Friday, September 18, 2009

I Am...I Said

(Let me preface this story by saying that I know lots of incredibly kind, efficient and fabulous doctors. This is not about that kind of doctor.)

I am
I said
To no one there
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair

One of Neil's more philosophical songs, "I am...I said" was actually written while Neil was sitting in his doctor's office. He was living in Los Angeles, and had unhappily just picked up a rather nasty case of pin worms (thus the line "I've got an emptiness deep inside"). He had been waiting well over an hour for his doctor and read all of the copies of Parenting and Field and Stream and Women's Day, turned to the person next to him and asked "Are you sick of waiting? I am." and realized the person was dead. Who heard him? Not even the chair.

I can relate to Neil's frustration.

As I've already written, I attended the U2 concert last Sunday. I brought my cell phone. I brought my concert tickets. I brought my belt from college. I did not bring hand sanitizer. (And why would I, when my intention was to get down and dirty with The Edge, not protect him from H1N1?) So somewhere in those now-blurry 15 hours in Chicago cabs and restaurants and bars and limos and among 70,000 people in Soldier Field, I managed to pick up some kind of throat virus.

On Monday, I thought my sore throat was due to 6 straight hours of screaming on Sunday night. On Tuesday, I thought I was getting what I deserved for my debauchery. On Wednesday, when I started having trouble swallowing, I thought about how getting old really bites. By Thursday, I was sure I had strep throat. I called and made an appointment with my doctor.

It was 8:30 a.m., and they told me to come over at 9 a.m.. They made sure that I could indeed get there by 9 a.m., clearly the doctor was going to be on a tight schedule today. "Yes," I said. "I will be there."

I got to the doctor's office at 8:50 a.m. I haven't been in to see my doctor since last spring, when he diagnosed my walking pneumonia as asthma and looked at his nurse on my way out while outlining big crazy marks around his ear when he thought I wasn't looking. The receptionist eyed me warily from behind the glass partition, as if to say, "What disease have you brought to spread to me, you wretch?" I noticed that my doctor's office had a new decorator - there were a multitude of helpful signs posted on the walls that had been printed from a computer and scotch-taped to the walls. They were typed in all capital letters and had lots of personality.




Of course, sitting near the signs was a woman eating a donut talking on her cell phone while her toddler stuck his arm in the saltwater aquarium in the office. These did not seem to be unreasonable requests, it was the delivery that needed work.

As I walked up to the window to check in, I noticed another sign. It read:
"IF THE WINDOW IS CLOSED, WE ARE ON THE PHONE WITH ANOTHER PATIENT. DO NOT INTERRUPT!!!" Okay. I stood there for a moment and watched the old crone behind the closed window, who was not on the phone, take a drink from her cup that said "Dunkin' Donuts" on the outside, but said "Whiskey Sour" on the inside. This was clearly the author of the helpful signs. Our eyes locked as she took a long pull from the cup, carefully set it down, and then opened the magical glass door.

Her: "Name?"
Me: "Stands With Fist."
Her: "Who are you here for?"
Me: "Dr. Thinks I'm a Hypochondriac."
Her: "ID."
Me: "What?"
Her: (Pointing to another sign that reads "YOU MUST PRESENT A PHOTO ID UPON CHECKING IN!") "Your...Eye...Dee!!!"
Me: (Rifling through my purse for my driver's license, worried it is still in my jeans pocket from the concert) "Wow, I've never been asked for an ID here before!"
Her: Silence.
I find my ID and she scans it in their computer. I'm beginning to feel like I'm being processed at a meat-packing plant. She gives me back the ID and looks at me expectantly.
Her: "I need your $30 co-pay."
Me: "But I usually don't pay that until checkout, right?"
She sighs a big whiskey-filled sigh and points to another sign. "YOU ARE REQUIRED TO PAY YOUR CO-PAY UPON CHECK IN!!!"
Me: "Wow, things have changed around here." She doesn't answer me, takes the check, and tells me to sit and wait. The glass door slams shut.

I look around the room and realize I am playing musical chairs with this season's viruses. Take the vinyl one to the left, I've got pink eye. Take the orange cloth one, it's Hepatitis C. The row of blue chairs, H1N1. I sit in the blue chairs and add my special throat virus to the mix. It is 9 a.m.

I am I cried
I am Said I
And I am lost
And I can even say why
Leavin' me lonely still.

It's 9:30. The check-in woman is on her second drink and third cigarette. The woman on the cell phone has broken up with her boyfriend, talked with her sister about it, and reconciled with him. Her child has eaten three of the tropical fish. I have read 43 pages of my book. I decide to approach the closed glass window again. The woman looks at me, annoyed, and hopes I will go away.

It is 9:33. She opens the glass window.
Her: "Yes?"
Me: "Um, didn't I have a 9 a.m. with Dr. Doesn't Have a Watch?"
Her: "Yes, but his first appointment was late, so he's behind."
Me: "Doesn't he start seeing people at 8 a.m.? That person was 30 minutes late?"
Her: "We'll get to you when we can." The glass door closes.

It's 9:34. "Ms. Stands With Fist?" someone calls from the doorway. Obviously, I am being removed from the waiting room because I might give the other people waiting the idea that they can be proactive about their appointment. I am processed with weight, temperature, blood pressure, and a synopsis of why I am there. She asks if I have been exposed to any germs lately. Other than the obvious answer of 'every waking moment' I tell her I was at the U2 concert Sunday night. She marks on the chart 'yelled too loud at concert.' She clicks her pen shut, smiles, and says, "Okay, the doctor will be with you shortly."

It's 9:51. I've made a grocery list, a Christmas card list, and my will. I hear a noise in the hallway. The doctor walks in. He looks nervous, but smug.
Him: "So what seems to be the problem? Were we yelling too loud at a concert?"
Me: "Well, I was at a concert, but that was on Sunday, and I can't swallow."
Him: "Hmmm. Let's take a look." He looks, and concedes it does look a little red and swollen for four days later. He takes a long Q-Tip and tries to jam it through the back of my neck from inside my mouth.
Him: "That was a strep swab. It should take about 5 minutes." And he leaves.

It's 10:17. I can hear the popping of champagne bottles in the hallway and the muffled sounds of a conga line. I have been abandoned.

And I'm not a man who likes to swear
But I never cared for the sound of being alone.

It's 10:20. I realize why they now require ID's and pre-payment at the window. It is because patients like me finally crack after an hour and just leave, hoping NyQuil and Tropicana can solve whatever problem they have. I decide to take a stand. I walk out of the exam room and see a post-it note on my door that says "Negative." I'm not sure if it is referring to my strep test or my attitude. I see popped balloons, confetti and garter belts on the floor, but no staff. I walk up and down the hall, determined to make human contact. Finally, a door opens, and my doctor walks out of it. He sees me, and tries to go back inside. I make eye contact, and he knows it is too late.

Me: "I see a note on my door that says my test was negative. Can I leave now?"
Him: "Um, no, not until I order at least one unnecessary test on you."
Me: "I don't have time for another test, I was supposed to be at a hostage negotiation 20 minutes ago."
Him: "Oh. Well in that case, just drink lots of orange juice and take NyQuil. It's viral, it ought to go away in a week." He leaves.

I run from the building, still unable to swallow, but grateful to be alive and on the outside. I get in the car, pop my 400th cough drop in my mouth, and go home. Am I going to look for a new doctor?

"I am," I said.


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