By Michael Kozart
It’s ten in the morning and you greet the patient on the phone who is depressed and anxious, not sleeping, throwing fits because of COVID, wildfires, checkout lines, a fight with a boyfriend. She requests a sedative. Her mother gave her Xanax not long ago. They worked. A thirty-day supply is all she needs. You explain that the drug doesn’t mix well with alcohol or the opiates she takes for back pain. You remember her last DUI. Through the clinic window, you see the vacation rental house next door, with the cinderblock wall that shields a pool. A new family has arrived.
“I don’t think you’re hearing me,” she says.
The parents lug suitcases and beach-bags to the raised deck that leads into the kitchen. Before entering, they lean against the railing to survey the pool. It’s not Hawaii or the Grand Caymans, but it is what they paid for—a vacation spot in Cazadero, California, rustic redwood country, deer, owls at night—far from San Jose or Sacramento or wherever they’re from. It’s still early but the parents open a bottle of wine and kiss while their kids explore the new playhouse. You imagine board games, puzzles, paperback mysteries on painted bookshelves. The pandemic is just as bad here as anywhere, but the house is clean, the sun bright, the pool shimmering.
“You say I’m an addict because I asked you for Xanax?”
The parents have changed into trunks and matching leafy resort shirts, open in front. They are both men, heavyset, bellies like twin moons, with three kids. You wonder about their history, how long they’ve been a family, and you want them to succeed, you want these next two days, or however long the vacation will be, to exceed all expectations.
“I can’t stand doctors who think they know everything.”
You watch a large dog trudge up to the deck, fluffy with droopy eyes, craving attention, but the dads are busy inflating a green turtle and a rainbow unicorn for the pool. You spy snacks on the countertop island in the dim light of the kitchen through the open sliding door—bags of chips, cheese and grapes, wine and juice. They’ve brought out a boombox. ‘Moves Like Jagger’ reminds you of summers before the pandemic, when you still had a clinic with real patients—not just a phone and computer—connections so easy to disconnect.
The clinic is quiet except for your voice, few workers about due to virus precautions, the waiting room a ghost town. You try to explain the risk of central nervous system depression and apnea from combined sedatives. You know what it’s like to read a coroner’s report. The plastic receiver absorbs your breath, sweat, spit. You cradle it between ear and shoulder while typing notes. You have fifteen more patients before heading home.
“Nothing you say helps.”
There’s the sound of a diving board creaking and then a percussive boom followed by a splash. You assume it’s a cannonball, one of the dads hitting the water, but the wall blocks your view. Soon you hear Marco Polo echoed by shrill voices. There is more splashing and squeals of laughter, while Maroon 5 gives way to Bruno Mars, and the dog emerges from the house with a hunk of cheese in its mouth.
“I can prescribe you an antihistamine,” you say, a safe chill pill. No risk of coma or death. No possibility of addiction. It works for some. The patient calls you an asshole and slams down the phone. ‘Uptown Funk’ bounces in your head as you try to remember the last time you went swimming. You want the family to stay. Their house is an island oasis, the pool a tropical sea. You pick up the phone, hoping for a better appointment with the next patient.
“Marco,” a dad yells.
“Polo,” the family screams back.