Part V: Nurse
Mrs. Noya had said that the nurses' office was at the end of the hall past the administrative offices, so I headed there. Just as I was about to enter the building, Mrs. Noya came out. She paused and smiled at me.
"Hello Miss Ikezawa. How are you settling in?"
I bobbed my head in a short bow of greeting and said, "F-fine."
There was a brief pause, as if she were waiting for me to expand upon that, but I just stared at my feet. I wasn't sure what else I could have told her. I had met Yasuda in the most embarrassing way possible? I'd found the Aura-Mart and had a reminder of my deficiencies in basic addition? I had the cramps from heck?
"Well...that's good. I hope you weren't coming to find me, I'm just heading out to lunch. But I'll be back in a half hour."
I shook my head. "N-no. I'm...meeting the nurse."
"That's good. The office is straight down the hall, you can't miss it."
"If you could stop by the office later today, I have some paperwork for you to fill out, and things to give you, like the student handbook."
I nodded. "Okay."
After another awkward pause, Mrs. Noya said, "Well, I'll see you after lunch, then."
I nodded, then turned and went inside.
I walked slowly down the hall, stalling on meeting with the nurse, even though I wanted some painkillers. I examined the various other doors as I passed. After the administrative section, the doors were labeled for assorted physical therapy functions. The smell of chlorine made the signs to the swimming pool redundant. I hadn't been swimming since before. Not only did I have no interest in putting my body on display in a swimsuit, prolonged exposure to heavily chlorinated water probably wouldn't be much good for my scars. They itched and pulled enough as it was.
Eventually I arrived at the door marked simply "Nurse." I raised my hand to knock, then froze. I could just make out a faint medicinal smell from the room that brought up too many unpleasant memories. I shuddered, then took a deep breath and moved my hand toward the door. My knuckles stopped a bare centimeter from the door, and I closed my eyes.
Don't be weak. Just knock. It's a simple gesture. No one is going to hurt me here. But I had a hard time believing that. Medical offices and pain were inextricably linked in my mind, and the smell spoke directly to some primitive part of my brain. My hand started trembling, and my knuckles brushed the door.
I couldn't have knocked any louder than a mouse, but apparently someone on the other side of the door had incredibly keen hearing. Or maybe it was a coincidence that the door opened just then. My eyes flew open at the sound.
I found myself face to face with a slim man a bit taller than myself with purple hair, wearing a white lab coat. His eyes were bright and merry. Those eyes widened a moment in an expression of surprise, then he smiled broadly at me. "Miss Ikezawa, I presume?"
I nodded jerkily, my teeth clenched shut too tightly to allow speech. I realized I was still holding my fist up to knock, and I lowered it, blushing.
"Please, step into my office," he said, taking a step back and gesturing grandly.
I took another deep breath to try and relax, but instead it just made me more aware of the smell of the office, which had the opposite effect. I tried to will my feet forward, but they didn't respond.
The man dropped his hand and cocked his head. His overly broad smile faded, to be replaced by a look of concern. "Miss Ikezawa?" he said quietly. "How can I help?"
Help. I guess it was obvious I needed help of some sort. I closed my eyes and wiggled my jaw, trying to loosen it up enough to let some words out. "I, um—" I swallowed. "I n-needed to meet...with the nurse."
"Well, you've done that. Hello. Would you like to come in and sit down?"
I looked at him. "Y-you're...the nurse?"
"The head nurse, yes. I'm not Yamaku's only nurse, of course."
"B-but...you...you're..." I trailed off, blushing. Of course men could be nurses, I'd just assumed otherwise.
"I'm male?" He smiled again. "So I've been told. Yet here I am."
"Would you like to come in?" he repeated, making me realize I was still hovering just outside the office door.
I wanted to say no and leave, but I didn't. Breathing shallowly through my mouth, I stepped into the office. It was messy, with files spread out all over the place, but I assumed that was in part due to his preparations for the new school year. He went to a chair and moved a stack of papers off of it, then gestured toward it. "Would you like to sit down?"
I'd like to leave, but...years of doctor's appointments had drilled into me the necessity of complying with doctors and nurses. If I didn't do this now, I'd just have to do it later. After annoying him. Best not to do that. And also, if I left I wouldn't get any painkillers. I sat down gingerly on the chair, perched on the front edge of it.
The nurse sat down on a desk chair in front of his computer, and pulled a thick file folder off of a stack. I saw my name on the folder.
He flipped the folder open and began to page through it slowly, nodding now and then at something he read. After a half minute of silence, I wondered why he had asked me here to meet him if he wasn't going to talk with me. Then I realized he was giving me time to collect myself. It took me three tries to clear my throat loudly enough to attract his attention. He looked up and smiled at me.
"Feeling any better?" he asked.
I hesitated, torn between social convention and the habit of being as honest with doctors as I could. Even though he was a nurse, his lab coat made him look like a doctor. Eventually, I settled on, "A l-little bit," which was mostly true.
He nodded. "The notes from Mrs. Ando indicated that you occasionally suffered from minor episodes of social anxiety."
Occasionally? Minor? Oh, Mama Ando, why did you tell lies for me? Those weren't really the right words to describe me. But maybe those had been necessary lies in order to get me admitted to Yamaku? I suddenly recalled Mama Ando worriedly admonishing me to be on my "best behavior" at Yamaku. I nodded to the nurse. "S-sorry," I said softly. "It's...it's all...so new."
He nodded agreeably. "Yes, it can be overwhelming, and you arrived out of order. If you'd arrived on Monday, you would have had a guide to help you settle in and acclimate to the school, instead of doing it by yourself, with whatever piecemeal help you could get from our stay-overs."
"S-stay-overs?" Curiosity mixed with feeling guilty about arriving too early.
"The students who stay on campus over break."
"Oh." I bit my lip. "I...I've only m-met...Yasuda."
He smiled at that. "And was she brash and inappropriate?"
"Ah..." I didn't want to get her into any trouble, but it seemed like he already knew the answer. "M-maybe. A little."
"Well, that's par for the course for her. Rest assured, she means well, she just...lacks a filter on her tongue sometimes."
Yasuda had said something about how it had been easier to get away with being rude when she was beautiful. I nodded to the nurse.
"Before I get started with my questions, did you have any questions for me?"
"Ah..." I blinked at him for a moment, trying to think of a question. I hadn't anticipated or planned for that. Well, there was alway the obvious. "C-could I get...some painkillers?"
His eyebrows shot up. "Are you in some sort of pain?"
I nodded. "C-cramps."
"Ah. Do you often have painful periods?"
I shrugged. "N-not every month. B-but...sometimes."
"Do you mind discussing this with me? I could get a female nurse for you to talk with if that would be more comfortable."
I shook my head. "N-no. You're f-fine." Quite aside from the fact that I didn't feel up to meeting yet another person today, Mama Ando had always been incredibly blunt and plain-spoken about our bodies and sex. "The best way to make sure you don't add more orphans to the system is good education," she'd said to us on more than one occasion. The boys blushed and grumbled about having to learn about menstruation, ditto for us girls having to learn about wet dreams and the proper etiquette for disposing of used tissues after masturbating (gross). But her approach meant we acquired a fairly pragmatic attitude towards our bodies and sex.
"When did your period start?"
"Are your periods regular?"
I nodded. "About t-twenty-nine days." I frowned as I realized something. "Actually...t-today is...a few days early."
"Stress can do that. You're not currently taking any medications, correct?"
"Was that a 'yes, that is correct' nod, or a 'yes, I'm taking medications' nod?" he asked with a smile.
"C-correct." He frowned thoughtfully at me for a moment, and I wondered if that was the wrong response somehow.
"Most of our female students keep ibuprofen, naproxen, or Midol in their rooms to take as needed. However, all students are required to have a permission form from their parents, or a doctor's prescription, for any medications they keep in their rooms. In the case of students without parents, the head nurse acts in loco parentis for such things. Which is to say, me." He flashed a brief smile at me.
"Now, I have no problem with assuming that you're a responsible young woman. You're certainly very bright, according to your tests. But until I get to know you better personally, I hope you won't take it the wrong way if I only give you a week's worth of medication at a time."
"N-no. I...understand." I probably hadn't made the best of impressions so far, freezing up as I had.
"Good. Let's get that out of the way first."
He unlocked a cabinet and filled a container with pills for me, then went over their dosage, timing, and the dangers of overuse. He kept two pills out, and handed them to me with a paper cup of water.
"Th-thank you," I said, taking the medication.
"So. That was question number one. Have you any other questions for me?"
"I have...a l-lotion I use. On..." I gestured toward my facial scars. "D-do I get m-more...from you?"
He opened my folder again, and looked at it for a moment. "Yes, we'll provide it here. We're not a full pharmacy, but we do dispense all the non-narcotic medications that our students require, and I can add this to our inventory. Just come to me when you need more. Do you have enough for the moment? It will be a couple of days before I can get it in stock."
"Good. Any other questions or concerns?"
I shook my head.
He smiled again. His smiles were broad and frequent, and they seemed sincere, but the came and went so quickly that it was a little disconcerting. I wondered if he was like this with everyone, or if he was just overcompensating for having to look at me.
"Then I suppose it's my turn."
What followed was a familiar battery of questions, that I had gone through with many medical personnel over the years. I stared at the floor and answered by rote, not really paying attention to what I was saying. I provided him with information that surely must already be in that folder he had. I tried not to think too much about what the questions were really about—the fire, my hospital stay, my "recovery."
Eventually I realized that neither of us had said anything for a minute. I gave my head a little shake and looked up at him.
"Miss Ikezawa?" He wasn't smiling for a change. "Are you with me now?"
I blushed and looked away from him. "S-sorry. D-did you...ask...um..."
After a few more moments of silence, I looked back at him.
He spoke slowly. "I know that these topics must be difficult for you to think about, but I really do value having your personal input over simply reading a medical chart." I grimaced and gave a small nod. His gaze acquired a thoughtful look. "Miss Ikezawa, have you ever discussed—have you ever worked with a therapist in the years since the fire?"
That startled me. "I—I'm not...crazy," I protested quietly, blushing again. "J-just shy." Maybe a little neurotic, sure, but really, who wasn't?
"No, you're not, or you wouldn't be here. Yamaku works with physical disabilities, not psychological. Nonetheless, that does not preclude the fact that many if not most disabilities take a psychological toll. Which is why we have therapists on staff. Working with a therapist might help you. Help you deal with your shyness and anxiety. Make it easier to recall your past without dissociating."
I gritted my teeth and looked down again. I hadn't been dissociating...had I? I thought back, then sighed. The fact that I couldn't recall most of the last ten minutes would seem to indicate I had been. Dang it.
I didn't know what to say. The orphanage had had limited resources, and my portion of those resources had been more than used up by my physical therapy and medicated lotions. I had sometimes wondered if a therapist could be helpful, but I hadn't wanted to ask for more. I didn't feel like I deserved to take resources away from others who might need it more.
The nurse seemed to take my silence as agreement, or at least willingness to consider the notion. He said, "I would like to set up an appointment for you to meet with one of our counsellors. Dr. Kokasshoku has dealt with other students with anxiety to good results."
"D-do I...have to?"
"No, of course not. I can't force you to do it; that would be counterproductive. If you're not willing to work with a therapist, you'd just be wasting your time and his. But I'd like you to at least give it serious consideration."
"I..." I swallowed. "I'll do it," I heard myself say.
He blinked. "Do it? Give it serious consideration, or—"
"I'll...w-work. With him." I felt a little floaty as I said it, and realized I was disconnecting again. I tried to bring my attention fully back to the nurse. I smiled at him, or at least I tried.
"Well. That's good." For a moment he looked surprised, then his broad smile returned again. "That's very good. I think you'll find it's more helpful than you might think."
"I'll speak with Dr. Kokasshoku, and he'll contact you to set up a time to meet."
I nodded again. I reflected that if people would just converse with me in such a way that all my responses could be either nods or head shakes, I would be a much happier person. Never having to speak out loud. Never having to stutter in front of someone else. Yasuda's comment about my not being mute sounded like a missed opportunity. Maybe I could have pretended to be mute when I arrived here...but that wouldn't have been fair to the real mute students, I supposed.
The nurse cleared his throat gently, and I realized I had been daydreaming a bit. "S-sorry," I muttered. I looked at him, trying to stay focused.
He opened his mouth as if he were about to speak, then he paused. He closed his mouth and flashed me his wide smile again. "I think that's probably enough for one day, Miss Ikezawa. Once you get settled in and classes begin, I'd like to speak with you again, to see how things are doing."
He stood up, and I followed suit. "Thank you for coming in. It was nice to meet you. I hope you'll find Yamaku to be a good experience."
I nodded and smiled, and did my best to not look like I was bolting as I left the office.
On my way out of the building, I looked into the administration office, and saw Mrs. Noya at her desk. I paused, considering. She'd asked me to stop in and see her. Paperwork, and stuff. At the moment all I wanted to do was crawl into my bed and escape the world for a while. I hadn't had this much interaction with other people in ages.
But Mrs. Noya had been nice to me. She wasn't Mama Ando, but...it would be rude to just ignore her request. I sighed, and steeled myself, then entered the office.
Mrs. Noya looked up and smiled as she saw me. I wondered how she was able to look at me and smile, with apparent sincerity. She must see a lot of strange looking people, working here, to be so used to me so quickly.
"Ah, Miss Ikezawa. Thank you for coming in." I smiled back at her and nodded, feeling a little bit like I was watching myself interact with her from a distance. Just hold it together a little longer, I told myself. Then you can go take a nap or something.
She brought a small stack of papers to the counter. "Now, here are just a few things we need to go over, paperwork that I didn't have ready for you yesterday..."
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