by Izaac Bacik
Unlike Mr. Popper, Dr. Popper does not have any penguins. Dr. George Popper, Ph.D., has no penguins- but he does have fish. There’s a fish tank in an office I’ve never been in that I’ve only been able to see when someone opens the door, it appears to be a filtered tank, twenty gallons minimum, that’s home to an assortment of tetras and fancy guppies. Then there’s a betta at the receptionist’s desk. The receptionist is a lovely woman, surrounded by children of all ages crawling and jumping around the office, slumping out of chairs and onto the floor, their exasperated parents reading magazines and pretending nothing is happening or grabbing their children by the backs of their shirts and whispering loudly “we are in a doctor’s office!” The receptionist, who is un-named simply because I forgot her name, hands out pens, and smiles and nods at the parents putting children back in chairs, and flips through dozens of folders all at once like the folders are a giant deck of cards and she’s dealing hands at a casino. However lovely and multi-talented this woman is though- she’s an accomplice in animal abuse.
The betta is a medium sized blue crowntail and I’m sure to everyone else he looks healthy and happy but the scales around his gills are pale with ammonia burns. This is because his house is one meant for flowers, not fish. This poor little fish is in a half gallon bowl with no heater, no filter, and nothing to hide behind but a stubby hard plastic plant. I want to ask to take him home. My crusade to save this particular fish is interrupted by my mother, who brought me to see Dr. Popper today. She’s urging me to take paperwork from the receptionist so I do. My mother is an expert at talking. She will talk to anyone at any time and completely overshare. She’s talking to the receptionist now about how absolutely fascinating it is that it’s so hard to find a doctor who will see autistic adults. This is not fascinating to me. People seem to forget that autistic children, like all children, become adults and are still autistic. If autistic children became suddenly non-autistic at say, eighteen, I would not need accommodations at school, so I wouldn’t need paperwork for the office of accessibility, so I wouldn’t need an official diagnosis, so I would not be here today at Dr. Popper’s House of Fish Horror. Also, there is simply more money to be made off the parents of autistic children than autistic adults. And everyone wants to save the children.
The receptionist moves on to the next client through the door and my mother and I move past the desk and into the waiting room. The waiting room is a smaller rectangular room, certainly no bigger than a master bedroom, and to fit more chairs into it the office staff have arranged the chairs in rows jutting out from the walls, almost like a giant zipper, as opposed to having the chairs against the wall. There is a magazine rack, and coloring books, and crayons scattered across the floor amongst the ever-moving children. I sit in the very first tooth of the zipper and my mother sits next to me. I open the packet of paperwork I’ve been handed and skim the first page. The questions are mostly simple. “Mom, was my birth normal?”
“That’s one of the questions. Do I have any pancreas or liver problems?”
“No. But you do take medications that are processed through your liver.”
“Oh. Okay. Have I ever broken a bone?”
“No! You’d remember if you had broken a bone!”
“Maybe not, maybe I broke one before my formative years.”
“You have never broken a bone.”
“Okay. When did you first notice signs that I may not be developing at a normal rate?”
“Isn’t this paperwork for you?”
“Well in theory, yes, but a lot of these questions seem more geared towards you—I can’t answer questions about how someone else perceived my development.”
“Okay, let me see the pen.” My mother takes the pen to answer some of the questions and I look around some more. The chairs are a deep red and the walls are a pale yellow and the carpet is a mix of blue and green fibers. I really hate how doctor’s offices have a knack for mixing primary colors in the most unpleasant manner possible. I rock the chair back and then forward again. Behind me, a mother who was trying to keep her young daughter from doing the same exact thing gives up—if I’m doing it, she might as well do it. Within five minutes, four of us are rocking our chairs back and then forwards again. The tension in the air smooths. “Izaac, stop that, finish answering the questions.” My mother has handed back the paperwork.
Have you ever been hospitalized? Yes. How long? For physical or mental reasons? Have you ever been in trouble at school? No. Have you ever been bullied at school? Yes. Have you ever felt out of place? Who wouldn’t answer yes to that question?
“You have to think of the context behind each question” My mother is reading over my shoulder.
“There really shouldn’t be any hidden context; these are yes or no questions on medical paperwork.”
“That last question wasn’t asking about everybody, just you.” I kept writing, there was only one question left between me and the interview process- or more likely waiting some more- and this one had me very excited. The final question was, “Do you have any additional comments?”
Yes! I excitedly wrote down “Betta fish need a minimum of a full gallon of filtered and heated water, and you should replace your plastic plant with a larger silk one. Your fish will be happier and live longer.” I added a smiling fish drawing at the end.