The old doctor sat back and rubbed at his chin.
“And when did the symptoms start?” he said after a fashion, his eyes scanning over the young woman before him.
“W-Well doctor,” the girl said as her tongue danced along her lower lip and her fingers gently drummed her legs, “I-Eh-I think about two months ago or so.”
“And all the symptoms started at once?”
“Eh, I-I-I don’t think so doctor. It’s just gradually got worse and worse. And now, I-I can’t control it, I-I-I need help!” she stammered out, the drumming increasing its rapidity, a slight rocking to her body accompanying.
The doctor nodded sagely and reassuringly being sure to hide the lack of a diagnosis behind his eyes.
“So tell me,” he said warmly, “how did it start? Take me back to the beginning.”
The girl took a deep breath allowing herself to sink back into the chair, the plastic-leather imitation snickering at her.
“It started with the thoughts,” she said, her eyes fixed beyond herself, “intrusive thoughts and ideas. To be honest, I enjoyed them at first. The ideas, the images, the words, the people; it was like a flurry of snow running through my mind and I was caught in the middle of it with my tongue out catching flakes. They used to whirl up now and again, little triggers that would send the heavens to surround me. And I enjoyed that. But then... Then they came more and more. They came when I was working. When I was driving. When I was talking. When I was trying to sleep. They were all I could think about. I-I-I can’t stop thinking about them!”
The stammer returned hard and the doctor laid a hand to soothe her.
“Ok,” he murmured in gentle tones, “It’s ok.”
She settled herself with her breathing once again.
“And how did you manage these thoughts?”
“Well,” she said, “I wrote them down.”
“And that helped?”
“So much! It gave me a thrill like you wouldn’t believe! As though a thousand fireflies were dancing around me, sweeping me off my feet! My life became a kaleidoscope of stories, a cacophony of yarns!”
The doctor screwed up his face a little as he looked at the girl before him, so wrapt in her own little world.
He paused a moment before continuing, just allowing enough time for his next question to form.
“So when did you feel things turn for the worse?”
The girl returned his gaze blankly but the doctor allowed the silence to build, wielding it as a surgeon does his scalpel.
“About three weeks ago,” she finally broke.
The doctor smiled at his small victory.
“And what happened then?”
“Then? Then the agitation started. It was mild at first, I didn’t really even notice it. I would just hit the button to content myself. It wasn’t a problem then. Or at least I told myself that. But the more I tapped the more I needed to see the yellow dot. Just to-”
“The button? The yellow dot?” the doctor cut in.
“Oh yes!” the girl squealed, “the yellow dot! That beautiful yellow dot like the morning sun, shining its light upon me. That yellow dot that could warm the deepest recesses of my soul! It was all I yearned for, all that I still yearn for, like a princess locked away in the tower waiting for her lover to set her free. I had to see it. I needed to see it!”
The doctor sat back satisfied and nodded.
“I see,” he said with the slightest air of self-satisfaction, “I think we’re getting a clearer picture now. I do apologise, please, continue.”
He gestured and the girl smiled as she went on.
“The more ideas, the more I wrote, the more I would see the yellow dot. Ideas, writing, yellow dot. Ideas, writing, yellow dot. But soon the ideas became agitation. The writing became compulsion. Agitation, compulsion, yellow dot. Agitation, compulsion, yellow dot. Round and round it went, like a never-ending merry-go-round of torment that tore my soul from the seams and cast my mind down into the fiery pits of hell that it had created where I was burnt up by the yellow dot of the sun!”
The girl finished dramatically whilst the doctor looked on.
“Alright,” said the doctor, “And have you noticed any change in your speech or has anyone mentioned anything to you about how you’re talking?”
“Do you mean like slurring words?” she asked.
“No,” he said carefully, “I mean more like how you phrase things. Has that changed?”
The girl thought in silence for a moment.
“Well, one or two people have said I’ve been overly dramatic. And when I was talking with my mother last week about work she said that I was being very descriptive and that I should cut out my flowery language.”
“I see,” the doctor smiled, “well, I think we have our diagnosis at least.”
The girl grimaced and dug her nails into her legs. The doctor laid a comforting hand on her and said heavily, “it’s Yellow Dot Fever.”
The girls eyes widened and she swallowed hard.
“I’ve never heard of it doctor, is it- is it serious?”
“Well,” he screwed up his face as he spoke, “it’s treatable, but I’m afraid there is no cure. In truth it’s quite a nasty wee infection. Well, it mimics a infection. Part infection, part addiction I suppose. You see once it infests the host it attacks the mesolimbic system, particularly the dopamine pathways. Sorry, I’m getting too technical. In layman’s terms it’s the reward pathway. Anyways, it sends that pathway into overdrive, in the same way that a drug would. But the highs are better than any narcotic could create. The problem is that it’s short lived and then leaves you craving for more. So you feed it and you get the high again but it dies away and so you end up stuck in this feverish cycle. Anything to see the yellow dot and taste that high.”
“Oh that sound horrific doctor!” the girl cried hiding herself behind her hand and peering between her fingers.
“Yes,” he said with a hint of dejection, “I’m sorry. There are seven stages to it; the same as any addiction. And it creeps up on you like any addiction, just in the way you said. Firstly you have Initiation, the first exposure, that first idea of a story. Then followed by Experimentation where you submit that first story, that thrill that fills you. Thirdly comes Regular Use. This is where the problems start to begin. Then comes Risky Usage when you submit that story that’s a bit outside your comfort zone. But the yellow dots keep coming and it lures you in all the more. This is quickly followed by Dependence and from there it’s a short step to Addiction where we find ourselves now. The last step is Crisis and Treatment.”
“How do we treat it? Antibiotics?”
The doctor allowed a chuckle to escape.
“No, no,” he said warmly, “this isn’t that sort of an infection. And sadly it’s much more difficult to treat. To be honest, it’s far beyond my expertise. So what I’ll do is refer you on to the Reedsy Rehab Centre. They have a specialist there who deals with Yellow Dot Fever. She is excellent and I can speak from personal experience on that.”
The girl sat up a little straighter, her hands wiping away the remnants of tears.
“You…?” she trailed off.
The doctor smiled back, leaned over to his desk and withdrew a golden pen. He held it up between them.
“One year clean,” he said, the corners of his smile falling slightly as he looked at the pen.
“And are you all better now?” the girl asked quietly.
The doctor regarded the pen for a moment, his tongue dancing along his lower lip.
“I miss the yellow dots.”