Unhealthy Skepticism

It is my fifth day of pain. My fourth day of discharge. My third day of unwelcome discharge. My second day of painful, unwelcome discharge. The act of standing and walking to the bathroom now seems

Oct 5, 2000 at 2:06 pm

It is my fifth day of pain. My fourth day of discharge. My third day of unwelcome discharge. My second day of painful, unwelcome discharge. The act of standing and walking to the bathroom now seems to require a measure of courage and dedication of purpose Christopher Reeve couldn't muster on his best day. Yet, the suggestion, when it inevitably comes, comes not from within but from without. "Go to the doctor," My Partner suggests. Insists. Decrees. And another basic difference between the two of us is revealed: I would rather be surprised by my death; she would rather plan for it.

The waiting room is evenly lit, beige-ly wallpapered. The carpeting suggests an upper-middle-class rec room — indoor/outdoor pile in a bold, unattractive pattern — the better to weather and hide any bodily fluid that's leaked, oozed or disgorged onto it. The furniture is tasteful but nondescript, like the food at a national steakhouse chain (though I feel certain my semi-delirium is keeping me from a better simile). Contrary to the familiar jokes, the magazines here — Time, Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, People — are not years or even months old. Though that makes them absolutely no more readable.

The wait is longer than it should be. (Then again, what wait isn't these days?) People who have come into the office after me are getting called before me. After 20 minutes, I'm all alone, sitting solo, willfully, painfully — and invisibly! — discharging onto the carpet. It's then that a friendly clipboard with a dour nurse attached appears. "Bob Woodiwiss?" she calls/asks across the waiting room. "I believe that table lamp over there is Bob," I'm tempted to say. But I don't. Because in my experience caregivers are pretty thin-skinned about sarcasm and, worse, they're in a position to make one pay for it in pain and/or humiliation.

The nurse leads me to a scale and weighs me. Why she weighs me is a mystery. I'm not here about a weight problem. Or an eating disorder. Or for a physical. Perhaps this is part of some value-added Five Star Service Plan, the equivalent of getting your tires rotated "free" when you take your car in for $500 worth of new shocks. More likely, it's so she can requisition the right size body bag to have me hauled away in.

I'm taken to "Exam[ination room] 4." Where I wait again. This time, however, I don't mind. I can use the time to rifle the room's cabinets and drawers looking for interesting and/or useful medical supplies. I find (and pocket) latex gloves (great for painting and caulking), extra-long cotton swabs (ideal for cleaning VCR heads), tongue depressors (there's nothing like them for depressing your friends' tongues) and jumbo gauze pads (which, dripped with a little red food coloring for "blood," make festive Halloween drink coasters). When I was young and stupid, I thought these rummagings might turn up fun drugs — amyl nitrate poppers or, yikes!, medical morphine. Now, older and wiser, I no longer care about that. (It helps immensely that I can afford to buy forged 'scrips on the street.)

Long after my pilferage is done, the doctor comes in. Without so much as a "Hello," he begins poking, prodding, tapping, pinching, probing. After about a minute, I interrupt his elaborate self-inspection and ask him if he'll be starting my examination soon? Without answering, he turns to me and raises his eyebrows in a "What seems to be the problem?" manner. I outline my symptoms, including their time of origin and their progress. He nods knowingly, then proceeds to check my pulse, take my blood pressure, listen to my heart and lungs, peer into my every orifice, etc., etc., etc. Which really pisses me. Because I know my HMO won't cover more than one Latin abbreviation per office visit.

The doc diagnoses my condition quickly. Even dismissively. He deems it not serious, not chronic and easily cured. He leaves before I can ask him to break the bad news to My Partner.

On the way out, I stop at the front desk. Time to settle up. And here, at the front desk, when it's time to settle up, there is no waiting. None. Because accounts payable is the true energy hub of the modern medical practice. Payment is all efficiency, all smiles and all major credit cards. Before I know it, I'm processed, paid, fare-thee-well-ed and, I assume, filed away. Which, today, I tacitly accept. I'm too damn sick to get into a froth about the ironic juxtaposition of caring business folk versus businesslike caregivers. Maybe tomorrow, if I'm feeling better, I'll just phone in a bomb threat. ©