“Sangre es sangre,” “blood is blood”—that’s what my mama always says when speaking about family bonds. For the longest time, I thought that when she said that she meant that the blood that runs through my veins and that of any one of my family members automatically connects us beyond anything. And on the rare occasion that I feel like I have built a bond with someone that isn’t part of my family, but I still feel the need to call them “family,” my mama is always the first to remind me that “they are not your blood,” “no son tu sangre.” She always says it with such blatant confidence too. As if there is no other option. She is obviously always right.
Mostly, whenever she mentioned that sangre es sangre, I didn’t agree with her. I didn’t feel like a blood bond automatically connected two people. This was probably because I had family members I had never met, making it pretty obvious to me that our connection was slim to none. For me, a family bond came from love, not blood. At least then it did.
Before I could even realize it, Dr. Gray and his team had become like a second family to me. It had been a year and a half of treatment and it felt like they were there to guide me, protect me, and help me. Anything I needed, they were there. If I needed to talk about life, I had Tracy. If I wanted to talk about Beau and how adorable he was, they would listen. If I was in pain, Dr. Gray would fix it. It was the fact that they were always there for me which allowed me to easily open my heart to them. I can’t tell you how much they all meant to me.
But, the reality was that I had lost complete sight of what was actually going on. The most important thing for me was to continue seeing Dr. Gray, no matter what: I believed that he had the power to cure me and I wasn’t about to let that go. In retrospect, it was the love and bond that I had for Dr. Gray and the team that made it so that I didn’t consider any other option. They were my family, and if I went to a different doctor I would lose them. I wa a slave to this feeling; I didn’t even consider myself in the process.
Until, one day, during a conversation with my cousin Lisa when she asked me if I had seen another doctor, it was like something clicked in my head and I remembered that long ago, back in the beginning, Dr. Gray told me that there was a doctor out there that did surgery on scoliosis patients.
“Maybe there is a doctor out there that can tie you up to a machine that will stretch out your spine. It will probably hurt a bunch but at least you will look like everyone else,” she said, totally coming up with a creative solution out of nowhere.
“You know ,there is a doctor who does surgery. I just have no idea what kind of doctor that is,” I said as we stood in line to buy freshly squeezed lemonade from a kiosk in the Florida Mall.
As we made our way closer to the counter she looked straight in my eyes, in the way you only look at a person if you really want them to hear you, and said, “You should really ask your doctor for more information. I think your spine is getting worse.”
There are few moments in my life that I remember as clear as this moment. I felt like time stopped and I was moving in slow motion. I wanted the earth to swallow me whole. I was in complete disbelief. I couldn’t believe that she could tell that I was getting worse. I couldn’t understand how that was even possible. It hurt more than anything to hear that she thought my curves were progressing.
We were next in line. As the kid behind the counter handed me my lemonade, I couldn’t react. I stood there motionless, unable to speak or move. “Miss, your lemonade. Miss, Hello,” he was practically yelling at me as he stretched far over the counter to hand me my drink. I stared at him, trying desperately to hold back my tears, and handed him some cash. I took a giant sip and allowed the cold citrus drink to revive me. Lisa looked at me with concern in her eyes. Then she grabbed my hand and we walked away. She never said anything again and we left it at that.
Looking back on that day, I am so thankful that she said something to me. It was the hardest thing to hear. I was devastated. I cried myself to sleep that night. I was afraid of getting worse and I felt so unprepared to handle the journey ahead. But, it was because of her words that I decided that during my next appointment, I would ask Dr. Gray about other options.
My next appointment was in early March— it was the time of year that I always looked forward to; Spring was around the corner and it was just hot enough that people began to flock to the beach. Dr. Gray’s office had not changed at all in the time I had been going to see him. It was still dull and gray with antiquated equipment and wallpaper that was slightly discolored from the direct sunlight and slightly coming off the wall in certain corners. I had been going there so frequently that most of the time, I felt right at home. I never signed in when I arrived, like any of the other patients, and I didn’t even wait for them to call me back into a room. I was always assigned the same room, so I would walk in, give everyone a hug, and then make my way to my assigned exam room where Dr. Gray would eventually meet me. That day was a special day. That was the day I decided to question everything.
While I waited for Dr. Gray to come into the exam room, I thought about what I was going to say to him. I had come determined to get answers. I needed him to give them to me. So what began as a run-of-the-mill, ill-informed (by me) conversation about different types of doctors and treatments available for scoliosis patients slowly segued into explaining why I wanted to see a different doctor in the first place, and finally, to Dr. Gray blatantly denying me the right to know what type of doctor did surgery on scoliosis patients.
“I am not going to tell you,” he said as he stood in front of me with his arms crossed and his legs slightly spread apart.
Now, I am definitely one of those people who sometimes utters, “Ugh?” without even thinking to buy my mind time to process the words my ears just took in.
This was not one of those times.
I realized right away what he had just said, and I couldn’t control the reaction my body was having. It was like my entire body wanted to explode. I was so angry. I could feel the blood begin to rush to my face. My hands trembled with anger. My lips shook in utter shock. I couldn’t believe that he would refuse to help me. I couldn’t understand how someone who I thought of as family was denying me the right to get well.
As devastated as I was, I realized that this was the last straw. I had had enough. I was ready to take control of my life. This was the moment that chaos erupted and all I could think of doing was leaving and never coming back.
And that is exactly what I did. Swiftly, I grabbed my pink glittery purse that I had recently purchased at Claire’s and I left his office, slamming the door behind me. I didn’t say bye. I didn’t explain. I just left. I’m still surprised by how quickly I made up my mind and took action. I walked out on my second family.
It was at the moment that he refused to help me, to protect me, that I realized that my mama was right: “No son mi sangre,” “they are not my blood.” I realized then that what she really meant was not that there would be an automatic bond just because you share a bloodline, instead she meant that family will always be there for you, even regardless of a connection, even if you don’t know them. So at that moment I understood what my mama was talking about. I understood that these people were not family. I was just another patient. I was just another paycheck.
That was the last time I saw Dr. Gray before having my much-needed surgery. I want to tell you that I was sad about walking out just like that, but I would be lying. I wasn’t sad. I left so incredibly determined to do something about my health that I never had a chance to be upset or sad about how I was treated. I can tell you that I did feel like I was missing some closure.
Years later, I went back to get the closure I needed, and of course, to shove it in his face that I was doing fabulously well, and that was officially the last time I saw him. I drove by recently on my way to Downtown Orlando and noticed that his clinic had closed down. I guess what they say is true: what goes around comes around.
I promise to tell you all about that incident later on in the story. For now, what’s important is that once I left Dr. Gray’s office, I was liberated—free from the chains he had placed on me. Free from my own debilitating feeling. I decided at that moment to move forward. To look for the doctor I needed. To endlessly search until I found someone who could help me. I didn’t care who thought I was crazy. It didn’t matter how long it would take or what additional obstacles were in my way. I was going to find someone who could help me no matter what.