Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith

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Poem: "Defined by the Patient"

This poem is spillover from the November 3, 2020 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] ari_the_dodecahedron and Soupshue. It also fills the "skin pressure" square in my 11-1-20 card for the Sense-Ation Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by a pool with [personal profile] ng_moonmoth, [personal profile] fuzzyred, [personal profile] janetmiles, and [personal profile] mama_kestrel. It belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes anxiety, reference to past abuse, struggling to deal with a new doctor, messy medical details, vulgar language, and other challenges. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.


"Defined by the Patient"

[Friday, August 15, 2014]

Shiv jittered and fidgeted
in his seat all the way to
Freeman Family Hospital.

Going there was the last thing
he wanted, but he had promised
Dr. Bloch that he would keep
the appointment to try out
a new doctor here in Omaha.

Also Dr. Bloch had bribed Shiv
with a box of fruit and snacks
just for agreeing to go, and if
Shiv actually went then he'd
get a different box afterwards.

The first box had arrived
just after Shiv got back
to Omaha, and it was
damn good, so he didn't
want to miss the second.

That didn't stop him
from feeling antsy about
the appointment, though.

Past experience showed
that Shiv and doctors
mostly didn't mix well.

The looming dread hung
over him, clouding the day
and making everything
seem heavier somehow.

He could feel it in the air,
like pressure against his skin.

When the bus sighed to a stop
at the shelter, Shiv got out.

He looked around, making sure
that he would remember where
to go on the way back out.

The bus shelter had glass
on three sides and a bench
inside, which didn't suck.

Glumly Shiv trudged to
the main entrance of
the hospital, then
stopped and stared.

Inside it was huge and
open like most hospitals,
which always made him
feel small and worthless,
but one wall held a gallery
of photographs and art.

It was good stuff, too, not
that abstract crap like in
the fast food restaurants,
but mostly nature images.

Someone had cared enough
to pick pictures that made
Shiv want to slow down and
look, not just drag his feet
because he didn't want
to be here in the first place.

Then Shiv noticed that
the hall wasn't entirely full
of stuffy white people with
way more money than him.

At least half of them were black,
and there were Hispanics too.

When Shiv got to the end of the art,
there was a sign explaining that
Freeman's had started out in 1890
as a hospital for colored people,
the first of its kind in Omaha.

Since then, it had kept up with
covering underserved populations.
It was currently the only hospital in
Omaha with experience treating soups.

Well, huh. No wonder Dr. Bloch had
sent Shiv here instead of picking
another clinic closer to home.

The only doctors Shiv had seen
who knew anything about soups
were Dr. Bloch and the Finns,
and they were all determined
to mop up everyone else's mess,
so maybe this trip wouldn't be
a complete disaster after all.

Shiv checked the map on
his appointment card;
the general practice
was in the basement.

Looking around, he
spotted the elevators.

As he waited for one,
he could smell something
utterly delicious -- oh yeah,
the hospital had a café.

Shiv's stomach chose
that moment to grumble.

"Now you wake the fuck up,"
he whined back. He'd been
too nervous to eat breakfast,
and it was nearly lunchtime.

Once Shiv got in the elevator
and away from the food smells,
though, his belly quieted down.

The basement had big signs
showing where everything was,
and Shiv found the general practice.

The waiting room was done in
soft shades of brown and blue, but
what made Shiv stop in his tracks --
again -- was the giant aquarium
filling part of the back wall.

The receptionist cleared
her throat, startling him
out of his zone. "I'm glad
you like our fish, sir, but
could you check in before
taking a closer look?"

"Uh, yeah," Shiv said.
He gave her his card and
signed the page. Fortunately
Dr. Bloch had already done
most of the paperwork for him.

Tempting as it was to skip out now,
that would be welching, and Shiv was
a lot of shitty things but he was not
a welcher -- he damn well paid what he
owed. He'd get in the room, at least.

The waiting room had chairs and
the usual rack full of nagazines,
but Shiv ignored them in favor
of drifting over to watch the fish.

There was even a poster that
told him the yellow ones were
yellow tangs, the blue ones were
regal tangs, and the striped ones
were -- what else? -- convict tangs.

Shiv cracked up laughing at that.

It made him feel a little less
as if the air pressure on his skin
was trying to crumple him up
like used aluminum foil.

The brightly colored fish
made his fingers itch for
his creme pastels, too.

A nurse called his name,
making him jump, and she'd
actually said it right instead of
tacking on "Mr." or arguing.

"Dr. Grant is ready for you,"
she said. "You're in Room 2,
that's the Tree Room -- just
look for the door opposite
the picture of a big tree."

Shiv looked past her
down the hall, and yeah,
every door had something
hanging across from it.

Nice if you couldn't read
or remember things well.

Sure enough, there was
the tree picture, looking up
the trunk toward the leaves.

Shiv opened the door, and
the doctor was already there,
seated on a rolling stool.

His skin was a warm sorrel
that contrasted quietly with
the light blue of his shirt, and
his nappy hair was mostly white.

When he smiled, his face folded
into familiar lines, the wrinkles
showing more ups than downs
as his teeth flashed in welcome.

"Hi, you must be Shiv," he said
as he held out a hand, but he didn't
get up and crowd into Shiv's space,
just waited for him to come over.
"I'm Dr. Thurgood Grant, and I'd
like to take care of you today."


"Uh, yeah," Shiv said, shaking
hands. The grip was warm
and confident, not crushing.

Looking around the room,
he saw that the exam bed
was bent into a chair, but he
sure as hell didn't want to sit
on that, and the other chair
was behind Dr. Grant. Fuck.

"Would you like to sit by
the door?" Dr. Grant said,
like that was somehow normal.
"It's no trouble to move a chair."
He swung it away from the table,
and it slid over the wooden floor.

"Thanks," Shiv said, sitting down.
He actually did feel better with
the door right at his back, even
though he had closed it coming in.

"I see that you've chosen to give me
access to your medical records from
this year's time in Dr. Bloch's care,"
said Dr. Grant, looking at his tablet. "I
hope that as we get to know each other,
you'll trust me -- or at least rely on me --
enough to unlock more records."

Shiv sighed. "It's not just that
I don't know you and I don't
trust people," he said. "Earlier
than that, the records are crap.
They're patchy, and some of
what's in there is pure bullshit."

Dr. Bloch and Dr. G had offered
to fix that for him, but Shiv hadn't
had the guts to do more than
scratch the surface of it yet.

Maybe someday. It sucked
having the lies dogging him.

"That sounds like malpractice,"
Dr. Grant said. "If you want my help
untangling the mess later, just ask.
I'll be happy to clarify what I can."

"Yeah, you're not the first person
to say that," Shiv replied. "I just --
let me think about it. I need time."

He wasn't a rat, but some of
that earlier stuff probably needed
to be corrected or it wasn't safe.

Shiv clenched his hands in
his pockets, feeling his play-putty,
feeling the chair under him and
the metal in the room around him.

Later. He could worry about it later.
He shoved it to the back of his mind.

"I only know the basics about you, but
your file requests trauma-informed care,
so I'll just ask if you have any triggers
acting up today that I need to take
extra care with," said Dr. Grant.

Well that was new and weird.

"Other than being too twitchy
to eat breakfast just because
I had to come here today?
Not really," Shiv said.

"That's good to hear,"
said Dr. Grant. "Hopefully
we can break the ice and
make some progress."

"Yeah, I guess," Shiv said.
He'd gotten in the room. That
was already as much as he
had promised himself to do.

"I gather that you've had
some bad experiences
with previous health care,
leaving you with a bunch of
understandable concerns
and suspicions about quality
of care," said Dr. Grant.

"That's the story of my life,"
Shiv muttered. "It's only been
since spring that it got any better."

"Thank you for sharing that,"
said Dr. Grant. "I'll do my best
to provide good care, or if I can't,
refer you to someone else who can.
I'll offer you options and explain
the pros and cons of each."

"That'd be nice if it actually
works out that way," Shiv said.
"Mostly things don't for me."

"Would you like to go over
basic standards of care?"
Dr. Grant offered.

"Yeah," Shiv agreed,
pouncing on the chance
to waste time in ways that
didn't involve anyone
trying to touch him.

Didn't matter what they
did in here, he'd get
paid for it anyhow.

"You've probably heard
this one," Dr. Grant said,
holding up a finger. "First,
do no harm. That means I
take care not to make things
worse -- and you decide
what 'harm' is, not me."

Shiv's jaw dropped.
"That's uh ... different."

"Then we can turn over
a new leaf," Dr. Grant said,
raising another finger. "Next,
I have a moral responsibility
to do good -- to fix whatever
problems you bring to me."

Shiv perked up at that.
Bring was important.
It meant that Dr. Grant
probably wouldn't go
looking for trouble.

"Okay," Shiv said softly.
"I'm not great at bringing up
stuff like that, but it's better
than it used to be. Sorta."

"That's good progress,"
Dr. Grant said as he
unfolded another finger.
"Third comes autonomy --"

"Like body autonomy?"
Shiv said. "That one I
heard, but it's still new."

"Exactly," said Dr. Grant.
"Autonomy means that you
decide what happens to
your body. Think of me as
a guy with access to goods
and services that you couldn't
easily get to on your own."

Shiv could get a lot more
than Dr. Grant knew about --
Lieutenant Brown was
a damn good candy man --
but Shiv wasn't about
to admit to any of that.

"The last one is justice,"
Dr. Grant said as he lifted
the last finger. "You have
a right to be treated decently
regardless of your age, gender,
race, or superpower status."

Shiv snorted. "Yeah, right. If
that was true, then I wouldn't be
a fuckin' supervillain in the first place."

"I'm sorry to hear that," said Dr. Grant.
"I can't change the past, but I'll do
my best to improve the future."

Which was pretty much what
Dr. G had said, and that had
made Shiv's life suck a little less.

"We can try," Shiv said. "Can't
tell how well it'll work, though."

"Then we'll try different things
until we find out what does
work for you," said Dr. Grant.
"Which would you like to do
next -- talk about your health,
or run through the health check?"

Neither, really. Shiv shifted his weight
in his seat, trying to get comfortable.

"I uh, don't do so good with questions,"
he admitted. "If I'm not too antsy,
sometimes I can get through ... ten,
maybe fifteen before my head
twists into a pretzel and then I
can't think straight anymore."

"That's very useful information.
Thank you for telling me your limit
so that I can take it into account,"
said Dr. Grant. "Do you know
about the window of tolerance?"

Shiv frowned. "It sounds ...
sorta familiar, but I can't
think what it means?"

"Here, let me find a picture
of that," Dr. Grant said,
reaching for a binder. He
leafed through it, then
showed Shiv the page.

It had a sort of scale,
with feeling stuck at
the bottom and feeling
about to explode at the top.
The window thing was in
the middle of the scale.

"When you feel like you
can handle things, that's
your window of tolerance,"
Dr. Grant explained. "If you're
overwhelmed, then your body
wants to run, fight, or freeze."

Shiv licked his lips. "Yeah,
I get that a lot," he said.

He liked the picture. It
was easier to remember
than just a description.

"Would you like a copy?"
Dr. Grant asked, sliding
one out of the plastic page.

"Yeah?" Shiv said, hesitant.
"I remember stuff better
with pictures, but people
think that's stupid."

"It's not stupid if you
think in visual terms,"
said Dr. Grant. "I had
a roommate who did -- he
colored Gray's Anatomy
again in every semester."

"Thanks," Shiv said as
he took the handout.

"How about we check
your total comfort level,"
Dr. Grant said, offering
him a tablet computer.

Shiv hovered over
the middle of it, then
sighed and handed it
back to him unmarked.

"Electronic forms don't
usually work well for me,"
he said, shaking his head.

"Okay, why not? Is there
something else that you
like better?" Dr. Grant said.

"Mostly I feel so mixed up
that one answer doesn't fit,"
Shiv said. "Paper works,
because I can write down
anything I need to say on it."

"Excellent," said Dr. Grant.
He reached into a drawer and
handed Shiv a TCL page.

Shiv picked up a pencil and
ran it along the scale, then
started marking. "I've been
uncomfortable all morning
just because I had to come
here, then upset when I
actually got in the building."

He drew a flower and a fish
by the so-so point. "When I saw
the art and then the aquarium,
that helped me unwind a little."

"I'm delighted that those things
worked for you," said Dr. Grant.
"We try to provide enough
compensatory joys to make
our appointments endurable
or even appealing to people."

Shiv gave him a dubious look.
"I can't imagine ever wanting
an appointment," he said.

Except he had before,
with Dr. Bloch, but Shiv
wasn't mentioning that.

"Don't give up hope yet,"
Dr. Grant said with a smile.
"We have some great perks."

Shiv ignored that to scribble
a jagged line. "Now that I'm in
the middle of things, I'm all --"
He bounced a hand in the air.
"-- like a yo-yo, you know?"

"Your feelings are going
up and down based on
our interactions now,"
said Dr. Grant. "That
sounds unpleasant."

"It's exhausting,"
Shiv said. "I'll go
home and flop later."

"Then let's see if we can
improve that," said Dr. Grant.
"Are you at all familiar with
deep breathing techniques?"

"Yeah, a little," Shiv said. Rosie
had been really into that stuff, and
Shiv had picked it up from him.
"Sometimes it can help."

"Shake out your body and
relax as much as you can,"
Dr. Grant coached. "Breathe in,
then blow it back out. Inhale,
hold for a moment, exhale.
Slow, deep breaths help
your body feel calmer."

Shiv followed along and
felt his muscles relax a bit.

Dr. Grant smoothed a hand
through the air in time with
his instructions, and Shiv could
almost feel the skin pressure.

He had a nice mellow voice,
too, warmer and deeper than
Dr. Bloch who sometimes
had to shout over people.

"You look better," Dr. Grant said.
"Are you feeling a little better?
What's your comfort level?"

"Somewhere between
so-so and okay," Shiv said.
"Maybe call it almost okay?"

"I can work with that,"
said Dr. Grant. "Are you
ready for the health check?"

"I'm not about to jump out of
my own skin anymore, so that's
probably as good as it's going
to get," Shiv said. "Go ahead."

Dr. Grant was slow and steady
as he worked, reminding Shiv
more of Dr. G than Dr. Bloch.

His hands were warm and
he kept up a quiet patter
explaining every step.

That made it easier for
Shiv to sit still, more or less,
and not completely freak out
over someone touching him.

"Well, your pulse is higher
than it should be, but I'm
chalking that up to stress,"
Dr. Grant declared.

"No shit," said Shiv.

"I would like to listen to
your chest," said Dr. Grant.
"Over your shirt, or under?"

"Over it!" Shiv said,
clutching at the hem.

"Okay, over it is,"
Dr. Grant agreed.

The stethoscope was
a different style than Shiv
had seen before, and he
couldn't resist sneaking
his superpower over it.

"May I have this back,
please?" said Dr. Grant.
"You can look at it later."

"Uh, sorry," Shiv said,
dropping it like a hot rock.

As soon as Dr. Grant finished,
he offered it to Shiv. "You can
look now, just don't change
anything. It's sensitive."

Hesitantly Shiv traced
the air just above it, feeling
the delicate curves of metal,
so thin and so flexible.

"Thanks," he said,
leaning back again.

"You're welcome,"
said Dr. Grant. "If you
want to take a closer look
at anything, just ask me.
Most of the things in here
are safe enough for that."

Shiv blinked. Even Dr. Bloch
had never made that offer,
just let him see a few things.
Most of what Dr. Bloch had
given Shiv were toys.

"That's um ... I'm not
a patcher," Shiv said.
"I just, things near me,
and being in here ..."

He remember the flash
of a scalpel coming at him
and the panicky desperation
that had wrenched his ability
into sudden manifestation.

"Are you all right?" said Dr. Grant.
"You look like you're getting edgy."

"Yeah well, my head's full of
fucked-up shit," said Shiv.

"That's what I'm here for,"
said Dr. Grant. "I'm fluent
in trauma-informed care, so
I know how that works and
won't hold it against you."

Shiv peeled his tongue
away from the inside of
his dry mouth. "Thanks."

"Do you feel up to answering
basic questions?" said Dr. Grant.
"You can tap out any time."

"I suck at questions,"
Shiv reminded him.

"That's information too,"
said Dr. Grant. "Yes or no?"

"Yes, fine, just don't blame me
if we don't get very far," Shiv said.

"In the past week, have you had
any trouble or needed help with
everyday activities like dressing,
cooking, or cleaning?" said Dr. Grant.

"I set the fuckin' kitchen on fire,"
Shiv groaned, and buried
his face in his hands.

"Oh dear," Dr. Grant said,
sounding concerned. "How
did that happen? Were you hurt?"

"Didn't know what the fuck I was
doing, is all. Cook showed me
how to do it right, and I got a cert
for the fire extinguisher," Shiv said.
He turned his hands over. "Yeah,
I got burned, but you can't hardly
see the marks from it anymore."

"May I take a look?" Dr. Grant asked.
"It probably doesn't need attention,
but I'm interested in your healing rate."

Shiv showed his hands, then flipped them.
"I heal good," he said. "There were lots
of tiny blisters, but only the one oozy line.
The spots are gone and the line dried out.
Now it's just that pink streak there."

"That's quite good," Dr. Grant said,
making a note on his computer.
"Would you say that your health is
good, average, or bad overall?"

"It's better than it was," Shiv said.
"Dr. Bloch helped me figure out
a bunch of stuff. I dunno how
it compares to normal people."

"Tch. Normal is just a setting
on the dryer," said Dr. Grant.

Shiv laughed. "Yeah, yeah."

"Mostly I just need to know if
there are things bothering
you that you want me to fix,"
said Dr. Grant. "I'll do my best."

"Nah, it's just that Dr. Bloch
wanted me to have someone
here in case anything went
wrong," Shiv said. "I'm fine."

Well, he wasn't ever fine,
but he was close enough
to fake it, so that would do.

"What about your diet?
Are you --" Dr. Grant said.

"I'm not changing my diet!"
Shiv yelped. "Dr. Bloch set it up
so I'm not hungry and it works.
Get your Sh!t Together."

"I've heard about that
from him, and I've been
very eager to talk with
a user," said Dr. Grant.
"How is it working for you?"

"It's great," said Shiv. "It's
better food than I got before.
Fruit's way better when it don't
come out of a can, and it's easier
to keep my temper. I can -- here --"
He dug in his pocket and pulled
out his phone. "It's on this."

There were lists of foods
sorted by categories, with
suggestions on how much
of which to eat every day.

Shiv didn't follow it exactly,
but he kept pretty close to it,
because he liked the results.

"Fascinating," said Dr. Grant.
"I can't wait until he publishes
the results from this study."

Shiv shook his head. "It's not
a study yet, it's just a program.
He wanted to make it available
to everyone, so there's no --
I forget the other thing."

"No control group, so
no comparison of effects,"
Dr. Grant said. "Well,
hopefully someday."

Then he moved on
to other questions, and
Shiv answered them
as best he could.

It didn't take long
for him to wear out and
slap his hand on his knee.

"Okay, we're done with
the questions," Dr. Grant said.

"I fuckin' suck at this," Shiv said,
panting as if he'd been running.
His chest felt almost crushed.

"No, you made it up to eight,"
said Dr. Grant. "On a day
when you're already stressed,
that's quite good, given that
your average is ten to fifteen."

"Woop-de-fuckin' do," Shiv said.

"Get up and jump in place if
you'd like," said Dr. Grant.
"Sometimes the activity can
help the body to settle down.
I need to update your records."

Shiv popped out of the chair
and bounced on his toes.

He remembered jumping rope
with Mrs. Dr. G, and that did
help him unwind a little.

"Better," Shiv said as
he flopped in his chair.

Dr. Grant hummed a little
as he filled in the notes.

"I see that you've been
tracking levels of hormones,
nutrients, and other things,"
he said. "It seems to show
improvements, matching
changes in diet and habits.
Would you like to continue?"

It had started out as an excuse
for a quick poke to let off the stress,
because Dr. Bloch was willing
to indulge Shiv but only so far.

Then it had turned out to be
actually useful, and Shiv had
to admit that Dr. Bloch's rule about
real medical actions made sense.

Shiv thought about the offer,
prodding his energy to see how
it was doing. "Yeah," he said.

"Scoot over here, please,"
Dr. Grant said, tapping the table.

Shiv moved the chair to where
he could prop his arm on it. He
knew better than to move
during the good part.

Dr. Grant was calm
and confident, and Shiv
found himself leaning
back against the wall,
eyes drifting closed even
in an unfamiliar setting.

"Sharp touch," said Dr. Grant.

The needle slid in, feeling
different and interesting,
a long scratchy sting
dancing under the skin.

Shiv could get used to this.
Maybe he'd come back after all.

Firm pressure over the puncture,
a sliding twinge, and the pain
banked into a warm glow.

And then Dr. Grant let go.

"What the hell," Shiv snapped,
grabbing the swab to press it
back down. "You can't just
let go like that. Dammit,
now I'm gonna have a bruise
the size of my fuckin' thumb."

"I'm sorry," said Dr. Grant.
"You're actually right, but
most people won't tolerate
pressure on a fresh puncture
for more than a few seconds."

"I am not most people,"
Shiv snarled, glaring at him.
"You gotta hold on at least
a minute for it to seal up."

"I see that now," said Dr. Grant.
"Next time I'll take it into account.
Do you have problems with bruising?"

Shiv sighed. "Not as much as I used to,
the diet fixed some things, but I'm still
alabaster to bisque. It just shows."
He pulled up his pants leg and
pointed to a faint blue line.
"That was a cardboard box."

"Inconvenient," Dr. Grant agreed.
"Would you like something other than
a regular bandaid, then? I've got
synthetic skin, if you'd prefer."

"Yeah, bisque if you're got any,"
said Shiv. "That'll mostly hide it."

Dr. Grant fetched the supplies,
then said, "May I take a look?"

"Yeah, go ahead," Shiv said.

"Well, you were right about
that bruise," Dr. Grant said,
measuring it with his fingers.
"I really am sorry." He dabbed
first aid cream over the puncture,
then smoothed the patch on and
feathered the edges of it with
the sealant. "There you go."

Shiv wriggled his arm a bit.
"Yeah, that'll do," he said.

"Concrete apology?"
said Dr. Grant, offering
Shiv a small jar of squares.
"It's clinical-grade chocolate."

"I ain't that easy to bribe,"
Shiv grumbled, unconvinced.

"This isn't a bribe," said Dr. Grant.
"This is a concrete apology, which
I offer you after I make a mistake.
A bribe is what I offer when I want you
to do something you'd rather not do, but
you haven't told me to fuck right off yet."

That was different from Dr. G's definition
of bribe, Shiv kinda liked it. Interesting.

"Okay, that makes sense," Shiv said.

Dr. Grant rustled the jar. "I'm not joking
when I call it clinical-grade. Chocolate
boosts mood, the darker the better --
though I have milk if you hate dark."

"I like dark," Shiv muttered,
grabbing one and stuffing it
in his mouth. It was good.

"Are you up for talking about it
a little more?" said Dr. Grant.

Shiv tried to fume about that,
but he just couldn't seem
to get a good head of steam.

It was hard to stay mad with
a mouth full of chocolate.

"If I can tap out," Shiv said.
"Remember I suck at this."

"I'll remember your limits,"
said Dr. Grant. "Perhaps I
should've asked more earlier,
but I was trying to avoid prying."

"Probably a good call," said Shiv.
"I don't got a lotta room here."

"Dr. Bloch left me a few hints in
your records, but I get the feeling he
left out a lot more," said Dr. Grant.

"Yeah well, some of what we
talked about wasn't official,"
Shiv muttered, looking away.

"You don't want to share
unofficial stuff, I get it, but that
has drawbacks," Dr. Grant replied.
"Do you want to tell me anything else
now? Preferably before something
bites us in the ass again?"

Shiv opened his mouth,
chewed on the words, then
swallowed them without a sound.

"Can't," he managed a minute later.
"It's too hard. Risky." He swallowed
again, throat dry. "Maybe another time."

"Okay," said Dr. Grant. "How about
you think over what I might need
to know, and if something becomes
relevant, you can tell me then."

Shiv turned that over in his head,
looking for the trap. He couldn't
find one. "I can try," he said.

"That's all I ask," said Dr. Grant.
"I need to make some more notes.
Feel free to browse a magazine."

Shiv rolled his eyes, glancing at
the short stack on the table.

Then he looked again,
because what the hell?

These weren't the junk he'd
seen in most waiting rooms.

The top one, Comfort Food,
showed a pot pie on the cover,
delicious steam rising from it.

Underneath it was Relaaax,
which Shiv could use but
probably didn't have time for.

Anthracite looked like science --
meh -- but under that there was
Edible Health with vivid pictures
of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Curious, Shiv flipped to
an article on exotic fruits
and quickly got lost in that.

A tapping sound made him
jerk and almost drop it.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean
to startle you," said Dr. Grant.
"Do you like reading about food?
I have healthy recipe handouts."

"I can't cook," Shiv said, shaking
his head. Well, he could count
the things he know how to make
and still have fingers left over.

He was still tempted to stuff
that magazine under his shirt, but
Dr. Grant was looking right at him.

"How about something simpler,
like food guides?" Dr. Grant said.
"You ought to get something
for your hard work today."

"I uh, have a goodie box
coming from Dr. Bloch,"
Shiv admitted. "Good stuff."

"I'm happy to hear that,"
Dr. Grant said, putting a stack
of things on the table. "Do you
prefer text, pictures, or both?"

"Pictures, but I can read a little,"
Shiv said. "I just mostly don't."

"Let's see, I have a general guide
to healthy foods, a Nebraska guide,
and high-nutrient eco-friendly foods,"
Dr. Grant said, handing them over.

Shiv looked at them. Some had
more words than others, but they
all had good pictures. "Okay, yeah."

"This one covers whole grains,
but you could use that to choose
baked goods," said Dr. Grant.

"I'll take it," Shiv said, curious.

"Last one that isn't all recipes,
a guide to healthy nuts and
seeds," Dr. Grant said.

"Gimme that," said Shiv.
You could dump together
nuts and seeds for granola,
which made an easy snack.

The handouts added up
to a nice little pile of loot.

"Dr. Bloch mentioned that
you used to work as an eater,"
said Dr. Grant. "Could I possibly
interest you in continuing that?"

"You want me to do it here?"
Shiv squawked. "But it's -- it's --"

"Not the nicest neighborhood in
Omaha, so some of our clients
haven't had much exposure to
healthy food," said Dr. Grant.
"We try to fix that when we can."

"Yeah, I get it," said Shiv. "Most
of what I got growing up came
out of a can, a box, or the freezer."

Dr. Grant grimaced. "Those
are not ideal foods," he said.

Shiv shrugged. "Better'n
no food at all," he said.

"I can't argue with that one,"
said Dr. Grant. "So, would
you consider working here
as an eater now and then?"

"I ... don't know," Shiv said.
"Everything's kind of up in
the air right now." He was
supposed to stay out of trouble,
though, and this would be that.
"Maybe let me think about it?"

"Of course," said Dr. Grant.
"Take your time. I usually
offer handouts on health news
too. Does that appeal to you?"

"I dunno, probably not," Shiv said.
"Do you have anything interesting?"

Dr. Grant shuffled through a stack
of brochures. "Weight management,
you don't need that. Grocery budgeting?"

"Fuck no," Shiv said, leaning away.

"Redheads, nursing mothers, no,"
said Dr. Grant. "Malaria resistance
and Super-Immunity, probably not --"

"Wait, what?" Shiv said, leaning forward.
"I'm a supervillain, why not that one?"

"It's about a connection between
the gene for malaria resistance and
sickle-cell anemia, which comes out
of Africa, and apparently that is
a precursor for Super-Immunity,"
said Dr. Grant. "You're welcome
to it, but it doesn't seem relevant."

Shiv wasn't about to tell him
that Super-Immunity might be
relevant, but there were other ways.

"Half the people I work with are black,"
Shiv said. "Might be relevant to them."

"Then by all means, take the literature,"
said Dr. Grant. "Text or pictures?"

Shiv fidgeted. "Could I maybe ...
get one of each? Different folks
like different things," he said.

"Sure," Dr. Grant said,
handing him the brochures.

Shiv peeked inside, and yeah,
the same gene that could kill people
could also chain up to superpowers.
Bodies were so freakin' strange.

"Thanks," he said, tucking them
between his food handouts.

Then Dr. Grant's watch
chimed. "Okay, we're
done with the main goals
for today," he said. "This is
a flex appointment, so we
can stop here if you wish."

"Let's quit while we're ahead,"
Shiv said. "Don't push our luck."

"Agreed," said Dr. Grant, then
turned his tablet computer
toward Shiv. "Would you
like to mark satisfaction?"

"Yeah, but I can't decide
which one to pick," Shiv said,
hovering between the neutral
and slightly happy faces.

"May I suggest a tie-breaker,
then?" said Dr. Grant.

"Hit me," said Shiv.

"Would you like to see
me again?" said Dr. Grant.

"Fuck no," Shiv said. "I
hate going to appointments."

"Ah," said Dr. Grant. "Let me
clarify that: would you rather
come back to me when needful,
or start over with someone else?"

"You," Shiv said instantly, then,
"Oh. I didn't think of it like that."

"If I did well enough overall that
you're willing to come back, then
consider it positive," said Dr. Grant.

"Yeah, that works," Shiv said,
tapping the slightly happy face.
He handed the tablet back.

"Thank you for coming today,"
Dr. Grant said, offering his hand.

"It's been bearable," Shiv said,
and shook on it. The pressure
was warm and pleasant.

"With business out of the way,
would like to get lunch?"
Dr. Grant asked him.

"Wait, what?" Shiv said.

"This was my last appointment
of the morning," Dr. Grant said,
flicking a card at him. "I think
you have more than earned
a free lunch, though you're
not obligated to sit with me."

Shiv looked down at the card,
which did indeed promise
a free meal in the café.

"Why would you want
to eat with me?" Shiv said,
feeling completely baffled.

"You're interesting and we
could talk about the food,"
said Dr. Grant. "I'm not after
anything romantic, if you
were worrying about that."

"Oh. Good." Shiv thought
about the offer. "I guess we
could get lunch together, I was
too nervous to eat breakfast."

"Great, then put your stuff in here
and let's go," said Dr. Grant. He
held out a tote bag printed with
fresh fruits and vegetables and
the quote, Eat the Rainbow.

Shiv shoveled everything into
the bag and put it on his shoulder.
"I'm all ready," he said, falling
into step behind Dr. Grant.

The Memorial Café smelled
as delicious as it had earlier.

Dr. Grant got vegetable curry,
a blob of lumpy green slop.

Shiv was immediately tempted
by the lemon pepper cod, but you
could also build your own wrap.

"If you're having trouble deciding,
I know all the food," said Dr. Grant.

"Can I get two mains instead of
a main and a side?" Shiv asked.

"Yes, the food is free choice,"
the server assured him.

"I want the cod, but I don't
need two meats," Shiv said.
"What's the meat alternative
for building your own wrap?"

"Mushroom meat alternative,"
the server said. "Try a taste?"

"Yeah," Shiv said, and it was ...
amazing, hot and chewy and
surprisingly meat-like. "Wow.
I'll take it. How does this work?"

"I put the hot filling in a tortilla,
then you top it with whatever you
want from the cold salad bar,"
the server said, dishing it up.

Shiv took his tray to the bar
and loaded up the wrap with
cheese, bean sprouts, onions,
and tomatoes. He'd learned
that while he still disliked
leaves, he liked things that
were juicy and crunchy.

They sat down together
and then started eating.

Shiv alternated between
bites of lemon pepper cod and
delicious mushroomy goodness.

The green curry looked like puke,
but Shiv didn't say so. Dr. Grant
seemed to like it, and Shiv didn't
want to piss him off when he
had been so generous today.

"What do you think of the food?"
Dr. Grant asked, waving a hand.

Shiv remembered to swallow
before answering. "It's good.
I can't believe it's in a hospital."

"Well, the whole point is to show
people that a healthy diet can be
delicious and filling," said Dr. Grant.

Shiv laughed. "Dude, they have
chili dogs on the menu here."

"The menu usually has a mix of
comfort foods and lighter fare,"
Dr. Grant explained. "There are
two programs, Healthy Choices
and Food For Life. We're eating
all three of the items marked
for those on today's menu."

"Okay, it's just ... different,"
Shiv said. "I'll get used to it."

"I hope so," said Dr. Grant.
"The Memorial Café actually
has its own organic farm, run by
a collective of mostly black farmers
outside the city limits. They believe
healthy food makes for healthy people,
cheering up patients and visitors alike."

"Better'n the last organic garden
I had to eat out of," Shiv said,
savoring his mushroom wrap.

"Good," said Dr. Grant. "For staff,
this means that we don't have
to eat unhealthy junk at work."

"I hear you," Shiv said fervently.
"Bad eats at work really suck."

He'd worked at places where you
had to eat out of vending machines,
and the Hammerheads didn't even
do that -- you had to feed yourself.

Blues Moon was way better.
Cook always had a pot on, so you
could get chili or beans and rice or
whatever at any time, and if you
showed up in a slow hour, he'd
scramble eggs or something
if you asked him nice enough.

"It's worse in health care than
in other places," Dr. Grant said.
When hospitals serve unhealthy food,
that does not help patients recover or
staff and guests stay healthy. It can
actually make people sicker, which
constitutes abuse and malpractice."

"Doesn't stop people from serving
slop and then bitching about how
we don't eat right," Shiv grumbled.

"Exactly!" said Dr. Grant. "Worse,
it's the most literal possible case of
'do as I say, not as I do,' undermining
public health efforts to teach people
about healthy eating habits."

"Yeah, yeah," Shiv said
as he stabbed the air with
the tail end of his wrap.
"People are always doing
that shit, different rules for
them than the rest of us,
and it fuckin' sucks."

"That's a double standard,
and it is fundamentally unjust,"
said Dr. Grant. "You're right
to resent and distrust that."

Shiv still wasn't used to people
telling him that sometimes it
was right to distrust others.

It felt damn good, though.

"I wish more people done it
like you do," Shiv said wistfully.

"So do I," Dr. Grant replied.
"Freeman Family Hospital
capitalizes on the opportunity
to demonstrate healthy dishes and
portions, from snacks to entrees."

"Does it work?" Shiv wondered.

"It does," said Dr. Grant. "Our studies
show that this helps patients heal faster,
everyone else stay healthy, and it also
facilitates healthy choices elsewhere."

"Huh," Shiv said. "It doesn't
taste like health food crap."

The 'organic salad' in prison
was like lawnmower clippings.

"It's not supposed to,"
said Dr. Grant. "It's
supposed to be enticing.
That way, more doctors are
willing to eat here, which
sets a good example."

Shiv chuckled. "Yeah,
I knew that you must have
something up your sleeve.

"Nothing up my sleeve but
skin," said Dr. Grant. "I eat
here more days than not,
sometimes by myself,
other times with a friend."

Shiv didn't really have
friends, but Dr. Grant
didn't need to know that.

Besides, the food was good.

It was warm and fresh and
filling, and Shiv finally felt like
his skin was the right size and
nothing was trying to squeeze
him out of it like a grape.

"Thanks for inviting me,"
he said. "This was
a really good idea."

"And that makes
my job validation for
the day," said Dr. Grant.

* * *

Notes:

This poem is long, so its character, setting, and content notes will appear separately.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, safety, weblit, writing
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