Diagnosis, Part One: In Which No Diagnosis Is Given)

Picture it: Washington, DC (or, more accurately, Arlington, VA), 2004. Neal and I are getting groceries at Shopper’s Food Warehouse for the Superbowl Party we’ll have that night. My stomach is acting funny, so I make repeated trips to their sad, stinky little bathroom. Sitting under the fluorescent light I noticed my feet were asleep. Both of them. Full pins and needles. Weird, right? But I stood up fine and walked okay, so I got on with buying avocados and chicken wings. Football snacks do not make themselves.

Wardrobes were not the only things malfunctioning that year!

In the weeks that followed, the pins and needles persisted, subsided some, and then moved to my thighs, torso, and eventually settled in my arms and hands. Neal was a little worried, but I shrugged it off. In high school I’d had a numb-ish forearm for months that was attributed to a pinched nerve in my elbow. In 2002 I had spasms that distorted the right side of my face and were alarming to see (sorry, Neal!), but they didn’t affect my life much and also disappeared on their own. Surely this bizarre traveling carnival of mild discomfort would leave of its own accord, too.

The arms bothered me more than my condition’s previous residences. This was in the dark days of my career, when I was an executive assistant at a government relations consulting firm, typing long, poorly written memos from my boss with whom I shared few political stances and even fewer ethical ones. My typing speed was lightning fast (thanks, college all-nighters!), but the semi-numbness made my hands clumsy. Worse, it was impossible to find a comfortable position for sleep. I self-medicated with Benadryl and other OTC sleep aids for a week or two to no avail before calling the doctor.

Since I was 27 and invincible, I did not have a GP. I’d always been dedicated to taking care of my ladybits, but the rest of my body? Who has the time! Thus, I found myself scanning my insurance company’s listings and settling on Dr. Van Damme. Who wouldn’t go to Dr. Van Damme? (Sidenote: there are undoubtedly better ways of picking doctors, but I often go for humor. My current gynecology practice was chosen the moment I learned Dr. Rebecca Bush was a partner. If that isn’t destiny, I don’t know what is.)

Alas, Dr. Van Damme exuded none of the strength and confidence of the movie star sharing his surname. His waiting room was dark and tiny; the exam room was a jumbled mess of papers and boxes with blunt, bold labels (the words “PLASTIC VAGINAL SPECULUMS” haunt me to this day). His bedside manner was that of an unfunny Woody Allen. He heard my tale, took my vitals, and shrugged, suggesting I see a neurologist. I left frustrated that relief wasn’t in the near future yet relieved that I’d never have to visit him again.