Travels with Myself

A Journal of Discovery and Transition
Doug Jordan, Author

TWM – 29. Into The Abyss

Sleep did not come easily after I hung up the phone with Emily. I worked and re-worked the weekend conversations.  I knew this whole affair was bundled with the loss of my prior life and my struggle to find my way. I told myself it was just not meant to be. I wanted to believe I was in control of myself.

Monday morning started almost as normal: coffee, newspaper, breakfast, mechanically. I checked my email, updated my weekly planner, worked at my marketing plan, aimlessly. But I was ill at ease and was beginning to feel disoriented. I went downstairs to make myself a little lunch, forced myself to eat; I couldn’t taste anything and left it half-finished on my plate. I trudged back upstairs to my home office, vaguely wondering at how heavy my feet felt. I sat at my desk. I stared at the wall without seeing anything. I began to cry. I sobbed. I shook uncontrollably. 

I knew I was having an emotional episode, even though I had never experienced anything like this before. This is what is commonly called a ‘nervous breakdown’; though professional people don’t use the term anymore, it nevertheless feels apt if you are experiencing one. 

I called my doctor’s office and struggled to make myself understood. ‘I need to see the doctor, as soon as possible,’ I blubbered to the receptionist, ‘I think I’m having a breakdown.’

The new receptionist, a South Asian woman with a heavy accent, harried herself no doubt, asked me to repeat myself.

‘What is your name, sir? 

‘Can you say that again? Gordon?’

I tried again.

She bluntly told me, ‘It isn’t possible, sir. The doctor can’t see anyone else today. But he is serving at the emergency clinic on Thursday. I can book you for Thursday at 5:30, alright?’

I tried to shout through my rasping, tremulous voice, ‘You think I should schedule my breakdown for three days from now?!’

I slammed down the receiver, but my shaking hand missed the cradle.

I called my daughter, Alison, but when she answered I could barely speak. She knew instantly something was seriously wrong.

‘Dad, what’s wrong with you. I can barely hear you. And you are not making sense.

‘Are you having a stroke?’

‘I don’t think so,’ I whispered. ‘I’m having a breakdown I think, and my doctor won’t see me. I think I should go to the hospital. Can you take me.’ 

‘I can’t Dad, I’m two hours away at a friend’s cottage. You know my doctor, go see him. Go to the clinic. There are other doctors there. Do you know where it is?’

‘Yes dear,’ I said, ‘I’ve taken your mother to his office before, it’s somewhere near the airport.’

‘No, not his office Dad, the clinic at the shopping mall.’

‘Oh,’ I said, pausing, ‘it’s part of the pharmacy there, right?’

‘Yes,’ she said, so cool and composed in this obvious crisis. ‘Can you drive yourself there?’

I wasn’t sure, but I said I could.

I found my keys and my wallet and went out the front door to the car. I willed myself to be calmer. I backed my car deliberately out of driveway, forcing myself to give my full concentration. My subconscious carried me out of my neighbourhood and eventually onto the expressway; I drove on autopilot, talking to myself, steering my car through a veil of tears. Twenty minutes later I found myself at the shopping mall. I parked my car and more or less fumbled my way through the parking lot to the urgi-centre. I dragged myself to the counter, and leaned on it, holding myself up with one hand.

‘May I help you?’ said one of the clerks, mechanically.

‘Yes, I need help,’ I whispered. 

‘Have you been to this clinic before?’

‘Maybe. I think so. I don’t know.’

I struggled to speak. I sensed the other waiting patients were puzzled, or even alarmed. But the clerk just droned on,

‘Do you have your health card, sir?’

‘I think so.’ I started to frisk myself aimlessly.

At that moment, a large black woman in the universal uniform of a professional nurse, entered the reception area. She took one look at me, came around the counter, took me by the arm and said, ‘Come with me sir.’

I waited in the treatment room for what seemed like an eternity. I just stared at my feet, my vision a narrow slit of light. I’m not normally claustrophobic but I felt the walls closing in on me; the floor was at an angle sliding away in front of me. 

I called Alison. ‘I can’t stay here Alison. I need to go and see Marlene, she’s waiting for me.’

I left the treatment room but the black angel intercepted me. ‘You have to wait for the doctor sir. He’s going to be with you right away.’

After an interminable time, or at least it seemed so to me, the doctor entered the room. I barely moved, and didn’t look up. 

‘I’m Doctor Renaud,’ he said. I didn’t respond. The doctor rolled his chair over to me. He put his hand on my knee, and rested it there. 

I looked up at him. I noticed, with some irrational relief, this was a male doctor, older, probably semi-retired.

‘Tell me what’s happening,’ he said.

As I started to tell him about Marlene’s journey with cancer, in the familiar clinical factual way – lobular, ER +, progressing over three years to leptomeningeal disease – I began to feel my self-control return.

I told him about Emily, and about selling my house and moving, hoping Emily would move in with me; and about closing my downtown office and relocating to a home office. 

‘You’ve been through quite a lot,’ Dr. Renaud said. ‘Have you thought about suicide?’

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘when Marlene died, but not recently while I thought Emily might come back to me, maybe last month; and last night.’

Dr. Renaud didn’t respond to this call for help but calmly said, ‘Let’s see what we can do to get you back on your feet. But first I’m going to ask you to complete a short questionnaires.’

There were nine questions and each was to be rated on a three point scale. That meant the maximum score would be 27. I scored 23, acute. 

Dr. Renaud returned, noted that I had self-scored it, and remarked, ‘That’s pretty high.’

‘I was trying for a perfect score,’ said I with a wry smile.

Dr. Renaud wrote a couple of prescriptions for me – zopiclone for sleep, diazepam for anxiety, Paxil for longer-term depression – and said, ‘I’ll write out my assessment. You should take the report to your own doctor and schedule a follow-up appointment in thirty days.’

I nodded. I felt so much better now, but also very tired.

I drove to my own pharmacy and got the scripts filled. Since the pharmacy is in the same professional building as my regular doctor I popped upstairs to make that follow-up appointment. The receptionist was surprised when she recognized who it was. 

‘How are you feeling?’ she asked, somewhat sheepishly.

‘Better than two hours ago,’ I replied.

But I knew I wasn’t out of the woods.

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