As a doctor, I’m bound by doctor-patient privilege to not disclose the specifics of what I’m about to tell you. But as a human being, I feel compelled to share. This is, without a doubt, the most horrific story I've ever had the displeasure of being a part of.
It was 2009, and my schedule that day was light. I was just finishing up my lunch when I got a call from a friend and colleague who had his own practice in the same building as me. Sometimes we would send work each other’s way when we knew the other could use it. I was a bit elated at the prospect of him calling me because I had just been going over my books and stressing a bit.
“Are you busy right now? I’d like to send someone up to you,” he said.
“No, my afternoon is barren. What are the details?”
“It’s a walk-in. From the look of it, an eating disorder. Her mother is concerned.”
Eating disorder. Those can be unpleasant. I’d actually had a bulimic throw up in my office once when I stepped out momentarily to check my calendar. Still, I needed the work.
“Alright, send her up.”
I tried to tidy up my desk to make my office look more presentable and professional while I waited. Ten minutes ticked by and no patient showed up, so I stepped out to go looking for her. When I got to the hall, there was a small contingent of people standing around the elevator. They were talking amongst themselves.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“The elevator’s broke,” someone said.
Shit, I bet she’s on there, I thought.
“What floor is it stuck on?”
“The tenth and eleventh.”
Yeah, that would be about right. My colleague’s office was on the tenth, three floors down. I knew from experience that it could be anywhere up to an hour before they got the elevator working again. I hoped she wasn’t claustrophobic. Returning to my office, I called downstairs.
“What’s up?” my colleague asked after picking up.
“She’s stuck in the elevator.”
He laughed. “Really? Poor thing.”
“What’s her name?”
“Amelia.” he paused. “Amelia D-something.”
“Alright, thanks. If you got any impressions on her from your brief visit, maybe you can share them later, over drinks?”
“Don’t tell me. I want to form my own opinion first.”
True to form, an hour and ten minutes later, I heard a loud cheer from the hallway, indicating the elevator had started working again.
I should go make sure she’s alright, I thought to myself, and went out to join the throng of people standing around in the hallway.
There were a lot more people by then, and I couldn’t make my way to the elevator doors or even see them from where I was, but I could hear it when the elevator dinged indicating it was stopping on our floor and the rolling mechanical sound of the doors opening.
There was a loud gasp from the crowd of people, followed by a lot of jabbering.
“Holy shit!” someone said quite loudly.
People started hustling away from from the elevator, shoving past me. I struggled against the tide and made my way to where a number of people were standing around, staring into the elevator cab. As I approached, I could smell this stench... it was like stumbling into the apartment of a recluse who hadn’t come out or bathed for years. It rolled like a wave out of the elevator and cascaded over everyone in the hallway. A young man in a business suit who looked dressed for an interview was covering his mouth and nose with a handkerchief. I skirted around him to see into the elevator.
The woman in the elevator was not at all what I was expecting. Massively obese, she looked like she weighed somewhere around 500-600 lbs. Her face was so puffed up, her eyes were barely visible, just two dark dots above her cheeks. She had frizzed-out, brown hair that still had curlers in it. The notion that I was smelling a recluse seemed all the more plausible at the sight of her.
Her mouth was covered with what looked like greasy barbecue sauce. There was even some sort of gristle at the corners of her lips. There was more of it all over her hands and wiped down the front of her shirt. It looked like she had come straight from an all-you-can-eat rib buffet. Clenched tightly in one of her hands was a big, black trash bag that sagged full of something that seemed to slosh around inside it. The smell coming out of it was nauseating.
The woman stepped out of the elevator, her eyes and nose runny with tears and mucous. I stepped forward while everyone else backed away, horrified.
“Amelia?” I asked her.
She looked at me through her beady, little piggy eyes, her cheeks covered with that vile, red gunk and streaking with tears and opened her mouth. For about three seconds, I had the horrible notion that she was going to vomit an entire barbecue on me.
“I... I was hungry,” she stuttered with a thick, Southern accent.
The young man in the suit heaved involuntarily at the smell of her breath and then strode away, trying to maintain his demeanor.
“That’s okay,” I said, reaching out to help her. “Do you want to talk about it in my office?”
Seeing me reach out to her, she clenched her black trash bag tightly and hugged it to her chest. The contents of it made a sickening squish sound. I could taste my own lunch in the back of my throat.
“Is that, yours?” I asked. “I’m not going to take it.”
She started sobbing. This horrible, almost hob-like squeal of a sob. Honestly, I didn’t want to touch her. I wanted to go back into my office, lock the door and pretend I was glad my afternoon was completely empty. The smell wafting off her and off that bag of spoils was going to be permeating every crevice of my office for days, I just knew it. Still, this was a human being that had come seeking my help, and I was not about to turn her away.
“My office is right down the hall. Why don’t you come with me?” I started walking. In my head, I said, If she doesn’t come with me, fuck it. She can go back to her apartment that’s probably filled with roaches and feces and who knows what other ungodly things, and I’ll find someone else to help.
But she followed me, lumbering on legs that stretched the limits of the sweatpants she had on. I held the door open for her and she waddled in, kneading the contents of that trash bag in her thick sausage fingers, making it belch and splurch. She stopped and just stood there in the middle of my office.
“The elev-v-vator got st-stuck,” she mumbled.
“Yes, I’m sorry about that. I hope you were all right. Thank goodness you brought something to eat, yes?”
She started crying again, squeezing her trash bag and I was afraid it was going to explode and leave god knows what all over my office floor. She nodded as her face turned red and tears poured out of seemingly every pore of her head.
I went and got her a box of tissues and handed her a couple. She tried to take them while still holding onto the bag with both hands.
“Would you like me to hold that?” I offered, praying she’d say no.
She shook her head.
“What do you have in there?” I finally decided to ask.
She huffed and snorted, trying to inhale all the fluid back into her face. Using one of the tissues, she mopped her eyes and mouth, getting blotchy red smears all over the place.
“L-l-left... leftovers...” she stuttered, then her chest started heaving and she threw her head back and started bawling again. Her face was like a fountain. She was so utterly miserable, and I really started to feel bad for her.
“Look,” I said, “getting stuck in that elevator was obviously pretty traumatic.”
Her wailing hit a crescendo.
“So why don’t we postpone things until you’ve calmed down a bit.”
She struggled through her sobbing, “Y-you wanna m-m-meet with me?”
“Well, yes... but not today. Why don’t you go home and try to relax. I don’t think you’re in the right frame of mind right now to talk. But I want to help you. So let’s schedule an appointment for later this week. How does that sound?”
I walked back to my desk and got out one of my cards. Her mouth was quivering and she looked ready to collapse into a pile of screaming phlegm, but she was calming down a bit, just nodding more than anything, and she took my card with the same sticky fingers holding several drippy tissues.
“Th-thank you.” she said quietly. I couldn’t read her face at all. Her features were so red and swollen and wet that she seemed almost blank and expressionless.
“Do you want me to escort you down to the lobby?” I asked, “In case something happens with the elevator again? It should be alright, but I don’t want you to be nervous.”
She shook her head. “That don’t s-seem like a g-g-good idea.”
And with that, she turned around and waddled out of my office, slowly, sobbing slightly every now and then. With her went that sloshy, black trashbag and with them both went that putrid aroma of filth and squalor. I literally breathed a sigh of relief as I heard the door click shut.
She never called me back.
It was a week later that I finally got around to having drinks with my colleague from downstairs. We were relaxing, having a couple beers, and I suddenly remembered her.
“Oh, thanks by the way.” I said.
“Amelia. Eating disorder? Last week you sent her up to me, remember?”
“Oh, right.” he sipped his beer. “The one who got stuck in the elevator. How did that go?”
“She was a wreck.” I said. “Sobbing and practically hysterical. I talked her into rescheduling, but she hasn’t called me to make an appointment.”
“Did you talk to her mother?”
“No, I didn’t get any information from her. I gave her my card.”
“What did you think?” he asked.
“Classic food dependency.” I said. “Definitely a binge eater. Her face was just all--”
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