so she stopped trying to get it.  He made another note on his little clipboard and went back to his desk.  He wrote for a few minutes, then gave me his expert opinion.

To paraphrase, he informed me first and foremost that therapies like the one in Bethesda were a waste of money and basically a scam for gullible people.  He also told me that Evelyn was profoundly retarded, and that she probably always would be.  She also would surely never walk.  My one and only contribution to this monologue was to squeak out, “But she’s pulling up to things now,” to which he replied, “Well, she may walk with assistance, but never on her own.”

And that was it.

Now, there are lots of things I should have said.  I should have told him to take a long walk off a short dock; to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine; to screw himself; to take a flying….well, nevermind.  I also should have told him that I didn’t realize developmental pediatricians could predict the future with such startling accuracy.  How could he sit there after fifteen minutes and tell me all of these things about my little girl?  There were lots of things she couldn’t do, but she had come so far, and there were tons of thing she could do.  Against all odds, she had learned to roll over, then sit up, then crawl, and she was pulling up to things.  Yes, it took her much longer than it took most kids, but that didn’t mean she would never do it!  Then I should have stood up, picked up my baby, tossed my head, and marched from the office.

I didn’t.

I didn’t march from that office.  I slouched out.  I skulked, like a beaten dog.  I felt like that.  He had just given voice to all of the worst fears in the deepest, darkest part of my heart.  He had crushed me–crushed the heart and soul right out of me.  I trailed all the way back to the hotel room, got Evelyn a snack, and sat on the bed.  It was a low place.  I was alone–Evelyn and I had flown out by ourselves, and she was already asleep.  I couldn’t tell you if it was raining, snowing, thunder, a tornado, anything.  I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t even do that.

I pulled myself together after a while, and talked to The Grandmother and Matt on the phone.  I told them the gist of what the DP had said, and we took turns abusing him verbally.  It didn’t really help, but it was nice to call him a bunch of dirty names.

I’ve heard the word “vulnerable,” but in all honesty, it’s not really a word that applies to me very often.  Looking back, I can see that it was appropriate then.  He was literally kicking me while I was down.  Once we got home, life went on, and I was able to start moving past all of the things he said.  Oddly enough, it was Evelyn’s regular neurologist that made me feel better.  Lots of people aren’t crazy about him, because he has a tendency to be very frank, but that’s the very reason I like him.  I admitted to him what the DP had said.  He snorted.  Literally.  He said, “How does he know what Evelyn will be doing in a year from now?  I regret you had to see him–developmental pediatricians are like tits on a boar.”

I swear, he really said that.  It made my day.  As time went on, I wished more than ever that I had told him off, and I even wrote a very strongly worded letter.  I never mailed it.  In a way, I didn’t want to admit to him how badly he’d hurt me.  But I think he did me a favor.  He gave a face to the enemy.  He gave us something to fight against, and, more importantly, something to fight for.

So, Dr. Barberisi? You can kiss my ass.  Oh, and Evelyn can walk now, so it should be pretty easy for you to kiss hers, too.

 

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