It smelled like a Band-aid. Why is it that all doctors’ offices smell like Band-aids? After handing back the redundant medical form that they painstakingly make you fill out before every visit, I had nothing left to do but nervously rap my fingernails against the uncomfortable plastic seating. Staring into the distance, I began testing my vision, reading different sized lettering. It was my way of psyching myself out before seeing the eye doctor. Every time I went in for a check-up, I had this compulsion of first assessing my own vision. Though, I don’t know what good my self-testing was doing. This ritual, naturally, only heightened my anxiety and paranoia that they would find another dreadful thing wrong with my eyes.
My heart suddenly leapt. Was that just another translucent cloud passing through my field of vision? It was hard to tell. It vanished so quickly. They almost looked as if they were spirits passing by. Doctors have repeatedly told me that my eyes are just playing tricks on me whenever I would complain about this distorted phenomenon. I guess that’s a thing; eyes playing tricks on people. Nobody can blame me, though, after having been diagnosed with several eye infections in the past, which lead to permanent damage in the retina. On top of that, I’ve been terribly nearsighted since kindergarten and am already on my way to developing glaucoma. Forgive me for being just a little bit paranoid that something else sinister was lurking inside of my body, just waiting to be diagnosed. That’s what brought me into this stuffy office today, anyways.
“You must be getting the experimental surgery,” an old man’s voice choked out from my periphery. Stunned, I peered over my shoulder to see what looked to be a small man, hunched over, covered head to toe in heavy clothing. He stared intently at me through dark glasses as if he were a panther waiting to pounce on his prey.
I shifted in my seat uncomfortably to face him, now uncertain if whether or not I really was talking to a man. A heavy scarf engulfed his head like a cocoon, leaving space only for the sunglasses to be delicately placed between the wrinkles. The rest of his outfits consisted of an oversized sweatshirt and baggy jeans. Despite the summer heat, he also sported a pair of thin leather gloves. Not a single inch of skin was peeping from beneath the armor.
“Excuse me?” I demanded, dumbfounded.
“I see those thick glasses of yours. You’re squinting into the distance even with those huge spectacles on your face. You’re looking all around the room, too. Like your eyes are trying to catch a glimpse of something that isn’t really there,” he reported in a deep, raspy voice. With every word he began to sound less like an old man and more inhuman. Almost as if he were speaking into a microphone that would warp voices into an octave that was five times lower than normal. Yet, none of the receptionists took much notice to the man’s strange attire or sickly voice.
I shook my head, attempting to escape the conversation he was initiating. “Sorry, sir. But no.” Darting my eyes away from the uncomfortable presence of him, I fixated on the lobby door. The door that separated the poor and sick from the powerful doctors. Desperate to leave his company, I silently prayed that the nurse would burst through that door and call my name next.
“Don’t do it,” he continued. “The elective laser eye surgery…don’t…do…it,” he emphasized again, harshly.
“What do you mean?” I croaked, more troubled now. Avoiding looking over at him again, my eyes remained locked on the wooden door. I began to decipher the pictures on the CPR directional sign, which was hung neatly against the thick wood.
“I’ve gotten the surgery,” he began again.
Intrigued, I shifted my gaze over to him cautiously. I saw that he had moved a seat closer towards me since my last observation. As much as I wanted to move another seat down the row, away from him, in response to his gesture, I couldn’t bring myself to budge. Aside from being rude, I had suddenly become captivated by the feedback he was going to share.
“You think you see things now?” He continued with a rhetorical question. “Well, when you get that surgery, it makes everything worse.”
“Success rate is 50%,” I defended. “Doctors say I’m a good candidate.”
Sneering, he replied, “I don’t know where they get those numbers. Pretty sure they did the surgery on two people...total. One didn’t survive. And then there’s me, the second candidate, surviving so far. Or shall I say, ‘I will survive’.”
Another white cloud apparated across my vision. Trick of the light, I told myself, forcefully closing my eyes. I only half-believed this mantra, which the doctors had repeatedly regurgitated to me after each visit. It just felt off. Something inside me was telling me it had to have been the eye infections or some other form of ailment which had yet to be discovered. Despite the fact that I had only had two eye infections, and that doctors had checked my eyes repeatedly, assuring that my retina was, in fact, healthy. The words meant nothing. They were lies, I knew it. No matter how the doctors reframed the same garbage, I was still convinced I had everlasting damage to my central vision. The doctors also say I don’t have glaucoma. Another one I refused to believe. My eye pressure was up once…why would it have been up? From that appointment onward, it was just another health concern with my eyes to worry about. All of these white, ghostly apparitions I was seeing every day of my life was because of all these medical issues. It wasn’t just some trick of the light. If it took an experimental surgery to fix this maddening issue, then that’s what I wanted to do. At this point, I was desperate to try anything that would get rid of the haunting visions. Who was this stranger to start ramping up my anxiety higher than it already was? His rant was the last thing I needed right now.
“You see that rash you got there on your arm?” the stranger diverted my attention from one health concern to another, pointing a gloved finger at my arm accusingly. Glancing down at the contact dermatitis that had started about a week ago, I gave it a scratch more out of habit than it being an actual itch. In fact, it wasn’t itchy until this guy decided to point it out.
“It’s contact-dermatitis,” I assured him. He was beginning to get rude at this point and was growing agitated.
“That’s what you think. But that’s not what I see and that’s not what’s really going on,” he insisted.
“Why?” I hesitated to provoke the conversation any further. “What’s your diagnosis, doc?”
“The imp on your back has been chewing badly on that arm lately. I can see him.”
Puzzled, I cocked on eyebrow at him. “Imp?”
“The surgery. It makes you see the cause of all illnesses: imps. They’re little demons and we all have them…forever stuck to our backs like baby koalas. The more fear, anxiety, anger, resentment, any negative emotions the stronger the imp becomes. Your miseries fuel its pleasures. In times of stress or low vibrations, it feeds on your body, manifesting itself as any form of illness or injury. Someone dies of a heart attack…that’s the imp squeezing the heart a little too forcefully. Another has a stroke…that’s the imp twisting its claws into your brain, tangling the nerves and veins inside your head. Cancer…that’s the imp seeping into a person’s entire body, claiming it for themselves. A car crash…that’s the imp playfully pushing you in the line of oncoming traffic. Every form of physical ailment is really damage inflicted upon you by your imp. Rather than damage, though, he looks at the poking and prodding as a fun pastime. Most of the imps I see are just hanging off of your backs, simply coexisting with you. But once they start putting their arms and legs inside of you, that’s when havoc starts to invade your body. Now that I know the secret to illness, I’m determined to beat my own imp. If I can just find a way to detach from him, I’d become immortal. No illness or injury will ever consume me,” he paused for a moment, letting out a dry exacerbated cough and scratching at his arm roughly with the fabric of his heavy sweatshirt.
Then continued, “Once you start seeing these goblins, you start obsessing over them just as if they were leaches all over your back. Naturally, though, I’m beginning to find it impossible to break free of his presence. The imp sees everything you do. All the research, talking to professionals…I can’t seem to gain the upper hand of knowledge without him overseeing me. It’s an awful feeling…realizing that you have been micromanaged your whole life and that there is nothing you can do to stop it. You become hyperaware that everything you do is no longer private. My attempted research on the topic of banishment only made him angrier.”
“David,” a nurse called out into the waiting room as she abruptly swung open the door, forcing a draft of wind into my face. I shot up immediately. After the stranger’s story, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go through with the surgery or not. Though, I knew that I didn’t want to be around this guy anymore, so I chose the latter.
“That’s me,” I gestured, starting to walk toward her. As I did so, the old man grabbed my arm harshly. His grip felt like ice, piercing my rash with intensity. I let out a subtle cry.
“The imp has started to soak right into my body. You understand? He’s not just latched onto my back anymore, he’s inside me. My flesh is peeling off. Every bone in my body feels as if an elephant is endlessly crushing them to pieces. I can’t breathe anymore; my lungs are collapsing. Hell, this isn’t even my real voice right now!” he bellowed. That last sentence sent a chill down my spine. Thankfully, there was no one else in the waiting room to observe the scene. “Don’t do it, kid. You think you’re seeing things now? Just wait…every person you come across will be paired with an imp. These goblins you will see…they will never leave your thoughts. You’ll start obsessing, just like me, about how to get rid of them.” Yanking my arm away from the stone-cold grip violently, I hurriedly followed the nurse back into the operation room without looking back.
“Wake!” A distant voice echoed. My eyelids bolted open and I allowed a few moments to adjust to the bright lighting that blared down at me from the ceiling. “He’s not itching,” another voice in the room commented. “Do you think it worked?”
“The clouds…I can still see the clouds,” I stammered, my throat clenching in an attempt to hold back tears. “They’re ghosts.” Sitting up from the leather recliner, I tentatively looked over at my psychiatrist, Dr. Clark. “The imp…I still see your imp,” I pointed a gloved finger at him. Its green smile twisted upwards, revealing two bending rows of yellow fangs. It perspired a thick congealed mucus and its warts were pustulating. “Mine is still trying to get inside me. I feel him crawling all over my skin. He’s dragging his claws up and down my body. He’s chewing on my arm!” Using the thick material of my hooded sweatshirt as if it were sandpaper, I rubbed it roughly against my chapped forearm. “If it weren’t for these eye infections, I had…or my nearsightedness or glaucoma…”
Dr. Clark adjusted his thick framed glasses, “David,” he cut in. “That’s your psychosomatic disorder talking. Just remember that. You get your eyes checked yearly…there’s nothing wrong with your vision. You never had an eye infection. You only thought you did when your eyes started to itch for a few days. Those glasses you wear are sunglasses. They’re not prescription. What you’re seeing has nothing to do with your vision itself. It is a figment of your imagination. Trick of the light. Your mind is creating the image and you’re believing it. Now that is your psychosis talking, just remember that as well.”
Deep dry laughter erupted from the imp on Dr. Clark’s back. Its grotesque veiny skin glistened in the lamp like algae. Folds of moldy skin engulfed its head, leaving room only for a deep pocket for its two soulless black eyes to stare out at me. Thick blood-stained claws cusped around Dr. Clark’s glasses as if the imp were leading him blindfolded into a room for a surprise. Except the surprise was never anything to look forward to. In Dr. Clark’s case, his surprise was the handicap of having to wear bottle-cap glasses at all times.
Constantly, I was dreading which new medical punishment the imp would impose upon me next. Though I tried my best to protect myself, layering excessively in scarves and sweaters, I could still feel that creature’s moisture drenching through the fabric and into my flesh. It had infected me completely, creating a new health symptom every minute of every day, leading down a torturous path closer to my demise. There was no way of breaking the control he had over me. It was too late. The imp had already infused himself into my skin like a malignancy. He had become a part of me. The cackling grew louder as my own critter joined in. Nausea suddenly ballooned inside my organs as the imp punched a grubby claw into my midsection, twisting my intestines in his grip. I grasped at it painfully.
Dr. Clark turned to the nurse who had accompanied me into the room. The same nurse who had led me out of that uncomfortable waiting room. “Cheryl, please notate ‘negative’ for the EMDR therapy. We’ll try another approach for our next session.” If there were to be a next session, I thought miserably to myself. I was already anticipating the imp finishing me off well before then.