“I think you should go and see Dr. McCloud,” said Dr. Ingraham, the Pediatrics Chief Resident at Toronto General Hospital where I was doing my residency program. “There have been some complaints about you during the last couple of weeks. You are one of our most promising doctors and I’d hate to see your future with us affected in any way. I’m sure there is a reason for this deterioration in your performance and I’m positive that Dr. McCloud can help you. He’s a good psychiatrist and I understand that you and him are sort of friends already. This is not an official request but I strongly suggest you do so. Take a few days off if you want so you can come back energized and on top of your game, ok?” she said. I always thought of Dr. Ingraham as a big sister to me and I knew she was looking out for me so I thanked her and promised her I will.
The next day I was at Bryan’s office. “You think I can smoke a cigarette in here?” I asked him as I was sipping my coffee. “You know it’s prohibited to smoke inside the hospital. Not to mention you’re a doctor and out of all people, you shouldn’t smoke,” he said. “Well, my friend, there are many things that I shouldn’t do but that doesn’t stop me. Oh yeah, what I was telling you earlier. Take smoking for an example. I used to despise it alongside those who smoked. I don’t know how I ended up being one. If you asked me a few years ago, I would tell you that I don’t imagine myself ever smoking. Hell, I would tell you I don’t imagine myself ever talking to a shrink but here I am. I guess we can never really tell the future, can we? I used to think I had the entire future figured out. I was going to be happily married to the girl of my dreams, maybe entertaining the possibility of having a baby and on my way to becoming a successful surgeon. But look at me, a divorced, lonely, bitter man who blames the world for the choices it has made for him.”
Bryan was one of the few friends I have gained there. He helped me with a jammed vending machine in the hallway once and somehow we became friends albeit the age difference. All he knew about Layla prior to our therapy sessions was that she is my ex-wife. He had asked me where is the Mrs. and what does she do when he noticed the engagement ring in my finger. He sensed from my answer that it was a sore topic for me and therefore he never pushed to know more. Over the course of many private sessions with him, I have told him most of the details regarding Layla and what had happened between us. The first thing we discussed, however, was the reason that led Dr. Ingraham to advice me to seek help.
A couple of weeks ago, I was talking online to my cousin Rima. She kept saying that she wanted to tell me something but did not know whether she should or not because it might upset me. I told her that I have heard it all and hardly anything really upset me anymore so she should just tell me. When I finally convinced her to tell me what it was, I wished I did not. She told me that Layla was getting married the next week.
My first instinct was to ask her to whom and when exactly and where but then I thought better not to. What was the point anyway? Wasn’t this what I had wished for Layla? Didn’t I want her to be happy? I prayed that this man is a good man who would compensate for the pain I have caused her. Rima asked me if I was all right and I lied to her telling her that I was. I said that I had work to do then I signed out.
It had been over two years since our divorce. It felt like eternity had passed but as if eternity was merely minutes. Layla and I seemed like a previous life on its own yet the events were so vivid in my mind as if I had lived them yesterday. The memories did not acknowledge the normal laws of time. They did not become less clear. They did not become harder to recall. On the contrary, the more time passed by, the more frequently bolts of memories attacked me and the finer they have become. I did not know if I should move on or not, or more accurately, if I could or not. Talking to another woman felt like betraying Layla but here she was getting ready to marry another man. I could not help feeling angry. How can she do that? How can she forget me so fast? I did not realize how hypocritical it was of me. I had no right to judge anything she did. I had forfeited that right by my own choice a long time ago.
I remembered I had a bottle of wine in my kitchen back from the first time I have invited some people from the hospital. Nicole, the pediatrics department’s secretary, had brought it over. I opened it and took a sip. It tasted like shit. Why on earth do people drink this horrible thing? I wondered. To escape, I thought. The next time, I took a larger sip and lied on the couch. I figured I would drink the entire bottle as long as it would prevent me from thinking about Layla at least for the night.
I woke up the next day with a severe headache and called in sick. In the following couple of weeks, I started drinking beer even though it tasted even worse than wine because I told myself I could not get drunk form beer easily. I also used up most of my sick leaves and on the days I went to work I could barely concentrate and my bad temper was even worse. Eventually, Dr. Ingraham asked me to meet her to discuss my current condition and told me to go see Bryan, Dr. McCloud.
“So what is your hunch, Dr? Is something wrong with my head?” I asked at the end of our first session, jokingly. “Not really. It’s more your heart. You’re still in love with your ex-wife,” he said. He advised me to ask someone out and go on a date. He told me getting involved with someone else might busy my mind off thinking about Layla and the past.
The next day, I asked Nicole out. She was funny and smart and I liked spending time with her, not to mention she had been flirting with me for some time before. Hence, we became an item for many months to follow. I guess I wanted a cure for my loneliness and Nicole provided just that. It was more of a companionship than a relationship to me but she took it more seriously than I did. Things were going well between us until she started nagging me about my engagement ring. “When are you going to take it off? Don’t you think it’s time you moved on?” she used to say every now and then. I kept telling her that I was not ready yet. Removing the ring meant leaving Layla behind for good and I did not intend to do that for anyone’s sake. We had an intense argument about it and she, basically, told me it is either her or the memory of my ex-wife and the ring. It was not much of a tough choice for me. I kept the ring and broke up with Nicole. The ring meant much more to me than anyone else.
I sought a cure for my knee’s condition. At the hospital where I worked, the Orthopedic Surgeon did not have an answer for me. He admitted that my constant knee pain baffled him and he was uncertain of what the cause might be. He referred me to another consultant in a different hospital telling me that this particular doctor specialized in knee injuries and maybe he could help me.
Two weeks later, I had an appointment with him. The hospital in which he practiced was a 30 minutes drive from where I lived. In the taxi, I was lost in my thoughts. I had high hopes and low expectations. When the nurse called my name, I entered his clinic and I said a small prayer that God grants this man the ability to fix my knee. He was a middle-aged man with nothing special about his appearance. We exchanged pleasantries then he took my full history. He examined me and reviewed my recent X-Rays and MRI. He ordered an X-Ray for my knee with a special view. “I think I have a theory regarding what’s causing this pain of yours. It’s not that clear in your X-Ray but I think you have Patellar Lateralization exacerbating your Retro-Patellar Chondromalacia but it will be evident only in arthroscopy. I have to operate on your knee and then I’ll be able to tell.” We talked some more and the thought of having yet another operation scared me. Going through that whole ordeal again was not something easy to accept. This time I would have to go through it alone since none of my family was here.
I told him I needed to think about it. I did not sleep that night. I just lied on my bed contemplating my options. What if this was the answer? Can I afford not to have this surgery? I did not plan to visit the doctor at the hospital where I worked and when he referred me to this one, I did not plan to see him either. Somehow, I found his number in my white coat and thought, what the hell, and I called him. So up until that moment, everything had been strangely facilitated. I prayed Estekhara and slept afterwards. In the morning, I called him and said that I will have the surgery. A week later, I was rolled into the OR.
I had taken two weeks off work and my brother Badr had flown in from Jeddah. He was going to miss college for a week and he had a vacation on the second. After the surgery, the doctor met me and told me that it was a success. He told me that running or carrying heavy things or any severe strain on my knee could still cause me pain especially that it had been gravely traumatized before but that at least I would be able to walk without a crutch and without pain. As I lied there on the hospital bed, for the first time in many years, I felt free. I thanked him and promised to stick to the new physiotherapy program they had planned for me. “Doctors make the worst patients,” he joked. “Oh no, not this one I assure you,” I said and we all laughed.
Exactly two months later, I was perfectly fine. I was able to complete my rounds and finish my shifts at the hospital without taking any painkillers of any kind. Everyone around me noticed how cheerful I had become. I also cut back on smoking. I had not quit completely but I was trying to. I was slowly turning back into the person that I once used to be and I had missed that person. Dr. Ingraham said, “If we knew this operation would change you in this way, we would have paid for it ourselves and made you do it a long time ago.”
I decided that I had to perform Umrah to give thanks to Allah for the gift he had given me. Now that I could walk, I should walk around Al-Ka’bah. My next vacation was coming soon and I had already booked a flight back to Jeddah. This would be the first time I return to Jeddah in three years.