Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Doctor Andy Doctored

Today, I went to the doctor for a check-up since... I don't even know when.  Over the years, I have visited the doctor, but it's mostly been for a purpose: my ear hurts, this cough won't go away, should this thing really be this color?  This was largely a "well visit", though I did have lingering scab on my ear and my family has been after me forever to start moving towards testing for sleep disturbance.


I haven't had a regular doctor since my pediatrician, so I made an appointment with the guy whose name is on my health insurance card.  It was a doctor I picked out of a hat when signing up for insurance a few years ago, based primarily on the proximity to my home.

In preparation for my appointment, I was asked to fast (water only) for 14 hours preceding my 10:10am appointment.  This I did with no great fanfare, as my eating schedule is varied enough to accommodate any fluctuations up to 24 hours without complaint.

Upon entrance, I signed in and sat.  A girl played in a children's playhouse in the corner while the digital strains of "Hakuna Matata" drifted from a device she was playing with.

As I imagine to be the case just about everywhere, the only person I meet who is male is the doctor.  From the receptionist to the lab technicians to the nurse and the file runner, everyone else is female.  It has an oddly calming effect, which must be some matriarchal gene flaring into life, where one simply accepts any direction or instruction from a woman.

I'm called up by an attractive nurse who's probably about 26.  She has dark shiny hair and a healthy demeanor so often shared by doctors, dentists, and other workers who are involved in body maintenance.  She escorts me to my examining room, pausing on the way to weigh and get height-measured.

She asks if I have any drug allergies.  I reply that there are none that I know of.  "And you're just taking Adderol?"  I blink.  "No, I'm not taking that," I reply.  She might have betrayed a slight hesitancy in fastening my blood pressure cuff, but I don't notice it.  "You don't take anything for ADHD?"

I blink again.  "I... don't have ADHD."  Such is the power of authority figures that I take a moment to try and remember whether I've ever been diagnosed or even suggested to have had it.  It soon emerges that the phantom Andrew has had eye surgery, problems with knees, and a 9-year old sister who died of cancer.

What a sad story for this other Andrew!  Apparently, their system got creative when I didn't have a medical history there.  I regard all other requests with a mote of suspicion for the rest of this visit ("what do you mean, turn my head and cough? maybe you mean the other guy!")

I turn my head and cough.  That part comes later, after the nurse has stepped out and I have 20 minutes to explore a little room.  I found the cheese, though, so I feel better than the mice in there with me.

The doctor arrives and talks fast.  "You're overweight, so please do something about that."  I nod.  "I'm going to have the bloodwork done for diabetes screening.  Are you fatigued?"  Sometimes.  "Good, vitamin D work."  I nod helpfully.  "You grew up in St. Louis?" I nod.  "Are you a soccer player?"  No.  "Lots of soccer players in St. Louis."  I nod helpfully, thinking "huh?"

"Sexually active?"

"You mean, like with swings and things?"


He's quick but pleasant, with the air of a man who is very busy.  "She's going to come back and do your EKG.  Take this form to the lab for your tests."  Hand shake.

The nurse comes back and asks me to remove my shirt and lie on the examining bench.  It is surprisingly uncomfortable, largely because of my height.  She hikes up my pants legs and begins sticking stickers on my left shin, right shin, sides of waist, front of waist, left arm, right arm, and five on the center of my sternum.  All this I feel, because I can't see her from my head's awkward position.

Then she starts clipping sensors attached to wire to all the stickers.  At a point, I almost laugh out loud because an attractive lady is manipulating me in a way that might cost quite a bit at a massage place.  My smile dies because I realize that -- as a person in a state-of-the-art medical facilty -- I, too, am probably paying a lot for this.

The machine does its thing and prints out something.  She pronounces it "normal" and says I can head to the lap after I remove all the stickers.  For the rest of the appointment, I have a nagging feeling like I didn't remove all of them.  Why didn't I count where she put them all, oh alas!

In the lab, I head to the bathroom to provide a unrine sample.  The nurse there says this mater-of-factly, as though I can just pee on command.  In this particular instance, I can.  There's a trap door built into one wall, and one places the specimen cup (clearly labeled with name) on the shelf inside, to be grabbed by the lab tech through a door on the other side that leads back into the lab somewhere.

They take me to the blood-draining station.  I hate needles, and I have terrible experiences with giving blood.  They hook me up, and within 30 seconds I start to fade.  My neck prickles and my hair seems to buzz.  Everyone starts asking if I'm all right, while they helpfully remind me to keep breathing (I had actually forgotten and thank them).  My vision fuzzes and darkens.  "Are you diabetic?" the nurse asks.  "Not that I know of."  She checks the sheet.  "Oh, they had you fasting."

I mumble something that at the time I thought meant something.  They provide me with water, a cold compress for my neck, and a sucker.  The lab nurse watches me attentively, though she never smiles.  Is that clinical detachment?  She pulls the third arm of the chair in front of me, so that if/when I pass out, I'll just collapse onto the bar across my lap.  I suck at my sugar rush and wait to go back to normal.

It's a horrifying feeling.

I know that there is amazing amounts of science and medicine that can be done today.  I know that I don't object to having my blood taken for all manner of diagnosis and testing.  But I also know that I dread that feeling of approaching death.  Where is feels as though the *life energy* is being drained away through a little hole in my arm that doesn't even really hurt.  Over the course of that first minute, I go from trying to be the most helpful patient to a shaking hulk of fat and bone, pupils dilated, sucking on a piece of candy and trying to not fall into unconsciousness or vomit all over these nice people.

I detest that experience.

Then it's off to chest x-ray (after they determine that I've recovered sufficiently to be able to stand in odd positions for periods of time without crashing to the linoleum.  Then off to billing and the outside world.

While driving home, I call work and let them know that even though I thought I might be in after my appointment, I don't feel well after my doctor visit.  I buy a cheeseburger and a soda on the way, to break my fast and give me more sugar.

I have no apprehension about what test results might bring at a follow-up visit in two weeks.  I just think about the spot on my arm where they stuck me, now faded to nothing.  It doesn't hurt and is less obvious than the cat scratch scar from 10 years go.

But I know it was there.  And I still feel like it twinges now and then -- but that might just be my imagination. 

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