The doctor cupped his chin between his thumb and forefinger and peered intently at me over the top of his reading glasses. "Now," he said, "tell me about your symptoms."
"I don't seem to hear well at times," I said, "and other times, I seem to hear things even when my surroundings are relatively quiet." He looked puzzled as he scrawled a few notes on my open chart.
"How long has this been going on?"
"About a week."
"Go on," he prodded with a solemn nod that I interpreted as genuine concern. "What else?"
"My back is killing me," I acknowledged, "and I have been getting a lot less sleep than usual. The fatigue is unbelievable."
"Hmmm," he mused, exhibiting what I thought might be a faint glimmer of recognition. "And how is your frame of mind? Are you going through any type of identity crisis? Low self-esteem, perhaps?"
"Well," I admitted barely above a whisper, "I keep thinking that I might be the witch in Hansel and Gretel, the stepmother in Cinderella, or the wicked queen in Snow White. Frankly, Doctor, sometimes I don't know who I am--but I always seem to be a bad guy. I bounce back and forth between roles so often, I can barely keep track." Finally, I mustered the courage to ask the question I dreaded most: "Do you think I could be schizophrenic?"
The doctor closed my chart and laid his pen aside. I thought I saw a flicker of amusement in his eyes. Then, he asked the definitive question: "What was happening in your life when these symptoms first presented?"
"Well, the grandkids had just arrived and--"
At this point, the doctor assumed a look of absolutely victorious superiority. I could see that, in his mind at least, he was licking a forefinger and putting an imaginary mark on some score card hanging invisibly in the air between the two of us.
"Your hearing condition," he began, "is something we call BPTE--battery-powered toy ear. It occurs most often in patients who have listened to a number of children's talking, singing, buzzing, ringing toys for a period of several consecutive days."
I looked at him in disbelief. "And my back?"
"Have you been posing as a horsie?" he asked rather sternly. "Or dispensing any piggy-back rides?" ( I hung my head in guilt at the relentless barrage of questions.) "And as for your sleeping, have any children under four been crawling into bed with you early in the morning?" I knew then that I was busted. I held out my wrists for the handcuffs.
"What is the treatment for this condition, Doctor?"
"Well," he began, drawing a deep breath and shooting me that no-nonsense look. "In your case, I am not optimistic that a cure is possible. You are too far gone."
"Is there any chance I will ever feel better?"
"Yes," he answered, turning to leave the exam room. "You should experience a real improvement in your mood and energy level in about three days. About that time, all your aches and pains should miraculously dissipate."
"How do you know that?" I asked.
"Because," he said, casting a smug look in my direction. "Isn't that when you said the kids are coming back?"