A Gift in Disguise Ch. 01byTalespin©
"I'm sorry, Mr. Connors, but I'm afraid there's little more we can do to diagnose and treat your condition."
Though I was not completely surprised to hear them, Dr. Bennefield's words still left me stunned.
I sat briefly and absorbed his conclusion. I'd heard it before from other doctors. Then I just nodded, mumbled insincere thanks, arose from my chair, and walked out of his inner office, past his office manager, and to my car. The drive back to my apartment was a blur. For a 23-year-old man in apparently good health, his words sounded like a death sentence.
Since reaching puberty I'd had no difficulty becoming sexually aroused, achieving both erection and orgasm during masturbation and even when being masturbated by a woman. However, whenever I tried to penetrate a woman, something went wrong and I went limp. It was humiliating, degrading, discouraging. I felt powerless, truly impotent.
It wasn't until my senior year in college during an annual physical exam that I had the courage to talk with my doctor about my problem. He was sympathetic and referred me first to one urologist, who sent me to a second when the first could not help. They all concluded the underlying cause was psychological, so the next logical step was to seek help from psychologists. Well, actually from two. They took months and insurance money before giving up.
At the suggestion of my own doctor, I visited Dr. Bennefield, a psychiatrist. Though equally sympathetic, he could only conclude that perhaps my problem would "eventually work itself out." It took him three months to conclude that. Thank goodness for health insurance.
Arriving home after my final appointment with the psychiatrist, I went to bed and slept for twelve hours. The phone ringing the next morning awakened me.
"H'lo," I mumbled into the handset.
"Mr. Connors?" the woman's voice at the other end inquired.
"Yeah," I said still partially asleep and feeling a headache coming on.
"This is Marcia Greenberg, Dr. Bennefield's office manager."
"Hello, Ms. Greenberg," I replied, trying to at least be civil if not enthusiastic.
"Would it be possible for you to come by Dr. Bennefield's office today at 10 a.m.? I have your records prepared for you to pick up."
I didn't recall asking Dr. Bennefield's secretary for copies of my records before leaving his office. Then again, my mind wasn't exactly hitting on all its cylinders when my appointment ended.
"Um, sure," I answered.
"Fine, Mr. Connors. Please be here promptly at ten and ask the receptionist for me personally." She hung up before I could reply.
My morning shower helped me to feel only slightly better than I had the day before. It did help clear my mind, though.
Promptly at 10 a.m. I approached the receptionist in Dr. Bennefield's office and announced my appointment with Ms. Greenberg. Marcia Greenberg appeared a moment after the receptionist contacted her on the intercom.
"Please come this way, Mr. Connors," she invited as she led me into an office. Once we were inside she closed the door.
"Mr. Connors, Dr. Bennefield does not know you are here. Nor does he know I am giving you a copy of your records. I would very much appreciate it if you did not discuss our visit with him."
It was an unusual request, but before I could respond, she continued.
"Dr. Bennefield gave me your file to archive. After looking at it and seeing all you've been through, I'd like to suggest that you contact Dr. Lorraine Theriault. Before she earned her masters and doctorate degrees in clinical psychology, Lorraine and I worked together as psychiatric and mental health nurses. She has kept her PMHN certification up to date. She doesn't discuss her patients with me, but from what she has said, I gather she's had some success with difficult cases. Based on what I read in your file and what I know about Dr. Theriault, I thought perhaps she could help you."
My anger surfaced. "Look, Ms. Greenberg, I've pretty much had it with doctors, including your Dr. Bennefield. I'm not exactly eager to spend a lot of time and money with another one, only to hear the same crap and be disappointed again."
"Mr. Connors, believe me, I do understand your frustration. The choice is entirely yours, of course, but I know Lorraine. She is likely to know during your first visit or two whether she will be able to help you or not. She will tell you in no uncertain terms if she can't. If she concludes she can't help you, she won't lead you on. Besides, you have a lot to gain and nothing other than an hour or so to lose. In any case, I don't want you to feel like I'm pressuring you. Take your records. I've included her telephone number. If you don't want to do anything further, well, just file or shred everything. It's your choice. But again, I'd ask that you not reveal our conversation to Dr. Bennefield. He is not referring you to Dr. Theriault, and he would strongly disapprove of my discussing this with you."
Ms. Greenberg seemed sincerely interested. Without giving her any indication of my intentions, I assured her our conversation would be kept confidential. I then thanked her and left.
As I drove back to my apartment, I mulled over Ms. Greenberg's words. She seemed genuinely concerned about trying to help me. There had been no mockery or condescension in her voice. What harm would it do to contact this Dr. Theriault?
The half hour drive home gave my thoughts clarity, though not necessarily hope. I made a cup of tea, then opened the envelope containing the accumulated medical and psychological information about my impotence. The first page had a sticky note with Dr. Theriault's name and telephone number.
Oh, what the hell. I picked up my cordless phone and called.
"Hello, this is Lorraine Theriault."
I paused, listening for the rest of the automated attendant message.
"Hello? Is someone there?" the woman's voice asked.
"Um, yes. This is Tom Connors. I'm calling for Dr. Theriault, please."
"This is Lorraine Theriault, Mr. Connors." This time I heard what sounded like a French accent, slight but distinctive.
"Oh, I'm sorry for the hesitation. I was expecting to get a receptionist or an answering machine. Anyway, I was referred to you by Marcia Greenberg. I have a condition..."
She cut me off.
"Mr. Connors, Marcia told me you might be contacting me. I'd prefer to discuss this with you in person rather than over the telephone. Could you be at my office this afternoon at 3 p.m.?"
"Today?" I asked. I had been expecting to hear the usual, "The next available appointment will be in six months..."
"Yes, of course. Today. If that's not convenient, then please give me a time that would suit you."
"No, today at three will be fine. Thank you."
She gave me a street address, asked if I could find it, then repeated the time and place for my appointment. Before hanging up, she reminded me to bring the records Ms. Greenberg had so thoughtfully provided.
Though her manner had been professional bordering on abrupt, I had an odd sense of reassurance. Maybe this time...
Promptly at 2:55 p.m. I parked my car in front of the address Dr. Theriault had provided. It appeared to be a large private residence in a residential community, not a business address. The large yard was fenced. There was no sign announcing her practice. Wondering if I had incorrectly copied the address, I walked to the front door and rang the doorbell.
There was a moment's pause, then the door opened.
"Hello, my name is Tom Connors. I'm here to see..."
"I'm Lorraine Theriault, Mr. Connors. Please come with me."
No warm smile and handshake. No small talk. The woman's demeanor and attire exuded icy professionalism. She appeared to be in her forties, but my guestimate of her age was based on her stylishly silvered shoulder-length hair. She was wearing dark gray pantsuit over a white turtleneck shirt. Her face, well, I couldn't really see her face as she walked quickly toward what I presumed would be her office.
I followed obediently.
We entered a modestly furnished room containing only her desk, its chair, an old leather upholstered stuffed chair, and a few plants and knick-knacks. There was nothing on her desk. Nothing, no notepad, not even a telephone. The pictures hanging on the wall could have come from the sale bin at K-Mart.
She immediately sat in the old swivel chair behind her desk and motioned for me to sit in the only chair remaining in the room. I placed my envelope of records on her desk. She made no move to open it.
"Thank you for seeing me so quickly, Dr. Theriault." I offered to start the conversation. For the first time I really saw her face. She was probably in her late forties, gold wire frame glasses on a somewhat narrow, almost angular face. She watched me with penetrating brown eyes that showed no emotion. Stern, like a prim schoolteacher. It occurred to me that if she smiled she would either be attractive or her face would shatter and fall to the floor.
"You're welcome, Mr. Connors," she answered. No smile.
"I should probably explain my problem..."
"Before you do, Mr. Connors, we need to come to an understanding. If I agree to take you as a client, I will expect you to be completely open and truthful with me. I will ask you for information that will be highly personal and probably very embarrassing for you to reveal. But if I am to help you help yourself, you will have to get past the inclination to hold back."
Client? Don't most doctors refer to patients as, well, patients? She didn't wait for me to ask.
"There is no guarantee that I will be able to help you, Mr. Connors. If I can't, I'll tell you. There are some things you should know. My methods of diagnosis and treatment are personalized for each of my clients. I am not highly regarded by my American peers, because my methods are my own. I do not exploit my clients by publishing papers in journals no one can understand and few read anyway. Consequently, my methods may not be peer reviewed and approved. That's the way I want it, so I must insist that your visits with me remain between us. You are not to discuss them with anyone, nor will I without your explicit consent. I will not administer or prescribe any medications whatsoever. I'm not a medical doctor. I am not going to try and sell you any appliances or devices or herbs or other such nonsense. My only interest is working with you to identify and correct whatever condition you're here to discuss. I do not want you to even tell anyone that I am working with you, nor do I want you to refer anyone to me. Again I must stress that I will not betray your confidence, and I expect that you will not betray mine. Are these conditions agreeable, Mr. Connors?"
"Dr. Theriault, I have some questions..."
"In due time, Mr. Connors. First, I must insist that either you agree to my conditions as I've stated them or you may leave. It's your choice."
I stared at her wondering exactly what to say. As brusque and rigid as she was, I had an uncharacteristically odd feeling of hope. The other doctors had been almost too quick to give me false hopes and reassurances. Dr. Theriault was just the opposite. Maybe she could help, but goodness only knows why I could possibly feel like that.
"All right, Dr. Theriault, I agree to your conditions."
In an eye blink, an instant, the iceberg disappeared. The room seemed to warm and brighten. She smiled not just with her mouth but with her eyes.
"Thank you, Mr. Connors. Please call me Lorraine. You're entitled to an explanation. You've just heard 'the talk'. I assure you, it wasn't pleasant for me either, but people sometimes come in with unreasonable expectations that have been generated and promoted by my peers."
There was again that hint of disdain when she said 'peers.'
She continued, "I don't like it when supposed professionals build people's hopes up, then dash them, then build them up again."
"All right, Lorraine. You referred to me as a client rather than a patient. Why?" I had to ask.
"Because 'patient' suggests you have some physical malady or condition, and I doubt that you're sick. From what little information Marcia gave me, and believe me, she didn't betray any confidences at all when she called, I suspect you've been given a clean bill of health by physicians."
I nodded agreement.
"So that leaves us working together to try and resolve whatever your reason is for being here. Why don't you start by telling me what you hope I'll be able to help you resolve?"
My recitation about my impotence lasted half an hour or so. She took no notes, just listened attentively and without interruption.
"All right, Mr. Connors. May I please call you Tom?"
"All right, Tom. Here's how I'd like us to proceed. I'd like a day to review the information you've brought. Today is Tuesday. Would your schedule allow you to return some time this week?"
"Yes, I'm in graduate school. I don't have classes either Thursday morning or Friday afternoon."
"Fine, I'd like to meet with you again on Thursday at 9 a.m."
We continued to talk for another fifteen minutes. She spoke of her education in France, and then her decision to come to the United States to pursue a nursing career. She had decided to specialize in psychiatric nursing but at the urging of her employers, had gone on to get advanced degrees in clinical and cognitive psychology. I told her a bit more about myself and provided her with my medical insurance information. Then she arose, so I knew our meeting had ended. I had an odd feeling of reassurance but cautioned myself that I'd had a similar feeling with other doctors.
Thursday morning I returned to her office. This time she greeted me more warmly, and she was wearing a stylish calf-length dress and boots. She did not take me to the sterile office I had first visited. Instead we went into a room more resembling a warm den than an office. After I politely declined her offer of water or tea or juice, she began.
"Tom, as we discussed Tuesday, I've reviewed your file. Not surprisingly, you seem to be in excellent physical condition. That's probably due in part to your being on the university's swim team for four years. I was also not surprised to see that none of the medical doctors, including Dr. Bennefield, seemed to have any frank sexual discussions with you. Is my analysis accurate?"
"Yes, that's pretty accurate. That's probably as much my fault as..."
"No, it wasn't your fault, Tom." Her interruption was neither harsh nor condescending. "It was their job to help identify whatever it was that seems to be preventing your sustaining an erection for intercourse. They know how to ask the right questions, but they just didn't do it. I would apologize for them, but there's no excuse for what they didn't do. When we first met, I told you that I expected you to be forthcoming with me, to not hold anything back. That's very important, Tom. Please do not think you're going to shock me or that I will disapprove of what you might say. I know it won't be easy for you to do that, but please do your best."
I was blushing a bit, wondering if she really meant what she said. We would find out soon enough.
"Tom, I sense that you are a little uncomfortable talking about sexual behavior. If so, you're not alone. American culture discourages open discussions about sex, its pleasures, its pains, and its embarrassments. We teach that sex is supposed to be private, typically between a husband and wife. And even in marriage, our culture implies strongly that some sexual practices even between a husband and wife are wrong. The American culture, primarily because of its media's treatment of sexuality, sets artificially high and unattainable expectations for sexual performance. It is no wonder that with all the confusing signals American culture sends, particularly during a child's formative years, children go through puberty and become adults struggling with their sexuality."
When I didn't respond, she continued.
"Tom, when was the first time you showed a girl your penis?"
The room quickly reached surface-of-the-sun temperatures. At least, that's how I felt.
"Tom, just tell me in your own words. I'm not going to ridicule you." The sincerity in her voice was reassuring.
"Well, I don't really remember how old I was. It was probably when I was in kindergarten or first grade. I was playing outside our house with Ruthie, the girl who lived across the street. She was a year older than me, I think. Anyway, I told her I had to go inside and pee. She said something like I should just pee against the tree in our yard, so I did. Ruthie stood and watched. I don't remember if I had finished or not, but Mother came running out of the house, grabbed me by the arm, and dragged me into the house. She spanked me, hard. She told me I was bad for peeing outside and for showing my penis to Ruthie. I didn't understand what was so bad about what I had done, but I do now."
"Why do you think what you did was so bad, Tom?"
"I exposed myself to a girl."
"Tom, at five or six years old even the most mature children do not impute anything sexual in what you did. You didn't understand and neither did Ruthie. You were both engaging in very normal pre-pubescent behavior. There was nothing sexual about it. It was childlike curiosity and behavior. Nothing more."
We continued to talk for the better part of an hour. Nothing really sexual, just about my family and home life. At the end of the hour, Dr. Theriault asked if I could return the next day, Friday, at 2 p.m. I agreed. This day had been uncomfortable yet the reassurance was still there. I found myself actually looking forward to the next day's appointment, a feeling I'd not had with any other doctors.
After my Friday morning class, I showered before driving to Dr. Theriault's office. When she opened the door to greet me, her smile was warm, inviting, and calming. This time she took my hand and led me to her office. Her hand was warm.
"Tom, I am very pleased with the way you've opened up to me. I know talking about sexuality makes you a bit uncomfortable, but you've shown a remarkable willingness to make the effort to give me complete answers. Today, I'd like to talk with you about your masturbation habits."
She obviously knew the effect her directness would have on me, so before I could say anything, she continued.
"We all masturbate, Tom. I do. You do. Everyone who has any sexual urges masturbates. It's perfectly natural and probably physically and behaviorally the safest form of sexual behavior. It allows us to relieve our sexual tensions when no partner is available. Mutual masturbation allows partners to sexually satisfy each other when intercourse is not possible or not desired. Though people sometimes hesitate to admit it, in some circumstances masturbation can be more satisfying than intercourse with a partner. Masturbation is a normal part of human sexual responses."
Her words sounded right, but I was still uneasy. She noticed.
"Tom, do you recall when you first started masturbating?"
"Yeah, I guess I was in the seventh or eighth grade. I liked photography, and a lot of the photography magazines had nude women models. My parents thought it was neat that I was so interested in photography. But at night I'd lie in bed and look at the pictures of the nude women and jack off. I mean, masturbate. Sorry Doctor."
"It's perfectly all right to use common sexual terms like 'jack off,' Tom. You don't need to apologize. And please, I'm Lorraine, not 'doctor.' So you first started masturbating while you were looking at pictures of women models. I assume they were posed artistically rather than sexually?"