Kyle sat in the waiting area feeling understandably anxious. He wasn’t alone, of course. The room was probably full of anxious people. It was a clinic, after all. Not a place you go if everything’s fine and dandy.
But he’d never felt like this before. So it was a different sort of anxiety for him – almost a creeping dread that threatened to undo him at times. The pain had been in his head for two weeks now, launched by a horrific attack of vertigo after getting out of bed one morning. He’d come close to throwing up.
He’d put it down to too much screen time. He’d had that habit for months, if not years. He was usually feeling the pressure behind his eyes if he stayed awake too late, playing on his phone. He liked anagrams, trying to see how many words he could find on a timer.
But this was different. After that initial attack, the pain had set in and not gone away. He’d already swallowed enough Advil to ruin his stomach lining forever.
“Kyle?” called a nurse. He stood up and followed her through. “Hello,’ she said. “My name’s Felicity.”
She took his vitals and made some notes about a sudden onslought of severe disorientation followed by chronic head pain and left him to wait some more. He stared at the poster on the wall ahead of him: “The time is NOW. Schedule your status update today!” Accompanying this text was a cute cartoon physician in a white lab coat holding an oversized timepiece swinging from a fob.
The doctor knocked and opened the door. “Hello, I’m Dr. Kim. How are you today?”
“Oh, I’m okay, I guess,” Kyle heard himself say. The irony wasn’t lost on either of them, but there’s no putting off social proprieties.
“So, you’ve been having some problems with vertigo and chronic head pain?” asked the doc.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Is your head hurting you now?”
“Yes. It pretty much hurts all the time.”
“On a scale of ten?”
“Oh, about a four or five, I guess,” Kyle said. “Sometimes a six or seven.”
“Have you taken anything for it?”
“Hehe, too much. I stopped, through, before I called in.”
“When do you notice the dizzyness? Mostly in the morning?”
“No, anytime I turn my head real quick,” Kyle said.
“Let me listen,” said Dr. Kim. She positioned the ear pieces and placed the steth over Kyle’s heart, listened for a moment, then replaced the scope around her neck and looked at Kyle.
“Our bodies contain clocks,” she said. “Timers, really, with preset countdowns we have no way of discerning. They come with alarms, both soft and loud. Loud ones are for tornadoes, cancer diagnoses, pandemics, and such. Soft ones are for things like this,” she finished, waiving a hand casually in Kye’s direction.
“So, you’re saying I’ve got a soft alarm going off?” Kyle asked with a silly grin.
“I don’t see any tornadoes,” Dr. Kim said, poker-faced. “You’re not struggling to breathe. How many fingers am I holding up?”
“One.” Cute, Kyle said to himself.
“I’ll order a scan,” the doc said, making a note. She looked up at Kyle again. “When’s the last time you had your ticker checked?”
“Well, as I said, we have no way of discerning the status of your preset countdown but we can get a sense of its tempo, timbre and relative dynamic. The record shows clocks tending to skip beats with greater frequency in the latter stages.”
Kyle said, “Latter stages of what?”
Dr. Kim’s poker face stared back. “Life,” she said. “That or plain foolishness.”
Kyle put his coat on as the doctor was preparing to head out. At the door she turned and looked at Kyle.
“The word vertigo is from the Latin meaning to turn. It doesn’t mean turn real fast. You have all the time in the world. Measure it.” She closed the door.
He climbed back into his truck with the scan order in his hand. Somehow he knew it would show nothing.