My husband was working away from home for months at a time whilst I was sucked down into the doldrums of my despair. Life consisted of frantically racing from town to town for a whole host of medical appointments and juggling with the day-to-day challenges of looking after two young children.
Plans to return to a career after they started school became a distant memory as I found myself sinking into what felt like a quagmire with steep sides too slippery to cling to. The most important thing was to keep up appearances and put on a brave show to the world. Self-pity was not in my vocabulary, or so I told myself. I just thank God Facebook didn’t figure in everybody’s lives so much in those days. I dare say the pressure of seeing how my friends were all having such wonderful, fulfilled social lives would have only increased my feelings of self-loathing. I would never have been able to post pictures of myself like many of them do these days. How could I, with my face the way it was? I was not even able to close my mouth, let alone chew solid foods and being photographed was a complete ‘no-no’. To be honest, I could not even stomach the idea of looking at the monster who stared back at me from the bathroom mirror any more.
The carrot dangled in front of me was the upcoming surgical operation which was going to mitigate the damage done in the accident and restore my face to me. Only it didn’t. And neither did the one after that. The surgeon despaired. Sent me to see the orthodontist instead.
Forty months down the line, I am still on semi-liquidized foods and struggling to get rid of the troublesome effects of the anaesthetic used in three surgical interventions. This new carrot dangled in view by the sympathetic orthodontist turns out to be no better than the surgeon’s. Armed with ugly grey metal braces on both my top and bottom teeth and which are held together by pale sickly-brown elastic bands, I feel unable to smile. The frightened look in the eyes of my neighbour’s toddler soon puts paid to any further attempts,
“Robocop! Robocop!” he cries, hiding behind his mum’s legs and pointing an accusing chubby finger at me. Just the words of a small, innocent child I know, but it still hurts.
The orthodontist recommends I see a speech therapist who does her bit as best she can. She has me eating crumbly crackers which I cannot prevent from falling out of my mouth and falling all over the desk, reciting tongue twisters and doing exercises with my tongue probably designed for youngsters with lisps. It is all a bit too much to bear. I cannot help but shrivel under the disapproving looks from strangers when they see me, a grown woman, wearing braces and I feel compelled to tell them they are not there for purposes of vanity. Maybe it is easier to just stay at home and not have to explain. But the nights are long and I feel so alone, drained, numbed of all feeling. Pouring my heart out over the phone to my distant husband is not an option. It just makes him feel ten times worse and myself no better. Just put on the mask and carry on!
Two interminable years pass by and at the next dental appointment, we mutually agree the treatment is going nowhere. The face is as good as it is ever going to be. Each month she simply tweaks the braces backwards or forward a millimetre or two, and my jaw obediently creeps backwards, forward and then back again. I count twenty-eight ulcers in my mouth at a single time. Enough is enough! I make a decision to just live with it and bid Adieu to Robocop. She takes away her tools of torture and we part company.
Noticing my decline and sinking morale, the speech therapist sends me to the hospital psychologist, the Head of the Department, no less. Seeing tears roll down my cheeks as I tell him my tale, he asks,
“Would you consider yourself to be a woman prone to weeping and bouts of depression?”
“Well no, not really,” I reply, amazed at the question, “I think I did get depressed once, when I was about fifteen or so.”
At this, the doctor noticeably perks up, grasps his pen and asks me to tell him more about that episode of my life. I am unable to quite believe the guy is for real! Is he seriously going to tell me I have an Oedipus complex or something? What a joke! When I get home, I throw the unopened packet of anti-depressants he has prescribed for me in the bin.
Still concerned about my state of mind, my husband persuades me to try again and I reluctantly arrange to see a junior psychologist, a Romanian lady who just listens to me without saying a word but who asks to see me again the following week. Once more and then again, the doctor sits and listens, always in silence. To fill the absence of sound, I begin to admit to her that I feel my life is in ruins with these five long years of trauma; my self confidence is shattered; I cannot work; I feel totally destroyed; my future is not worth living; I can no longer even ski, the one sport I feel passionate about. Doctor Popescu smiles wryly and looks up at the ceiling as I say this. She seems to sigh to herself, takes a deep breath and quietly tells me that my story reminds her of her own husband who used to live and breathe for his musical passion: playing the violin. After breaking his collarbone in a car accident three years ago, he was totally and utterly broken when he found himself unable to play his violin any more. It is the only time she speaks, apart from arranging our next appointment.
I cannot stop thinking about Doctor Popescu’s unfortunate husband all week. How awful it must have been for him! At our next session, the first thing I do is ask about her husband and how he managed to cope. We spend our time at the next session too, talking about how he has slowly and painstakingly started to re-train himself to play his beloved instrument. Just a minute or so a day to begin with. I feel such admiration for the poor man.
Doctor Popescu surprises me at our next meeting by asking me if I want to continue seeing her. She reassures me that I can do whenever I want to, of course, but that she thinks I am much better now. It is only when I leave that I recognize how clever she has been, that she could possibly be right. I have started to look outside myself and over the wall I had built around my world. I have begun to take an interest in people around me and have even felt empathy for someone else. I realize that the story about her husband may or may not even be true. It does not really matter! I place her card in the drawer by my bed as I am sure I will want to make another appointment to see her again sometime soon.
But that day does not come! It is only when I am gingerly putting on my skis for the very first time since my accident that I think about her again. Smiling to myself, I raise a toast to her in my mind. It is over eight months since our last appointment and I realize I will probably not be needing Doctor Popescu’s card again after all.