Foggy Doors

In this captivating memoir, author Kristen Cuccoli recounts the time she worked up the courage to enter the daunting confines of her doctors office

By Kristen Cuccoli

 

“All right Zoofey, we’re here,” mom said excitedly from the driver’s seat, calling me by the nickname she came up with one day probably due to her habit of coming up with funny words. I looked out my window as we drove under an arch that connected two huge brown buildings. I leaned closer to the window to get a better view of the brown building on my side. As I looked up at it though, its large appearance made me shrink back into my seat. I then swooped up my stuffed toy Dalmatian, Lucky, into my arms and held him tightly against my chest. I thought I was going to be fine without Lucky, but now I was grateful for his soft fur and squishy body.

“Is this really the place where I’m getting my moles excised?” I asked, smiling at the fact that I used ‘excised’ in my question. It was a new vocabulary word I learned from my doctor and I felt proud for understanding it.

“Yep. Just think, you won’t have those icky brown moles on your back or your face anymore!” mom cheered. I remembered looking at the weird brown lumps that grew out of the right side of my jaw and on the back of my left shoulder in the mirror one day. I didn’t think anything of them, but my doctor a few weeks ago said to my mom that I should get them removed because they looked “suspicious.” I didn’t know what that meant, but according to my mom’s straight face, I knew it was bad. And I really wanted to know, because I was scared. I asked my mom on the way back home from the doctor’s.

“Don’t worry Zoofey. I’m going to make an appointment with a different type of doctor called a ‘cosmetic surgeon.’ He’s going to get rid of the moles without leaving scars. Also, knowing you, you’ll be a trooper and get through it!” mom replied happily. Mom was always good at reassuring me with her words, so I waited for the appointment without worry. When I got to the cosmetic surgeon’s office, though, that worry began to creep back in.

“All right Zoofey, hold my hand now. Remember, we are in a new parking lot, and you don’t know who might come and whip around the corner,” mom told me as we got out of the van, holding out her hand for me to grab. Usually, mom would let me run ahead, and I would feel my heart leap in excitement. But this time we were in a new place and rules were rules. I didn’t mind, though, because my fast-beating heart slowed a little as I felt her soft hand wrap around mine. I then followed her to the large brown building that was closest to us, imagining the building was a gentle brown giant greeting me.

Once we reached the glass door that was the entrance, I could see a long hallway. Its blank white walls with countless doors stretched on to what seemed like forever. I remembered a dream where I was running away from something in a long hallway like this. No matter how much I ran though, I never could get to the end of it. Gripping Lucky, I let go of mom’s hand and helped her pull on the big silver handle to open the door.

As we walked, the narrow hallway made me remember a scene in Star Wars where Luke Skywalker and his friends were being squished by two walls. Naturally, I started to imagine the white walls moving in on mom and me, ready to squeeze us into juice. I was about to reach out to hold mom’s hand again when I shook my head and whipped my hand down. I wasn’t going to be some big baby, always holding mom’s hand when I got scared. Instead, I straightened up and walked in front of mom to lead the way. Apparently, I didn’t know where I was going because mom called to me to come back to get on an elevator that I walked by without noticing. I ran back to her just before the elevator dinged and opened up.

After mom pressed one of the buttons, I felt the elevator lift up, and I imagined mom and me as astronauts taking off in a rocket. The elevator dinged again and opened up to another long white hallway. I then followed mom to a door where its foggy glass prevented me from seeing anything inside. When I looked up, I saw blue letters stretching across the door.

“Bob A. Smith, M.D. Cosmetic and Recon…Reconst…oh Reconstructive Surgery,” I read the words out loud.

“That’s correct,” mom said. Smiling, I helped mom push on the blurry door that opened up into a big room. The room was shaped like a U, wrapping around a big black desk that I could just see above. In one section of the U, there were a few cushioned chairs that matched the pale tan walls and a small couch that looked like it was covered with dead brown vines. The chairs and couch then circled around a glass table that had a stack of magazines on top of it. In the bottom of the U and on the other side of the desk, there were three doors that were also foggy. Overall, it was a very plain room, and I was confused about how the walls didn’t have any fish wall-stickers like my doctor’s check-up room.

“Hello, may I help you?” a crackling voice echoed in the room. I realized that the voice came from the desk, so I backed up to see over it. I then noticed a woman sitting in a rolling chair, her blonde hair curving around her face before touching her shoulders and her big circular glasses resting on the tip of her nose. Immediately she reminded me of my second grade teacher, Mrs. Jones. I shivered as I remembered my teacher who I thought was actually a witch. She always yelled at me, commanding me to put more effort into my work, which I thought I was already doing due to my good grades. Since she yelled, I would get scared and cry, which would cause her to yell at me to stop crying. I think the only reason I survived second grade was because of my parents. They would always tell me I was smart when I showed them my graded schoolwork and say that they knew I was giving it my all, even if Mrs. Jones thought otherwise.

After I saw the woman’s face, I moved a little behind mom so I wouldn’t see the woman anymore and to hide the drum-like sound my heart was making.

“Hello, I’m Kristen Cuccoli’s mother, Nancy, and we are here to see Dr. Smith for two mole removals,” mom replied in the serious voice that she uses when talking to adults who were strangers. The sound of typing and the clicking of a mouse responded. As I waited, I then began to notice the faint smell of cleaning stuff mom used at home mixing in with the smell of my other doctor’s office. I scrunched up my nose and tried breathing less so I wouldn’t smell anything, but I began to feel a little dizzy.

“Are you trying to hold your breath Zoofey?” mom asked quietly, probably hoping that she wouldn’t distract the woman typing on her computer. I don’t know how, but she always knew when something was wrong with me.

“Yeah, but it really smells in here. It smells like the doctor’s office and the cleaning stuff you use,” I whispered hoping the woman didn’t hear me and say I was rude for complaining about the smell.

“It does smell a little weird in here but just breathe normally and it will go away soon,” mom told me.

“All right, Dr. Smith will be with you shortly,” the woman’s crackly voice echoed above me and I felt a shiver run up my back as I remembered Mrs. Jones’s face again.

“Thank you very much,” mom replied in her serious voice again. We then walked over to the couch and sat down on it, but I scooted forward a bit so that my back wasn’t touching the dead vines. I also put Lucky in my lap so he wouldn’t touch the vines either. As I gazed around the room, the fact that this was a new and unknown place finally sunk in. My heart speeding up again, I gripped Lucky a little tighter and I stared at the tan rug. Guessing that my mom sensed my nervousness, I saw her reach towards the magazines.

“Ooo, what do we have here?” mom asked, picking up a magazine. I smiled when I saw it was a food magazine. Mom and I would always look at the pictures of different types of dishes in these magazines while we waited in waiting rooms and judge if the dish was good or bad based on the picture. I then tried to imagine the taste of each dish, and my stomach would growl in protest. After passing the stupid make-up ads in the beginning –because what 7 year-old and 42-year-old who already has make-up needs new make-up — we finally got to the dishes.

“Eww, that looks gross,” mom commented after we got to the first dish. It did look gross. The picture was of a large white bowl containing what looked like light green mud.

“Oh eww! Turn the page, turn the page!” I laughed, turning the page myself. mom laughed along with me and let me turn the page. The next picture was a cake-looking dish, only it had multiple layers and every other layer had whipped cream and sliced strawberries. The top was decorated with the same whipped cream and three whole strawberries lay clumped in the middle.

“Oh that looks delicious! It looks really easy to make too. I could so make it!” I cheered excitedly, fisting the air with one arm.

“Oh goodness, Zoofey, I’m sure you can one day. First though, I’ve got to teach you how use the oven, because that is the tricky part and it’s dangerous,” mom remarked, pointing her finger at me. I sighed and let my arm drop to my side. Why couldn’t I just know everything about everything? Why did I have to be taught how to do things?

Mom and I spent a few more minutes looking at the different dishes, deciding which ones we would like to make together and saying eww to ones that looked gross, before I heard a door open up. I turned my head to the sound and saw a man walk out from behind one of the foggy doors. His long white coat brushed his knees as he walked towards mom and I, and his blue shirt and matching pants gave some color to the plain room. Mom closed the magazine, put it back on the glass table, and stood up.

“Hello, are you Mrs. Cuccoli?” the man asked, extending his large wrinkly hand to mom. Guessing I shouldn’t be rude, I held Lucky to my chest and got up from the couch to stand next to mom.

“Hello, yes I am. You must be Dr. Smith, it’s nice to meet you,” mom replied, again using her serious voice as she shook this strange man’s hand.

“Nice to meet you too. Oh, and you must be Kristen,” Dr. Smith said, holding his large hand out to me. I looked up at him and saw that his combed light brown hair was greying around his ears, like Mr. Fantastic in the “Fantastic Four” comic books the boys had at school. Although he smiled, two large lines formed around his nose that made his skin sink into his face, and his teeth barely showed under his large lips. Again, I felt my hand move closer to my mom’s, but I mentally shouted at it to hold it out to the doctor instead.

“Yes I am, nice… to meet you,” I said, trying to mimic mom’s serious voice but failing because mine shook.

“Nice to meet you too,” Dr. Smith said,his hand swallowing mine whole as he quickly shook it.

“All right now, let’s head into the exam room to see if we really need to remove those moles,” Dr. Smith said, gesturing for both mom and I to follow him to one of the hazy doors.

After Dr. Smith opened the door, I peered past mom to get a better view. The room was just like the waiting area with its pale tan walls. Only here there was a big tan chair in the middle of the room that looked like one of the chairs I sit in when I go to the dentist. There was also a blue rolling chair tucked in under a counter with a speckled marble top.

“So Kristen, I’m first just going to ask you to sit in that chair for me,” Dr. Smith directed, pointing at the big dentist-like chair before closing the door. I did as I was told and sat on it. Although it was hot in the room, the cushion was too cold. I squirmed uncomfortably in the seat but then watched as mom walked over to the other side of the room. She smiled at me once she reached the wall, which made me feel less uncomfortable. Smiling back, I tried to ignore the coldness by focusing on feeling Lucky’s warm fur on my legs. I then heard something snap and watched Dr. Smith roll over to me on the rolling chair. He then placed his now rubber-gloved fingers on my jaw where my mole was and stared at my jaw. His rubber fingers were light against my skin, but they were so cold that I thought he was touching me with ice cubes. After that, he rolled over to the other side, told me to lean forward, and pulled down my t-shirt so that the back of my shoulder was now showing. Again I felt his cold rubber fingers touch my skin, and I squirmed again in the seat.

“Well, I think they do look pretty suspicious and should be removed,” Dr. Smith told me. Oh no, suspicious? I looked over and saw mom make the same straight face she had when the other doctor used that bad word a few weeks back. I then started to feel sick.

“Do you think just removing them will work? What if they come back, and if they do come back, will it be worse? How long will it be to get the results back?” mom asked, her questions firing out of her mouth like bullets from a gun. Although the room needed color, I didn’t think that I should be the one to give it color with the stuff in my stomach. Instead, I gripped Lucky’s leg and focused on Dr. Smith’s face.

“There’s nothing you should be concerned about. I will remove all of the tissue around each mole and you should receive results back in the next three weeks or so,” Dr. Smith said to mom. Suddenly, my mind became less focused on my sick stomach since it was now distracted with the image of Dr. Smith pulling Kleenex tissues out of the mole on my jaw. I thought it was weird and I wanted to giggle, but mom’s dark eyes made me think that I shouldn’t. After a few moments of silence passed, mom nodded, making Dr. Smith stand up from his chair.

“Ok, now we can get started. Let’shead into the operation room,” Dr. Smith said. I jumped up, smiling that I was off the cold seat, and proceeded to follow Dr. Smith out of the small room. Once we left the room, Dr. Smith turned to face us.

“All right Kristen, you can head into that room there,” Dr. Smith said, pointing to the foggy door next to the one we’d just come through, “and Mrs. Cuccoli, you can wait in the waiting area until I’m all done.” My body froze and a cool shiver ran down my spine. “Wait, I can’t be with her?” mom asked, her voice rising a little.

“Yes, it is against my policy for others to join me as I operate. I hope you understand,” Dr. Smith said. He then looked at mom as if trying to say something with his eyes. Mom’s lips went straight as an arrow, but she nodded. Although my body froze, my heart started to flutter like a hummingbird. Sure, I’ve been on my own before, like on the first day of school and at the dentist. At school though, it was easy to meet new people since they were my age. And at the dentist, there were no doors that closed off my access to mom. This time, though, I was going to be completely alone with a stranger in a closed-off room. Again, I felt the stuff in my stomach begin to mix unpleasantly and I no longer cared if I was going to add color to the tan walls. When I saw mom’s concerned look, though, I mentally told my stomach to settle down.

“Can I bring Lucky in with me?” I quietly asked, holding up my stuffed toy Dalmatian. Dr. Smith smiled.

“Of course you can. Now follow me, Kristen,” Dr. Smith said, gesturing to me. I looked back at mom, who was now blurry due to the tears that were threatening to burst from my eyes. Before they could, though, I watched mom bend down to me. Her brown eyes darkened, a sign that she was scared. Although she was scared, she gave a very big smile, which made me smile back at her.

“Remember what I said Zoofey, you’re a trooper. Always was and always will. You’ll be alright,” mom said. I rubbed my eyes to get rid of the tears, nodded, and turned to follow Dr. Smith.

When Dr. Smith opened up the door, I hoped that this new room was a little more decorated. I froze again, though, when I realized it was a lot worse. Everything was white: the walls, the floor, and a chest with drawers. My heart sped up when I saw what was in the middle of the room: A long white bed propped up by white poles and two white, circular things with weird white sticks growing out of them hanging down from the ceiling. I thought I’d just walked in to some scary movie, and I felt my heart ready to burst out of my chest.

“I’m going to scrub up Kristen, and in the meantime you can get into your gown.” I raised an eyebrow. A gown? You mean like something Cinderella wears at the ball? Although I thought I was in a scary movie, my heart leaped as I imagined myself in Cinderella’s white-blue dress. Dr. Smith then pulled out a folded cloth out from the chest and gave it to me. I clenched my fist. This wasn’t Cinderella’s gown; it was just some weird blue-checkered cloth! I put Lucky on the chest and then unfolded the cloth. It was very weird because it looked like a giant blue apron. I sighed in disappointment and was about to wrap it on me when I saw Dr. Smith raise an eyebrow.

“I’m sorry, but you have to undress to put it on. You can keep your underwear on though,” Dr. Smith said. I immediately froze.

“I’ll be back, and my secretary will knock to see if you are all set before I come in,” Dr. Smith said and walked out the door.

For a while I didn’t move, my hands frozen on the strings. I couldn’t believe it: me, wearing only my underwear and this apron, in front of a stranger? At that point I wanted to run away, bury myself in mom’s chest, and cry in order to leave this place. How could I do something so embarrassing? I then felt my body unfreeze, and as soon as it did, I whipped off the apron. After I grabbed Lucky, I ran to the door. I was sure mom would understand that I was too afraid and she would figure out something. I then reached out to the door. I was sure that she could find another way to get my moles removed. After all, she was a smart lady. In fact, maybe my moles weren’t as bad as everyone thought. I then placed my hand on the foggy glass. I didn’t push it open though. Instead my body froze again, but this time I pictured the face mom gave me before I walked into this white room. Her brown eyes didn’t sparkle, showing that she was scared. For some reason, however, her words stuck in my head. You’re a trooper. I realized then that both my mom and dad have always told me that. Whenever I was scared, whether it was because I was trying something new or dealing with mean people, they were the ones that told me I was strong in order to make me feel better. Now that I was alone in this creepy room, I learned then that I had to say that to myself. It was time that I call myself a trooper. It was time that I had to make myself feel better.

I took a deep breath and held it until I couldn’t any longer. I then let it out a big gasp and  cringed as it echoed around the bare room. I then let my hand slide down before taking it off the foggy door and turned around to face the bed. I walked over to the blue-checkered apron that was now lying on the white floor, picked it up, and gently laid it down on the white bed. Afterwards, I looked down at Lucky in my arms, his plastic black eyes staring into mine. I walked over to the chest and placed him on top of it, his left front leg stretching out as if reaching out to me. I smiled at him, just like mom, and walked back to the bed.

I stared at the blue-checkered cloth, letting the minutes tick by quietly. I then bent down, untied my sparkly shoes, and kicked them off. I then rolled down my shorts and kicked those off too. Finally, I grabbed my flower t-shirt and pulled it up and over my head. Looking now at my pile of clothes, I folded them as best as I could and placed everything next to Lucky.

I looked down at myself, and my heart leaped a little when I saw that I was only wearing my bright pink underwear. I then heard someone knocking on the door, and my heart skipped again to the sudden noise.

“Dr. Smith is ready for you Kristen,” the woman’s crackly voice said, muffled by the door. Once again, Mrs. Clifford’s face appeared in my mind and my heart fluttered like a hummingbird again. I shook my head to get rid of the image and told myself that I was going to be ok.

“Are you ready Kristen?” Dr. Smith asked. Finally, I got the gown tied.

“I’m ready,” I said firmly to myself.

 

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