Just a reminder that Deaf refers to the culture, or people who primarily use ASL as their form of communication. It has its own customs, history, and etiquette that are often very different from the mainstream "hearing" culture that surrounds it. Without the capital, deaf refers to the inability to hear. I wanted to make that clear from the beginning since Kai uses these terms frequently, especially in this episode.
January 30, 2001
January 30, 2001
Dr. Miller opened the door from her office to the waiting room. She immediately recognized the Taylor brothers, as she thought of them inwardly, even if Kai went by a different surname. Jon was sitting upright in a chair, reading a magazine, and Kai was in his wheelchair parked nearby, flicking rubber bands against his wrist and staring off blankly into space. Jon noticed the open door first and tapped his brother’s shoulder, pointing.
Kai looked over at Dr. Miller, then turned to Jon, perhaps to say something, before dropping his hands to his rims and wheeling over. He smiled at her, but it was a forced, polite expression, and when she moved, he rolled into her office. Dr. Miller waited for Jon to follow, but he shook his head and gestured for her to go ahead.
“Is your brother not joining us today?” Every other Tuesday morning, Dr. Miller normally met with both brothers at once for a dual session.
“I needed today solo and Jon says he’s OK with that,” Kai replied, already going to the couch.
Dr. Miller frowned, but Kai’s back was to her, so it didn’t matter. She closed her office door quietly and took her seat. “You OK?”
Kai had transferred out of his wheelchair, but instead of reclining on the couch as he normally would, he was sitting on it, gripping the cushion, holding himself tensely. He shook his head enthusiastically.
“Let’s do some breathing exercises first,” Dr. Miller said, leading Kai through some slow, deep breathing to try to relax him. It took nearly ten minutes, but Kai finally leaned back and the tension in his shoulders ebbed.
“Tell me what’s going on.”
Kai was twisting his hands together, and his face was full of raw turmoil. “I think I’m too crazy for school.”
“Kai,” Dr. Miller said, but it was more on a sigh, full of sympathy. “Did something happen?”
Kai nodded. Swallowed. “I was anxious almost the entire day. I threw up three times. I had one minor panic attack, and nearly had a bunch more. In my last class, my anxiety got so bad I couldn’t process English. I nearly flashed back. I’m not sure, but I think my writing teacher thinks I’m some disabled slacker who expects special treatment.”
“But you survived, right?”
Kai laughed dryly, but he nodded.
“That’s something, Kai. Remember that. Two months ago you were an inpatient in the JMH psych ward, and yesterday you survived a full day at school. Even if it doesn’t feel like it, that’s a major accomplishment and you should be proud of yourself.” Dr. Miller smiled encouragingly. “Other than surviving, did anything good happen yesterday you can think of? Remember, it’s good to counteract your instinct to catastrophize by focusing on positivity.”
Kai took in a breath. He was incredibly restless, and Dr. Miller wondered if she should pull something out from the “Kai drawer.” “Renee was really supportive. She was with me when I had my panic attack, and she was . . . great. I started the day off not being able to let her touch me, but by the end I found it calming.”
“That’s wonderful, Kai.”
Kai dropped his head.
“What’s going on, Kai? What did you want to talk about that you didn’t want Jon here for?”
Kai looked up at her, his forehead furrowed deeply, his eyes full of emotion. It seemed like he wanted to speak but couldn’t seem to find a way to do it.
“Is it about school?”
Kai didn’t respond. He started chewing on his lip and snapping the rubber bands. He looked like he was on the verge of tears, and maybe using the bands was his way to try to avoid them. It was impossible for Dr. Miller to know, and Kai didn’t seem as if he were being obstinate. Clearly, some of his frustration was at his inability to articulate what he was feeling.
“You want me to help you process something?”
Kai swallowed thickly and looked up at her, hope blossoming in his eyes. He nodded. “I want to tell you. I need to. I just . . . I don’t know how.”
“That’s all right,” Dr. Miller said gently. “I’ll help you. Was it something that happened yesterday?”
Kai grit his teeth. Nodded.
“Does it have to do with your PTSD?”
Kai shook his head. So it wasn’t a traumatic memory. Not what Dr. Miller was expecting.
“Is it something Jon doesn’t know about? Is that why you didn’t want him here?”
Kai started to shake his head, but hesitated, then signed something that looked like his two index fingers inching their way across the space in opposite directions, almost like little worms. After a moment, Kai seemed to realize that Dr. Miller didn’t know ASL and held his lip between his teeth as if he were searching for the English. “It’s complicated,” he finally said. So, something to do with Jon.
“Is this about Vicky?”
Kai shook his head. He tapped a finger on his knee repetitively so fast it blurred in Dr. Miller’s vision. Kai’s shoulders shook, and she thought she heard a choked sob.
Dr. Miller was beginning to run out of guesses. “Did you two have a fight?” Nothing about the brothers’ body language in the waiting room had suggested that, but she figured it was worth a try.
“Not exactly,” Kai said, his words filled with his unshed tears. He was shaking.
“Is it about Jon parenting you?” That was something they were working on, getting Jon to give Kai space and focus on himself more, and for Kai to reassert his independence without feeling that he was alone.
Kai lost it. He choked a few times, his chest jerking, until the dam finally burst and he was full-out crying. He pointed to his ears. “I may be going deaf because of the medicine they gave me while I was sick.” Kai struggled to take a few deep breaths, to master his emotions. “Medicine Jon gave them permission to give me.” Kai finally looked up at Dr. Miller. “I know I shouldn’t be upset. Jon saved my life. And I always felt more at home in the Deaf world than the hearing one, but . . .” Kai was trembling. “I don’t even know how I feel. I’m so . . . torn up in little pieces,” Kai said, seemingly signing as he went, cutting himself up with his fingers as scissors and scattering the imaginary pieces of himself everywhere. “Help me.”
Dr. Miller nodded, her face sympathetic. “Take deep breaths. We’ll talk about this. We’ll identify your emotions and why you’re feeling them. OK? It’ll be all right.”
Kai smiled faintly, visibly relieved, nodding. Then he started taking slow, deep breaths, likely counting in his head to space them apart, until he was noticeably calmer. “Jon feels so guilty. You should have seen the way he looked at me yesterday when he told me that I could permanently lose all my hearing, that I could have balance problems, vertigo . . .”
“But you’re not angry with him?”
Kai chewed his lip. He looked perplexed. “I don’t think so. Maybe a little, that he didn’t warn me before, but . . .” Kai seemed to consider it. “I don’t think so. I think . . .” Kai massaged his forehead, since there seemed to be a permanent furrow etched into it. “I think I’m worried.”
“What do you think you’re worried about, specifically?”
Kai shoved his fingers through his hair a few times. He shrugged. “When I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t understand . . . I felt so . . . alone,” Kai said, his voice cracking a little. “I already feel like I don’t deserve to be in school, like I don’t belong, and then suddenly I literally could not belong, and the teacher, she was so angry with me, and I was so scared. I had to dig my nails into my skin to keep myself in the present. She was so angry because I didn’t know what she was saying.” Kai choked, barely managing to keep himself from breaking down again. “Last night I didn’t sleep. I was listening to every little sound, and I kept thinking, my anxiety is bad enough when I can hear everything. Half the time it’s when I don’t hear anything that it gets worse. You know? Like, it’s the absence of sound that’s really frightening? Like, I keep expecting it’s because I missed something, or something is about to happen. I think I’m afraid of what losing my hearing will do to my anxiety. I’m already scared all the time.” Dr. Miller was relieved Kai had finally broken through to the heart of the matter.
“So it’s not losing your hearing in and of itself that frightens you, but the prospect of not hearing a potential threat?”
Kai’s lip trembled. “I feel like . . .” Kai took a breath and tried again. “Such a hypocrite. I was raised Deaf, I always felt more Deaf than hearing, and now I might actually become deaf and I’m terrified.” Kai shifted his hair with a trembling hand. “I wanted to go to David’s yesterday to talk to him about this. I wasn’t even afraid of going to his house, that’s how badly I needed to talk to him, in person, without Jon there. But . . .” Kai closed his eyes. “How could I go to my Deaf best friend, who always accepted me as I am, gimpy legs and wheezy lungs and fucked up head and all of it. Who I grew up with believing that deafness doesn’t mean there’s something wrong that has to be fixed. And tell him I’m scared to be deaf like him?” Kai’s shoulders sank. “And that made me feel even more alone. It’s one reason I needed today. I needed to talk to someone, but I couldn’t talk to Jon, because he’s too caught up in his guilt, and I couldn’t talk to Renee, because she wouldn’t understand. She’d be supportive, of course, but she has no idea what my life has been navigating between Deaf and hearing and never really belonging in either. And then I couldn’t talk to David. . . . I had no one.”
Dr. Miller didn’t want to ask this next question, but she felt she had to. “Did you hurt yourself yesterday?”
Kai’s lip quivered, and he dipped his head. Wrapped his arms around himself. “I’m so sorry,” he said, fresh tears bursting out. He seemed as if he wanted to say more, but all he could do was hug himself, leaned forward, sobbing.
“It’s all right, Kai,” Dr. Miller said in a soothing voice. “You know this is a judgment-free zone. You know that I’ll never be disappointed by anything you do. That’s not my job. My job is to help you get better.”
“I’m so alone. Jon says I’m not, but I am. Even when I’m not ‘alone’ I’m alone.”
“Did you feel better after you cut?”
“I didn’t start out to hurt myself,” Kai said, dodging the question. “I tried to cook, and it worked for a little while, but then it was time for bed, and I was lying there alone just listening, and I needed to talk to someone so bad, but it had to be in sign, and . . .” Kai scratched along his thighs as if imitating where he’d cut. “The more I cut, the more upset with myself I got for cutting, for letting this upset me, thinking there are so much worse problems than losing my hearing, which made me more mad at myself, so I’d cut more, deeper. . . .”
“Kai, you have every right to be upset. And though I wish you hadn’t hurt yourself, that doesn’t make you bad, OK? Answer me this question: if one of your friends or family was injured and weren’t able to walk without assistance, and they were angry, scared, whatever, about it, would you hold that against them because of your own physical disability?”
Kai looked at her oddly. “I’ve always had trouble walking, so that’s normal for me. But it isn’t for most people. Of course they’re going to be scared or frustrated, or whatever. I wouldn’t take it personally. It’s not about me.”
“So . . .”
“So David wouldn’t take it personally if I told him everything I’ve told you, is what you’re trying to get me to admit. That’s different.” Kai’s eyes searched the ceiling for a moment as if he were thinking of what to say next, or how. “When someone has a deaf baby, the first thing the doctor or nurse says is usually, ‘I’m sorry, you’re child’s deaf.’ Then they immediately start talking about how they’re going to fix him. Do surgery or give him hearing aids. Speech therapy. Etcetera. It’s made very clear from the beginning that your child is not normal, and they have to fix him until they can make him as close to normal, as close to ‘unbroken’ as possible.”
“And that’s not what happened with you, with your physical disability? You told me you started physical therapy very young, and got your first pair of braces when you were two or three. That’s not ‘fixing’ you to make you ‘normal,’ or as ‘close to normal’ as possible?” Dr. Miller said, parroting Kai’s words back to him but not in a hostile way, simply to try to get Kai to see himself as clearly as he saw other people.
Kai sighed, perhaps conceding her point. “I still always felt broken.” Kai shook his head. “Besides, whether or not I walk, that’s not going to affect my ability to communicate with other people. It doesn’t affect my culture. Admitting to David that I’m afraid to lose my hearing is like slapping him in the face and telling him that being hearing is better than being Deaf. How can I be the same person who laments losing my ‘family’--the Deaf community--when I was forced into the hearing high school, forced to learn to speak, and yet come back and say I want to have my cake and eat it, too?”
“I can definitely see why you feel so conflicted. I won’t pretend to understand Deaf culture, or the difference between it and hearing culture, because aside from you, I’m not familiar with it. But from what I understand, David is a good friend who cares about you. One of your therapeutic goals was to work on your open communication with those closest to you--Jon, David, and Renee. I think you should talk to David. If he’s really your friend, if he’s really been with you and seen you struggle with your ‘round peg in a square hole’ situation before, then he’ll be supportive. It’s possible he may be a little hurt, and it’s possible that he may not understand fully, but I really do think you should give speaking with him about this a chance. Especially if you don’t think you can talk about this with Jon yet, and if you don’t think Renee is quite to the point in her relationship with you that she can fully appreciate the intricacies of the situation.”
Kai’s shoulders dropped further. “I think I’m worried about that, too. Jon said it’s possible I won’t lose all my hearing, but I may lose the higher frequencies, which means children and women will be harder for me to understand. Re’s learning to sign, and she’s really a natural--she picks it up fast--but I worry that if I become hard of hearing, or even deaf, that she and I will . . .”
“It’ll be another strain on your relationship. That’s a realistic fear, Kai, and I can’t promise you it won’t happen, but I think you should try to focus on the present right now instead of the dubious future. At this point, you don’t even know for sure if you’ll lose your hearing, if it’ll be permanent, or how severe the loss will be, am I right about that?”
Kai nodded reluctantly. “Jon’s going to get me in to see the audiologist and an ENT that specializes in hearing loss as soon as possible, so I can be evaluated, but until then, or until my hearing goes out and doesn’t come back, there’s no way for me to know.”
“My advice is to talk to David. And, perhaps once you see the doctor and know more about what you can expect, you need to talk to Jon and Renee, too. If necessary, we can do that during a joint session, and I can act as a mediator to facilitate the conversation.”
Kai nibbled his lip. “I’m worried about that, too. There’s only one interpreter I trust enough to use with you, and he works full time at the hospital. I don’t know if I’d be able to hire him. And if I can’t hear you . . .” Kai shook his head. “I’m scared of losing you if I lose my hearing.” Kai laughed sadly. “That sounded so stalkerish.”
“That’s all right,” Dr. Miller said gently. “I understand what you mean.”
“You are the only shrink I’ve ever fully trusted, the only one who has ever really helped me, and I’m so, so far from better.”
“Again, Kai, let’s try to focus on the present and what we do know instead of worrying about the future. If the time comes that you need an interpreter in order to continue your sessions with me, then we will figure it out, all right? The most important thing you need to know is that I will not drop you as a patient if you lose your hearing, OK? Even if we have to exchange notes, or type back and forth the entire session, we’ll do that if we have to. OK?”
Kai looked relieved. “I’m worried about school, too.”
Dr. Miller nodded. “The school will provide you interpreters if you need them, though, right?”
“I think you have to have a certain level of hearing loss to qualify. I’m worried I’ll lose enough hearing that following lectures will be a struggle, but not enough they’ll provide me an interpreter.”
Dr. Miller raised her eyebrows.
Kai sighed. “Stay focused on the present. Right. Because yesterday went sooo well even without hearing issues.”
“Your friend David went to college and used interpreters, right?”
Kai nodded. “It’s how he and his fiancee met, apparently.”
“Yet another reason to talk to him. He’ll understand about that far more than I would.”
Kai let out a long whooshing breath. “I feel better.”
“Good,” Dr. Miller said with a smile. “If you feel alone like you did last night, try some of the alternatives to self-harming we discussed. Like drawing on your skin with red marker instead of cutting, or taking a cold shower, or using ice to create non-harmful pain. OK?”
Kai nodded. He transferred into his chair and pushed toward the door.
“And remember, if you need an extra appointment with me, just call and I’ll squeeze you in, all right?”
Kai smiled faintly. He wiped his nose on his sleeve. “Thank you.”
Dr. Miller rose so she could tell her next patient she needed a few minutes before she was ready for her, and she saw Kai wheel through the waiting room toward Jon. Kai got close and threw his arms around his brother in a hug. Jon seemed surprised, but then he accepted it, rocking Kai subtly from side to side, smoothing his back. A slight smile tipped his cheek, and he caught Dr. Miller’s gaze for a moment, his expression saying, “Thank you.”
Jon pulled up in front of the outpatient entrance of JMH and put his car in park. Kai had slipped into a withdrawn silence after his session with Dr. Miller, and it worried Jon. He didn’t want to push Kai too much, but he also didn’t want to not push. He tapped Kai’s shoulder to get his attention. “Are you going to be OK?”
Kai blinked at Jon. Swallowed. Smiled, but it was so painfully fake it hurt Jon to look at it. “Of course I will be. It’s just some blood and skin tests. I’ve been through worse.”
“That’s not what I mean and you know it. I’m serious.”
Kai sighed and dropped the facade. “I’m upset. But nothing I can’t handle. I’ll see you later. Thanks for the ride.” Kai pushed the door open, reached back for his chair and assembled it. Before he transferred, he offered an attempt at a genuine smile this time. “Thanks for caring about me. I know I don’t make it easy.”
Jon shook his head. “You're my brother. Of course I love you. No matter what.” He reached over and ruffled Kai’s hair, making his brother squirm. But Kai started laughing, which was encouraging. “I have a full schedule today, but call up to the pulm floor any time and they’ll get me on the phone. Or if your hearing goes out, I’ll come meet you. Promise. No matter what, unless I’m in the middle of an emergency. OK?”
“I’m a grown man, remember?” Kai signed, irritated, but then he added a quick facial expression that showed that he was actually grateful Jon was making himself available to Kai like that. Even though Kai insisted he wasn’t angry at Jon about his hearing loss, Jon knew he was struggling with it on top of everything else, and one thing that Dr. Miller had stressed during Kai’s recovery over the past two months was the importance of giving Kai independence while still making it clear that he had a support network to fall back on when he needed it.
Kai transferred to his chair and waved before shutting the door.
Jon watched his brother wheel off, not pulling away until he saw the automatic doors close behind him.
Kai leaned back in the phlebotomy chair, focusing on his breathing, his eyes closed.
“You OK?” Emma asked. She was one of the phlebotomists who worked in the lab on the first floor of JMH and had probably taken his blood hundreds of times, if not thousands, especially since his transplant, when he came in to have it drawn for regular tests to ensure his white blood cell count was in the good range--not too high or too low--and also to make sure his liver and kidneys were still functioning decently despite the heavy load of medicines he took regularly.
“I’m fine,” Kai said, but even he didn’t believe it.
“Try to relax,” she said as she pushed his sleeve up farther and wrapped the tubing around his bicep. She probably told that to dozens of patients a day, since Kai knew a lot of people got squeamish about needles and blood. It was so routine for Kai that unless the nurse drawing his blood was horrible at it, he rarely even felt it anymore.
“I’m not nervous about this,” he said, feeling like he needed to explain himself, even though Kai almost never explained himself to anyone. His ears were ringing again, and though his hearing was all right except for the tinnitus, it had put him back off kilter. Despite Dr. Miller’s encouragement that he should focus on the present instead of the future, he couldn’t stop thinking about what the world would be without sound. The hospital, for example. He wasn’t sure if he could handle it if he couldn’t hear all the familiar soothing background noises he’d grown up with. If it became like the psych ward, with that penetrating silence. . . .
“Deep breaths, come on, Kai. In and out.”
Kai opened his eyes and realized Emma had given up trying to find a vein, the tubing removed. He was breathing raggedly, his pulse echoing in his ears as if to keep up with the ringing, and he felt dizzy, his fingers tingling. No. He couldn’t have a panic attack here. No. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut and focused on blue. On calm. On breathing. It wasn’t working, though, and Kai felt the panic escalating, felt that primal fear that told him he couldn’t breathe, that he was going to die.
“Breathe into this. Come on. Stay with me,” Emma said, speaking in a voice that managed to be firm yet gentle. She was pressing a mask to his face.
Kai opened his eyes, looking at her, wanting to flee, but trying to breathe. It was really hard. He felt like he wasn’t getting enough air, like he did in his nightmares. His hands were shaking so badly he struggled to grip the armrests but he couldn’t. He felt trapped. Fear was devouring him. “I can’t. I can’t breathe.”
“You can. Come on. In and out.” She fixed the mask in place by putting the band over his head.
Kai could feel the edges of reality wanting to blur. He was so fucking terrified, and he felt like Emma was penning him in. He closed his eyes again. Blue. Think of blue and breathing. Kai tried to imagine the blue surrounding him, like an endless clear summer sky, and every time he took in a breath, the color would brighten, and every time he released it, it would shift in tint, almost like he was looking at it through a kaleidoscope. He tried to ignore the way his hands had gone numb and his chest felt like someone was squeezing it from the inside and just focus on the color. To not even think about breathing, just on how the color would shift and change.
Slowly, very, very slowly, Kai’s body began to relax. He felt the anxiety seep away as if it were some vile fluid leaking out of his body, and he leaned back. Emma took his hand.
“You’re fingers are freezing,” she said, shifting to check his pulse.
Kai took a few deeper breaths. His chest was still a little tight, but the fear had dissipated. “My circulation gets fucked up when I have a panic attack.” His words were muffled by the mask. He flexed his fingers a few times to try to warm them up. He was still breathing into the mask, but he couldn’t taste the cold, slightly metallic taste of oxygen.
“Did the rebreather mask help?” she asked as she slipped it off. So it wasn’t oxygen. Just a mask that forced him to breathe in again the CO2 he’d breathed out. The medical equivalent of a paper bag, to try to trick his body to stop hyperventilating.
Honestly, Kai wasn’t sure. He had felt precariously close to passing out. Right now, he was mortified. And worried. Would he have trouble returning to the lab in the future? He couldn’t afford to add this place to the list of those he was afraid to go back to because of his panic attacks, like the diner and David’s house.
“It’s all right,” Emma said, and her face wasn’t patronizing. Kai had always liked her. She was great at her job, and not snarky or bitter like some of the older phlebotomists were. Thank God he’d gotten her today instead of someone else. She reached into a drawer and got out a heating pad, pulling off a tab and then rubbing it between her gloved hands to activate it. “You’d be surprised how many people panic back here,” she said, laying the pad on his arm to bring the veins to the surface. He knew she was trying to make him feel better, but it wasn’t helping.
“Needles, blood, don’t bother me,” Kai said again, defending himself, but then he felt stupid. She had to know they didn’t. How many times had she drawn his blood before and he’d been perfectly fine? Kai felt those stupid tears wanting to surge up, and he used every single ounce of willpower he had to stamp them down. Barely staying in the present was one thing. Crying, something totally different. If he cried on top of having a panic attack, he really was sure he wouldn’t be able to come back again.
Emma smiled reassuringly at him and removed the heating pad, prodding his elbow with her fingers. The plus of being stuck so much throughout his life was that he had a lot of sites on his body where an IV or a needle could be put, but it also meant sometimes his veins collapsed and refused to cooperate. “Have you eaten or drunk anything today?”
“Was I supposed to be fasting?” Normally Kai’s blood tests didn’t require that, although his nephrologist, who tracked his anti-rejection drugs, did occasionally test his blood sugar or cholesterol, since those drugs could cause problems in some people, especially with long-term use.
“No. But your veins aren’t cooperating today. Let me try your other arm. Here.” She pushed a stress ball into his left hand. “Squeeze that a bit,” she said, prodding him some more, frowning, and then wrapping his left bicep with the tubing. She felt around, and Kai prayed she’d find something soon. He was desperate to get out of here. Maybe go vomit. Vaguely, Kai had become a little worried that he was throwing up too much, and sometimes as a way to make himself feel better rather than because his stomach was forcing him to, but he hadn’t told anyone that. Not yet. Not even Dr. Miller, partially because he was worried what it meant. She had told him while he was in the hospital that self harm didn’t just mean cutting or drinking too much, but it was any kind of purposeful self-destructive behavior, especially if it was used as a coping mechanism.
“Well, we’ll try this,” she said, carefully inserting the needle. He watched her as she undid the tubing with one hand while the other popped a test tube into the connection, which slowly filled with dark red blood.
It took a few minutes, since Kai had a lot of vials to fill, and she had to jiggle the needle more than once to keep the blood flowing, but eventually she got them all and slipped the syringe out, wrapping his arm with a blue stretchy bandage since she knew that was his favorite color.
“Sit here for a few minutes, OK? I’m going to bring you some juice, and I want you to sip it slowly before you get up. I think you’re a little dehydrated.”
Kai didn’t want to obey, though he nodded, but once she was gone, he used his hands to throw his legs over the side, getting ready to transfer. Even that small movement made him dizzy, though, bile rising to the back of his throat. The world was spinning, the ringing becoming louder, so loud it seemed like it was all he could hear, the rest of the sounds around him muffled.
“Kai,” Emma said a moment later. She picked his legs up one by one and put them back in place on the phlebotomy chair. Then she gently pushed against his chest to encourage him to lie back.
Kai didn’t fight her. The dizziness had swarmed him, and the ringing had faded to that murky, distorted underwater filter, like the day before. He closed his eyes, focusing on the color blue again, willing the moment to pass.
A long time, or at least it felt that way, passed before he felt someone nudge him awake. Emma. She was talking to him, he could see her lips moving, and vaguely, he could hear her, too, but the sound was too distorted to make out what she was saying.
He shook his head, his finger popping up. “I don't understand.”
Emma looked worried. She turned to a female doctor beside her, a tired looking woman about Jon’s age wearing scrubs and a white coat. Again, Kai knew they were talking to each other, but with their faces in profile, he couldn’t tell what they were saying. Kai’s pulse spiked, but having had a panic attack so recently, his body refused to rally more than that. Thankfully. Maybe his blood pressure or sugar was low. Kai hadn’t really eaten, and he certainly hadn’t drunk enough.
“Kai, I'm Dr. (...),” the resident said, looking straight at him and speaking slowly. He couldn’t make out her name, though. “Can I ask you a few questions?”
“I have an appointment I have to go to,” he said stupidly. It felt strange talking with his hearing the way it was, the sound resonating in his jaw more intensely than normal.
The doctor said something he didn’t catch because her head was dipped. Maybe to him? Maybe to Emma? But she found a blood pressure cuff in a drawer and wrapped it around his arm.
Kai was disoriented, since he could hear they were talking, but make no sense of the words, almost like the adults in the Peanuts cartoons. Growing up, Kai had always liked those cartoons because he’d often felt that way when people spoke English to him. “I can’t understand,” Kai finally said. “Please just let me go.” Kai didn’t want to be around hearing people right now.
The doctor’s brows furrowed deeply. “What don’t you understand?” Kai had apparently confused her.
Kai sighed. “I’m losing my hearing.”
Emma looked both surprised and worried.
The doctor appeared even more concerned. “I should run some tests--”
Kai shook his head. “Preexisting condition.” He pushed himself up slowly, relieved his dizziness had abated slightly. Then he pointed to the juice Emma had abandoned on a nearby table. “I’ll drink that and then I’m going.”
The doctor was clearly displeased. She said something he didn’t catch, then something else to Emma, and left.
Kai downed the juice in a few gulps. His stomach cringed in protest, but he kept it down.
“Is it true about . . . ?” Emma asked, pointing to her ear.
Kai wanted to act like he’d been pretending to blow off the doctor, but he nodded. “It comes and goes. Antibiotics they gave me back in December. I don’t know yet if it’ll be permanent.”
Emma nodded in a sympathetic way. “Make sure you eat and drink plenty of fluids today,” she said, making sure he could see her lips. It was something she always told him, but her face had an added hint of worry to it. How low was his blood pressure?
Kai nodded. “I will,” he said with a feigned smile.
Continue to January 30, 2001 - Part II ------>