Two Men and a Mute

Shy Drager’s Syndrome takes away the body’s ability to regulate blood pressure so there is a lot of lightheadedness and falling. That’s why the spouse wears tight hose and uses the wheel chair in the middle of the night. It’s all happened before. The doctor likes to give these patients erythropoietin, a substance that promotes formation of red blood cells. The patient also takes Florinef, a drug that causes the kidney’s to hold onto salt, thereby increasing blood volume.
The patient asks the medical student whether she’s a dancer. Her blond hair hangs straight down past her shoulders and she responds easily, replying when she was younger. The spouse teaches dance, and has owned a dance studio for forty years.
The last episode lasted about 15 minutes. She was ready to call 911. It began with shaking in the arms. The trembling got more violent, his eyes rolled back in his head, and his torso straightened in the wheelchair. His breathing changed and he lost bladder control. The wife has described the episodes before, apparently with less emotion. The doctor worries about seizures and recommends an EEG and MRI. He comments it is rare to have PD and seizures appear together, they tend to be inversely related – though hypoxia can induce them.
The man with the thick hair and heavy rectangular glasses asks about scotch and water. He never remembers the seizures, even right after they’ve occurred. When would you like a drink? The physician asks. Before and after dinner the patient answers, but the wife returns and vetoes all scotch with a wave of her hand. He won’t be able to walk, she claims. No scotch.
He recalls a meeting he recently attended. Hugo Chavez was there and he didn’t look well. He and his wife had just returned and their bags were still in the hall near the front door. It was a dream, his wife reminds him. He looks at her. As the doctor hands her a new prescription, she turns to her husband, explaining there will be three more pills to add to the regular five. He never believes he needs to take them- she comments, he thinks I am poisoning him.
The next patient comes to clinic with his son. They are speaking Greek when the team enters. He is small and bald and when the doctor asks him to walk down the hallway, he jogs. He exercises everyday. The doctor asks about the hallucinations, and the patient replies he sees them all the time, all kinds of people. Sometimes they walk next to him. Mostly they are happy. Women appear and beckon to him. Some are naked and lie in bed with him and his wife. He has woken in bed, wet with semen. When the dreams occur, he says he feels like dancing and waltzes side to side, his arms carrying an invisible partner.
The patient in the wheelchair hasn’t used her feet in a long, long time. They are crooked underneath her white socks, with permanent contractures. Her head almost sits on her chest cavity, the bowing of her upper back is so pronounced. The mother who has been reading a magazine, doesn’t comment on the others in the room as the doctor asks permission to let the medical student and writer attend. Clearly, she is bothered. The doctor laughs softly as the stuffed bear the girl holds in her lap speaks. He looks at the girl with short-cropped dark hair, and asks her a question. He wants her to hold out her hands and demonstrates. The girl creeps her right hand towards her mother’s left arm and squeezes. Does she speak? He asks. No.
With cerebral palsy from birth, the daughter never speaks. Since the last appointment, the medicines have calmed her dystonic movements. Then the mother leans forward and asks for a recommendation for a Spanish- speaking psychiatrist. She says her daughter screams when people touch her, when she tries to change her diaper or brush her teeth, or change her clothes, or bathe her. When the daughter is tired of family company, she screams. She constantly grinds her teeth and refuses to drink. Mother puts her in her room, closing the door to scream alone. She fears neighbors will call the police, fears they think she is abusing her daughter. Mother confides she gave her daughter three times the dose of a drug to make the child manageable for the appointment.
What kind of quality of life is that? The doctor asks. Screaming is clearly no way to live.

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