Why Do I Know You?
She pulled into the parking space and shut the engine off. After taking a moment to gather her thoughts, she picked her purse up from the passenger seat and prepared to exit from her car. First, she opened the cover to the mirror in the visor and studied herself. Sheesh. You look as rundown as you feel. It's about time you decided to go to the doctor.
In fact, she'd missed her annual physical once again. As usual, she'd found an excuse not to go. Her job was demanding. The stress level was high. She wasn't sure which wore her out worse, the work, itself, or the jackasses she worked with. Blowing a puff of breath at her bangs, she decided to stop procrastinating and just get out of the car and go into the doctor's office.
The urgent care medical clinic had less than a third of the parking spaces occupied. At least I shouldn't have to wait too long before I see the doctor. Of course, waiting until nearly ten o'clock in the evening helps. She approached the building's main door and peeked inside. Hmm, not too busy. Face it. You're looking for an excuse to bolt out of here, you big baby. Go on in and find out what's wrong with you.
For the past several months, fatigue plagued her every waking moment. At thirty-seven, she shouldn't be so out of breath. And it wasn't like she didn't exercise. She made good use of her exercise bicycle and her swimming pool. But lately, she found that her stamina was waning, not improving or even close to what it had been a few years ago. I guess thirty-seven is not thirty-five. Just like thirty-five is not twenty-five. You're just slowing down.
The medical assistant was friendly and patient with her as she dug around in her purse for her insurance card and driver's license. Finally! "Here it is."
She waited by the reception desk while the young assistant photo-copied her identification cards and then handed her several forms to read and fill out. She took a seat in the waiting area and started reading through the forms and filling in the blanks that asked her medical history. "No. No. Nope, and no," she muttered under her breath while she checked off the boxes on the page. Once all the forms were signed, she returned them to the medical assistant who assured her that she would be seen within the half hour, but offered to let her use one of their pagers in case she had somewhere else to be until then.
She declined the offer because, although tempting, she knew she'd use the opportunity to ditch her appointment. It wasn't as if she were afraid of doctors and hospitals. It's just that after reducing her entire life to the name and number of her health insurance policy and a bunch of boxes and blanks on a form, she didn't like exposing her body to people whose entire knowledge of her consisted of the boxes she’d just checked off in the waiting room..
Physically, she had nothing to be embarrassed about. At five foot seven, she was nicely proportioned and had managed to avoid putting on the weight that a desk job made virtually inevitable. She had a few gray hairs, but it was still shoulder-length and smartly styled. However, she noticed that it had recently lost some of its natural sheen. I'm too young to get old. She frowned at the thought of what future years would do to the body she'd worked so hard to maintain. Maybe if I'd ever had someone to share my life with, I wouldn't mind so much. Someone to grow old gracefully with.
But in fact, she’d never found anyone who she wanted to be involved with for more than a few dates. Sometimes, she seemed so close to finding what she was looking for, only to realize it was all wishful thinking and no real relationship existed. Great. I'm having a pity party. Why don't I just break out the paper hats and see if anyone will join me?
The door to the inner offices and exam rooms opened and she heard a name called. She looked up and realized that the name being called was her own. She got up and went over to the door and followed the nurse inside. After stopping to weigh her and take her blood pressure, the nurse said, “Exam room three.”
Once seated on the exam table, she answered the nurse's questions and restated her medical history. Round two. I filled out the forms, the nurse is asking me, and next the doctor will be rehashing the whole thing. This is another reason I don't like going to the doc. You have to say everything in triplicate.
"Dr. Johansen will see you in a few minutes." Pointing to a small box mounted next to the examining table, the nurse said, "Here's the call button in case you need anything."
The nurse left. All alone, she wondered why she would need a call button if the doctor was going to be right in. Oh well, just another medical mystery.
The door opened, and a woman in a lab coat peeked in. She looked too young to be a doctor, with her young fresh face, dark, curly hair, and a smile that seemed to light up the room. The doctor glanced quickly at her chart before saying, "Hannah? I'm Doctor Robinson." The doctor deposited the patient chart on the countertop and turned back around toward the exam table.
"But—but I thought I was seeing doctor Johansen? I mean, I don't mind, but—.” As the doctor’s face came back into view, Hannah was struck by the feeling that Dr. Robinson was an old friend who she hadn’t seen in years. “Hey!" Hannah exclaimed as inexplicable joy surged through her.
"Hey!" Dr. Robinson exclaimed at the same time. “I’m so glad to see you again!” It gladdened Hannah’s heart that Dr. Robinson was as happy to see her as she was to see the doctor.
They both broke into a grin. Then Dr. Robinson rushed forward and hugged an overjoyed Hannah. As they both pulled back, their expressions of amazement at seeing each other again morphed into confusion and the embarrassment of realizing that they’d never met. They both dropped their arms and Dr. Robinson took a quick step away from Hannah.
"We must know each other,” the doctor reasoned.
Hannah nodded her head in agreement. I look at you and realize that I don’t know you at all, but deep inside of me, I know that’s not true. I don’t get it.”
“This doesn’t make any sense,” Dr. Robinson agreed. "Maybe it was school. Where'd you go to school?"
"I'm thirty seven. You?"
"Have you always lived here, doc?"
"Yep. All my life."
"I just moved here a few years ago."
"Well, maybe we've just seen each other around. I mean, maybe we've seen each other at the store or at the movies or something." Hannah was searching every corner of her mind, trying to figure out what the connection was.
"But I don't usually hug people that I've crossed paths with at the store or movies. How ‘bout you, doc?"
"No. But I really do know you. I just don't know how."
"Um. Yes. Let's get this exam going, then. Maybe we'll figure it out."
"Good idea. Otherwise all those years I spent in medical school are going to be severely wasted."
After reviewing Hannah's medical history, Dr. Robinson began the physical examination. For the first time in her life, Hannah didn't mind so much. She couldn't put her finger on it, but the feeling of familiarity between them made her feel less like a lab experiment and more like a human being.
"Listen, I want you to have some lab work done and schedule another visit. You can follow up with your own doctor, or you can come back here." Dr. Robinson filled out a few scripts, wrote some things on Hannah's patient chart, and prepared to leave.
"I don't have a regular doctor. Can I see you if I come back here?"
"Aw, cut that out, or I'll tell everyone here how you fainted in Biology."
The moment Hannah blurted out those words, she covered her mouth and stared round-eyed at the doctor.
"How'd you know that?" the doctor asked. Hannah looked away for a moment, but could feel the doctor’s questioning eyes on her.
"I—I don’t know. Lucky guess?"
"How do we know each other?"
Turning her face back toward the doctor, Hannah tried to lighten the moment since she was becoming totally spooked by the whole thing. She shrugged her shoulders and offered, “I don’t know. Déjà vu?"
"All over again," the doctor quipped. "Listen. Um. Hunh. I'm really rattled, here.” Hannah sat quietly while Dr. Robinson ran a shaking hand through her hair while she took a moment to gather her thoughts. She handed the scripts to Hannah. “You seem pretty run down, and I want you to have these blood tests. We'll see what they show and then take it from there. Does that sound okay to you?"
"Fine." She paused for a moment. "I'm sorry about the biology thing. It just occurred to me and I have no idea why."
"That's okay. It's just strange."
"You got that right," Hannah agreed.
The doctor bid her new patient goodbye and left the room. Hannah straightened her clothes and got down from the table. She picked up her folder and headed toward the lab. The needle was sharp, but the technician was sharper and managed to avoid making the blood test any more painful than it had to be.
The medical assistant at the front desk took a brief look at her chart and waived her off. “No co-pay. Do you need a follow up appointment with Dr. Johansen?”
“Robinson. I’ll schedule later.”
Hannah turned away from the desk and headed toward the front door, missing the medical assistant’s muttered words, “Robinson? We don’t have a Robinson here.” Then she checked the physician’s signature on Hannah’s chart. “Right. Johansen.”
Hannah cursed under her breath as she stared at the computer screen and reviewed the documentation for her new project. "Stupid piece of shit! What was that idiot thinking?" Her phone rang. Hannah looked at the caller ID on the console and recognized the clinic's name. "This is Hannah. How may I help you?"
"Dr. Robinson here, Hannah. Listen, can you come in after work today? I need to speak to you about your test results."
Hannah sighed. This didn't sound good. The blood tests had revealed some protein abnormalities and there were a few other things that she totally didn't understand that had led to her receiving other phone calls for more blood tests and screenings. "Okay. What time should I be there?"
"Can you make it at six?"
"Sure.” Hannah tried to stifle the panic that had started to take hold of her. “I don' think I'm going to like what you're going to say, will I?"
"Don't worry; I'll take good care of you."
"Huh. Okay. See you at six."
Hannah checked the time on her computer. She took a long look around her cubicle and noted the things that she'd accumulated in just the few years she'd worked there. Her work space held various technical certifications, a few stuffed toys, a couple of old family photos from when she was a youngster, and not much else.
At six o'clock, Hannah returned to the urgent care clinic. After her initial visit with Dr. Robinson, she'd gone to the outpatient center at the hospital for the rest of her tests. Now it was time to find out what it all meant.
Dr. Robinson opened the door for her and Hannah followed her directly into the examination room. The office looked empty, and it looked like most of the staff had gone home for the evening due to the clinic's shorter hours on Mondays. Hannah figured that the doctor had probably been keeping an ear out for her.
Hannah took her seat on the exam table, feeling even more tired than usual. She'd noticed that her color hadn't been good lately, and was looking forward to finding out what the problem was so she could get it fixed. Hannah waited while the the doctor kept her back to her and leafed through the pages of test results, trailing her index finger down lines of test results as she perused each page. She heard the doctor take a deep breath before she turned around.
"Hannah. I need to ask you again. Do you know me?" The doctor took a few steps toward the table, rested her hands on it, and peered intently into Hannah's eyes.
"Sure, you're Dr. Robinson. Don't tell me I'm losing my mind? Is that it?"
"No, Hannah. Look at me. Do you know me? You know I fainted in biology. Just like I know that if it meant that you'd have to swallow a lot of pills to get better, you'd rather have the disease."
Hannah's eyes grew wide. I've never mentioned my aversion to swallowing pills. How did she know that? For that matter, I still can't figure out how I knew about her in bio— Suddenly, the invisible veil that had blinded Hannah's eyes to the other woman's true identity lifted. "Grace! Oh, my god, Grace!"
The doctor smiled in relief that Hannah was finally starting to really see her. "Yes, Hannah, it's me." She took Hannah's hands in her own and pulled them to her lips to kiss them.
"It's you, Grace. But, but…I'm not Hannah. I'm…Susan? I'm Susan. And, we're…Oh God, this isn't real. Grace? What's going on?"
"It's time sweetheart. I've missed you so." They melted into each other and they kissed as lovers do when they have been separated far too long. It was painfully sweet and the feeling of longing and belonging tore into their souls and made a home where only loneliness and isolation had existed before. Breaking their kiss, they gazed into each others eyes, neither aware that their joined hands had begun to age.
" Dr. Johansen?" a young woman in a pair of cotton scrubs asked as she walked up to the clinic’s resident physician. “Who are they?”
"I don't know. I got here early this morning to catch up on some paperwork. That's when I found them and called the police. They said there was no identification on either one.”
Paramedics were in the process of loading two covered gurneys into the ambulances that stood at the ready near the front door of the clinic.
"Two old ladies. Strange thing. Found them on the exam table lying together in an embrace. It looked like they'd fallen asleep that way. Been dead for hours."