This is part one of another exercise from The Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Josip Novakovich. The idea is to write the same scene from three different perspectives, and see explore how the exact same event can be different from a different character’s point of view. This is similar to the four part “Genesis” exercise I did earlier, except instead of first person I’m utilizing subjective third person. I used Novakovich’s suggestion for the event my scene is based around, which takes place in a doctor’s office.
The nurse seemed nice enough. She had a friendly smile, and made small talk to distract Lisa from the business at hand. When she needed to ask Lisa a question about her forms, the nurse kept it professional. Lisa thought she’d chosen a good clinic, based on how the nurse was behaving; probably didn’t even need to tell them she had a pelvic floor dysfunction, which made cervical exams damn near impossible. Half the doctors she’d seen in the past would just get frustrated waiting for her to relax and just jam the speculum in—the other half just patronized her about her own body (in an attempt to be sensitive) until she was ready to cry from frustration herself. Worse, her insurance required her to do this crap every sixth months but they wouldn’t pay for her to see a physical therapist to make it any easer. Women were always getting fucked.
The nurse was jotting down some last minute notes, just after returning to prep the exam room. “I understand it’s been awhile since your last check-up . . . now there’s no history of cervical or breast cancer in your family, is that correct?”
“Yes. And I’ve been doing monthly exams myself.”
The nurse nodded. “You’re probably fine, Lisa. Provided you come out with a clean bill of health, you probably only need to go through this once a year . . . the sixth month mark is really just a precautionary thing . . .” Lisa liked the nurse’s way of talking; basically saying she knew this was difficult for Lisa, and that Lisa didn’t have to go through it more than once a year—but saying it in a way that didn’t victimize or belittle her.
There was a quick knock at the exam door, and before either Lisa or the nurse could respond, a male doctor came in. He extended his hand to her. “Hello, Lisa. My name is Doctor Herbert, but you can call me Elliot if that makes you feel more comfortable.”
The doctor didn’t make Lisa feel comfortable. She looked at the nurse and was about to request a woman doctor, but the nurse—obviously detecting Lisa’s discomfort—said “Doctor Herbert has the most experience with patients who suffer through pelvic exams. From floor dysfunction, or other things.”
Lisa nodded. “Okay, then . . .”
“Right,” said Dr. Herbert, “if you’d like to step behind the curtain and remove your clothes, there should be a smock and a towel for you.”
She couldn’t believe he was just going to hang out in the room while she undressed. She hated this system. She hated having to hurry up and get naked in a strange place. There was, of course, no place to set her clothes—so she had to fold them over the top of her shoes with her panties crowning the pile for all the world to see once she pulled back the curtain.
“You almost done, Lisa?” She saw Dr. Herbert’s fingers creep around the edge of the curtain.
“No,” said Lisa. She wanted to get dressed and storm out, but . . . she needed this exam by the end of the week for her dickhead insurance. Who knew if she could get an appointment by that time with someone else?
The smock was a cheap poncho that didn’t even reach her belly button, and the towel was literally just a giant paper towel. Why couldn’t she just get a robe, or a sheet? Why was that so hard?
When she pulled back the curtain, Dr. Herbert was already staring at her body. “Good, good,” he said. “Now, if you could just hop onto the exam table?”
Lisa stepped backward to sit on the edge of the table. The hygienic tissue paper lining the table crinkled and stuck to her butt, and the paper towel offered little protection. The nurse stood when Lisa caught her eye. “Did you want me to leave, Lisa?”
“Actually, I’d prefer it if you stayed.” That way this asshole can’t try to rape me, at least, she thought.
The doctor looked at her eyes and in her ears, testing her reflexes, and listening to her heart. Why exams required the patient to be naked for all this, she had no idea. She also didn’t know why Dr. Herbert couldn’t tell her he was going to listen to her heart before he stuck his hairy hand up her smock.
“Okay,” he said. “Everything seems good. Now, I’m just going to have you scoot to the edge of the table. As far as you can go, until your bottom is almost all the way off.” Lisa knew this routine. It made her feel sick in the back of her throat every time; hence the dysfunction, where she’d tighten up everything until she was like an impenetrable fortress.
While Lisa was scooting, Dr. Herbert pulled the stirrups out of the exam table for Lisa to slip her heels into once her legs were in the air. “That’s it,” said Dr. Herbert, as she eased into place. He moved the lamp over, pointed it at her crotch, and turned it on. She heard him put his gloves on, and could feel him staring. Lisa craned her neck up and saw him licking his bottom lip. He noticed her and said, “Just relax, Lisa. This’ll be over soon.”
Lisa let her head fall back hard.
“Okay,” said Herbert. “I’m about to touch your inner thigh.” He did so and—old reliables—her muscles tightened in a spasm. He kept his hand on her thigh. “It’s okay, Lisa. I’m not going to hurt you.”
‘It’s a dysfunction, you idiot,’ she wanted to scream. ‘I can’t control it. If I could, these exams wouldn’t suck so hard.’
“I’m about to touch the outer labia now. Okay.” She felt his fingers there and jumped again. He didn’t move his fingers, and just began feeling around. Lisa was damn near lifting herself off the table with her muscle tension. “Everything looks healthy . . . let me make sure . . .” He continued to feel her.
This was just wrong—that he could just touch her like that. Invade her like that. While his fingers bumped around her opening, she turned her head to the side, in an attempt to find something else to focus on. That’s when she saw the scalpel. Why was there a scalpel in an exam room? Did Herbert bring it in? Would he have used it on her, if the nurse wasn’t here?
“Okay, Lisa, now I really need you to relax. I’m about to insert the speculum. It’s going to hurt if you don’t relax . . .” As if she hadn’t figured that out yet.
He prodded her with the speculum. It felt like a goddamn knife. Most doctors would’ve eased up at this point, but not Herbert. He kept pushing, assuring her it was okay and she needed to relax. The physical hurt was nothing compared to the sense of violation. This asshole was down-talking and victimizing her and he didn’t even know what this felt like.
Well then. Show the bastard.
Lisa grabbed the scalpel, and in one motion sat up and slashed. She got his ear instead of his face, but she got him. Herbert had fallen back, his hand clutching his ear. “What the hell?”
Lisa looked at the nurse—instead of being shocked, she seemed calm and almost pleased. “I’m so sorry, Lisa,” she said. “We’ll get you another doctor to finish the exam.” With that, the nurse helped Herbert off the floor and out of the room. She left Lisa with a sense of satisfaction and the assurance that she probably wouldn’t get sued by the clinic.