MY RHEUMATOLOGIST was thin lipped, spectacled, grey haired even though she wasn’t out of her thirties yet, I don’t think. “How much does it hurt today,” she’d ask me each visit, “on a scale of one to ten?” The first time it was seven, then eight, then nine, then nine point one and nine point two and nine point three, moving in decimals because I was afraid of having nowhere left to go. On the visit when it got to nine point seven, she cradled one of my sick hands between her well ones.
“It hasn’t been easy for you. Do you want to try something else?” she asked. “Would you like to say goodbye to Methotrexate? Goodbye to Prednisone, to Vicodin?”
I nodded. She laid me down against the examination table, kissed my fingertips, nibbled my fingernails, bit my fingers, chewed my hand, swallowed my arm. It hurt, and I felt betrayed, too. I cried. But she shushed me, stroked my cheek.
“One to ten,” she said.
“I don't know how to put it into a number.”
“Is it better than before?” she asked. She was soft eyed, giving that look that doctors give when they're trying to show concern but want to prod you towards one particular answer.
“Yes. Six. Maybe even five point five.”
“Good,” she said, stroking my hair for a moment. She kissed my other hand.
Bird Marathe lives in Boulder, Colorado.