The Shadow

His fingerprints were everywhere, his presence palpable. His name was the second thing Dr. Second Opinion said to me, and that was when I knew how I had been squeezed into his schedule so soon. When he spoke to me, he already knew I was well-versed in the jargon and technical details of my cancer. There was nothing in the 100 pages of medical records I sent over that intimated this. I felt his influence again later on, when he walked me to the ultrasound room and he became giddy, “How did you find me or decide to come to me? It’s so random!” Why did Dr. Second Opinion find me any different than any other patient? Isn’t it always random when a patient chooses to see a doctor? I had a gut feeling he had spoken with Dr. Overinvolved.

I left my appointment with Dr. Second Opinion feeling the best I have felt about my thyroid cancer in years. He performed his own ultrasound and he told me the persistent TgAb is due to my previous Hashimoto’s Disease until proven otherwise. None of the medical records I sent over said I had Hashimoto’s Disease, but I did have it.

Dr. Overinvolved’s office was within shouting distance, located at the other big medical center in town. Truth be told, I had to make a pro-con list to keep myself from running to him. He had a lot of cons, one of which is his tendency to wear his emotions on his sleeve. I knew he would be frustrated, if not angry with me, for having such a high level of concern about this after so many years. Ultimately, the deciding factor was the potential for new insight about my cancer that would come from someone totally new. I had a strong sense of what Dr. Overinvolved would say. I also feared all of the emotions it would dredge up, one of which is a deep sense of ambivalence.

Dr. Overinvolved was a major player in my original diagnosis. There are the obvious reasons- he performed my biopsies, he told me I had cancer at 12:51pm on that very bright day in April, then did all the follow-up until I left. But that intense shared history started when I began keeping his secret.

I remember how he set off my warning bells and how I instinctively confronted him with a quizzical look. He looked at me sheepishly.

“I was just, uh, checking the angle.” He walked away, continuing to give me that same sheepish look that said, “I know it’s wrong but I cannot help myself.” The nurse entered the room and he reverted back to his persona as the confident, controlled authority. Then he did the biopsy- shoving a needle into my neck 8 different times. We argued. He became angry with me and by the time he snapped off his latex gloves, his shirt was saturated with sweat.

What did he do. I was laying down on the table. He came over to my left and rubbed his hips against my side and left arm. I never told anyone and I pushed it out of my mind. I had to. Too many terrible things happened to me at once and this was minor amongst all of those other events. When I wrote this sentence, a huge sense of panic arose and I had to walk away from the computer to talk myself down. I really want to type, “Maybe I just misunderstood.” No, no way did I misunderstand. That’s clear. This was not the last of his incursions on me, but it was the most blatant.

I want to scorch the earth and say he’s a terrible monster so desperately, because it seems almost incompatible with a scenario where he could be anyone good. I usually refer to him as a creeper and he clearly abused me, but I cannot ignore that there was goodness there. The goodness that I received from him is all that I have to hold onto from my cancer experience because it was lacking from nearly everyone else. I held onto that for me, not to absolve him. If he’s a terrible monster, than there was no one good involved in my experience. I cannot face that reality. But in that conscious denial, I am stuck. Trying to unpack this with another person leads to frustration. I make therapists uncomfortable and have been victim-blamed. I have read so much about the dynamics that underscores these situations but it has not released me. Dr. Susan Penfold has a great article on TELL, which is a website that talks about sexual abuse in therapy. It definitely applies.

I extracted myself from that situation by leaving, which was a victory. Keeping myself from running to him when I found myself in this situation was another. But he lives on in my head, a puzzle I have not been able to solve or let go of. Some of that is because of me; I was raised in a very cold environment with a serious lack of empathy and any love was conditional. In contrast, he accepted me and all of the tumultuous emotions I felt at that time, never once telling me how I should feel or what to do, in sharp contrast from everyone else. This felt like a blissful revelation. He would be much less important if others had met these basic needs.

To come home and realize very quickly that Dr. Second Opinion had spoken with Dr. Overinvolved about me was a comfort and a terror. He knew exactly how to speak with me in a way that honored my intelligence and knowledge, and thus I received the explanation I needed for years. It’s a terror because it took away my anonymity. It was chilling because Dr. Second Opinion emulated him so well, minus the sexual undertones.


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