Neal was no stranger to headaches - often he felt them at the end of the day, when the noise of the station and the resulting effort of trying to filter through what was important and what was not finally got to him. Usually he just took a couple of ibuprofen and did paperwork in his office, a cup of steaming peppermint tea on his desk, and that was enough to be manageable. For the past two weeks, though, the headaches had followed him home, something he usually didn’t have to deal with. It drove him nuts and kept him miserable, and today, on his afternoon off, he had decided to do something about it.
Neal was picky about many things - food, movies (sometimes), and friends, many of them irrational, but his choice in doctors was always quite deliberate. Single-sided hearing was not the most easily understood thing in the universe - his own attempts at research had always felt woefully incomplete, and sometimes it seemed that physicians had no idea what they were talking about. Back in Boston, Neal had seen an audiologist periodically, but there wasn’t anyone specialized enough in Ashkent Creek, at least that he knew of.
Finding a doctor he both liked and trusted, then, had been a nightmare. Maybe Neal himself had made the process more complicated than it needed to be, but eventually, he had found himself at clinic of Doctor Charles Williamson. It hadn’t been what he expected, but Neal liked both the man, finding him someone who actually cared about his patients, something the captain respected greatly even if he hadn’t actually spoken to him on anything resembling a personal level.
And so it was that he found himself in the waiting area now. Neal had never liked waiting rooms, finding waiting itself to be an inefficient use of time. He hadn’t brought anything with him, though, having come straight from work, and he merely sat back and tried to relax, anything to clear his mind from the throbbing pain that preoccupied him. Only one other person was in there now, a woman who kept scratching behind her ears. Neal couldn’t help but think of how dogs did much the same thing. He hoped it wasn’t contagious, whatever it was.
His phone buzzed in his pocket - his work phone (aka the only one that ever went off). Technically off-duty, Neal left routine matters to everyone else down at the station, but he made sure to check every notification he received, just in case they were something that needed his immediate attention (even though those notifications were different from the normal ones. Better safe than sorry right?). This one was just one of the officers informing him that the paperwork Neal requested was now waiting in his mailbox for tomorrow morning.
Smiling slightly, Neal leaned back and closed his eyes. He wished he had some paperwork to work on right now. Dotting his i’s and crossing his t’s was both figuratively and physically pleasing, and Neal found comfort when he could put a case aside knowing that everything had been done according to code and protocol. The text only reassured him, then, even if it did nothing for his headache (migraine? he wondered. That seemed like a melodramatic diagnosis to impose on himself), and he found himself looking over at the woman in the waiting area. She seemed twitchy and nervous, and Neal almost wanted to tell her that even if she felt anxiety deeply in herself, it did good to keep a different public face - he had learned that a long time ago.
“Mr. Maynard? You can come back now.”
Looking up, Neal nodded. “Thank you, ma’am.” He gathered his coat in his arms and followed her to the back. One thing he remembered from his childhood was the walk back to the examination rooms - even though he had lost his hearing as an infant, his single-sided deafness hadn’t been diagnosed properly until he was eleven years old. Up until the school-administered hearing exam, he had just assumed everyone was like him. After that precipitant test, though, he had had to endure a series of visits to specialists while his well-meaning parents tried to figure out if they could do anything. Neal remembered being baffled - it had never seemed like a big deal to him, and he was never able to imagine what it was like anyway, at least not at that young age, to possess fully directional hearing. He remembered coloring while waiting in the rooms, being calm and detached while his parents flanked him on either side, his mother checking to see if Neal was okay every five minutes and his father impatiently and nervously tapping his feet against the floor.
Those days were long gone, though, and now, when Neal went to see the doctor, it was alone. And so it was he waited for Doctor Williamson today, unconsciously moving his feet against the floor as his father did. Neal looked up when the door opened, a smile briefly flitting across his weary features.
“Afternoon, doctor. Sorry to schedule this on such short notice, but…” Neal then reached up to rub at the back of his head. He didn’t like having to start conversations.