A Patient’s Perspective

“So how are you doing today?” asked the nice lady at the desk.

“Okay, I guess,” I answer, glancing at the clock. I’d got hung up getting out the door – the lady who was supposed to come to care for my wife while I ran to town was a few minutes late. We live 18 miles from the clinic and it’s harvest season, so I got hung up a few more times following tractors on the way. The rule is that if you’re less than fifteen minutes early to your appointment they cancel you, but I’d made it in time, thanks to a six-mile stretch of clear road where I could push our aging Toyota up to eighty miles per hour. It took three days of planning for me to be able to get time off work and find someone qualified to watch my wife so I could be here; another minute and I’d have lost the appointment.

“Birthdate?” she asked. I mumbled the numbers, keenly aware that the year I was born was a history subject to the lady. A natural introvert, this isn’t easy for me.

“Okay, have a seat.”

I wandered to the nearest open seat and obediently sat. I glanced around at the others in the waiting room. A few people sitting, staring sullenly at their cell phones. Some oldsters gazing inwardly towards the television that’s been stuck on FOX News since 1986. Children. Quite a few children. Coughing openly as they ran about the room… I’ll need to take my clothes off outside before I go back into the house when I get home.

My wife has an immune system disorder, so I need to be aware of these things. The last thing she needs is for me to come home and give her a cold. The last thing I need is to be here.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and checked my e-mail – six new messages since I left home, all work-related, all urgent. I ignore them and glance at my texts. Three new texts, two work-related, urgent. One from my wife wishing me well.

I go back to the e-mails and start reading through them. I could feel my pulse rate go up – a customer isn’t happy with a design I’d done for them, and my boss wants a redesign done right away. I jot off a quick “I’m sorry, I’m at the doctor’s office – I’ll get this first thing when I get home” note, even though I’d told her yesterday that I needed some time off. I love working from home, but sometimes it’s awkward.

The second e-mail was another customer wanting a revision. The third was a message from the boss asking me to upload a file to the server. “I need this in ten minutes or we’ll lose the account.” The message was thirty minutes old… Gaaaahh…

My employer is very, very patient with me and goes way out of their way to accommodate my needs, but sometimes things at the office get a bit tense when deadlines loom.

“Chris? We’re ready for you.”

I pulled my gaze from my phone, blinked, and realized the nurse was talking to me. “Oh.” I hoist my carcass off the chair, drop my phone into my pocket, and follow her into the maze. After six or eight random turns we came to a scale. “Up you go,” she said.

Seriously? NOW? I’m wearing work boots, thermals, two shirts, a leather coat, belt, I’ve got about twelve pounds of miscellaneous crap in my pockets… But what do you do? “Well, looks like you’re up a few pounds,” the nurse said, writing down what looked like a four-digit number. “Well yeah,” I thought to myself, “last time I was here it was summer.”

“Okay, follow me,” the nurse said, resuming her course through the maze. Fighting the impulse to drop a trail of breadcrumbs I meekly trailed along behind her, hoping that I’d be able to find my way out later. “Here we are.” She opened a random door and ushered me into a closet.

I made my way sideways to the chair in the corner, wincing a bit as the nurse closed the door – the room was so small my ears popped.

“So why are we here today?” she asked.

“We?” I thought to myself. Out loud, “Well, because you told me to.”

“What?”

“Last time I was here you made an appointment for me and told me I had to be here in three months. So… here I am.”

“Uh… Do you have any complaints? Is there anything wrong?”

“Yes,” I thought to myself, “I’m here and I NEED to be home, that’s what’s wrong.” Out loud, “Well, I suppose my knee has been hurting a little lately.”

“Okay,” she said. “Let’s just get your blood pressure here…” The phone pinged in my pocket, my boss (I could tell by the tone). I took off my coat. My phone pinged again, the boss again, trying to text me again. I rolled up my shirt sleeve as the phone pinged a third time. The nurse cuffed me and pumped the doohicky… The phone pinged again.

“You’re running high,” she said.

“Yeah,” I thought, “I probably just got fired for not being at my desk.” Out loud, “Oh.”

“What medications are you on,” the nurse asked.

“I dunno, whatever the hell you put me on,” I thought to myself. Out loud, “Um… I take four pills, three in the morning, one at night.”

“Okay, I see you’re on Pskanipnadnapie, two milligrams of Snkapndmnapodsin, six kerfloogies of Kkdpaoasdfnkpa, and you take Sknasdfkdsnpp as well….?”

“Seriously, you’re the ones who gave me this crap, don’t you write it down?” I thought. Out loud, “Sure, that sounds about right.” I have zero clue what’s in those bottles – all I know is that one costs me three hundred and forty dollars a month and I don’t know what it does. I only take it half the time anyway – we need the money for my wife’s medications more than mine. It’s not like anyone cares enough to check.

“Okay,” she said, looking at her notes. “The doctor will be in in just a minute to check on your ankle.” Out the door went the nurse. My ears popped again.

I looked at my phone. I had to leave by 12:40 to to be here by 1:15 in order to keep my 1:30 appointment. Twenty-three minutes in the waiting room, five more in the closet, it’s 1:45 now. Over an hour. I checked my e-mail again. Another message from a customer wanting me to change a few words on their design and send them a proof by 1:45 so they could take it to their board. Crap. Feeling helpless I flip over to Facebook and wait for the doctor’s WiFi to connect. And wait. And wait. Nothing… I glance at the three texts from my boss – all I see is the word “NOW.” She must be way stressed, which is unusual, but there’s nothing I can do. Phone goes back into pocket.

I stare at the wall, my eyes idly searching out patterns in the drywall texture as my mind wandered. There’s so much that needs to be done – I haven’t had a chance to get to the dishes for days, laundry is piling up. The oil in the car needs changed about two weeks ago, I haven’t figured up taxes for the quarter yet. I have six ads to design, plus whatever’s in my e-mail. I know all I need to do to make that customer happy is swap out the placeholder photo in the third subcomposition, change the framerate to 24 on the main comp, add some motion blur on the logo… I just need to get home to do it. My phone pings again, a text from the caretaker. “Your wife just had a seizure, but I think I have everything under control.”

“So how are we doing today?” said the voice from the doorway. I tear my eyes away from my phone and look up. The doctor, eyes glued on her iPad, made her way into the room. “I see you’re having some problems with your hip? Oh, your blood pressure is a little high, let me retest that quick before we start.” She took her eyes off her tablet long enough to wrap a cuff on my arm and start pumping the doohicky.

pump pump pump PING pump pump pump….

“Ping.” I thought. “Wife just had a seizure.” I thought. “Think I have it under control” I thought. “If I don’t check that message in the next three seconds I’m going to explode,” I thought. My wife often has an asthma attack following a seizure, and sometimes she quits breathing altogether and loses consciousness — I hope things really are under control.

“Well, you’re running pretty high,” the doctor said. “I’m going to have to increase your medication. Have you thought about exercising?”

“What? No. What?” I glanced at my phone – the text wasn’t from the caretaker after all, but I couldn’t tell at a glance who it was from or what it said.

“You need to exercise more to keep your blood pressure down,” the doctor said, her eyes glued to the iPad in her hands. “I see you’re gaining weight as well.”

“Ping” said my phone.

“So what brings you here today?” the doctor asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “You told me to be here, so here I am.”

“Oh. Well, how are things going? How do you feel?”

“Well, to be honest,” I said, “I’m not doing real well. My wife has severe medical problems, I’ve had to rework my life in order to stay home to care for her. She’s having seizures now, and sometimes she quits breathing. I don’t know how to cope with this – I can’t sleep, she can’t get out of bed except to pee so I need to do all the household chores as well as my job, her insurance cancelled her policy when she got sick, we can’t get her on Social Security – I’m falling apart. I don’t know where to turn.”

“Ping” said my phone.

“Well,” the doctor said without looking up from her iPad, “I’m not sure what to tell you about your hip, but you need to exercise more. That should help. I’ll increase your blood pressure medication by ten klagemeters. That should help. Is there anything else?”

“To be honest, my stomach has really been hurting lately, my knee really does hurt, I’ve been having headaches, I’m not sure if I’m exactly sane any longer,” I thought. But she’s just poking at that iPad, looking impatient. So I said, “No.”

“Okay, I’ll get that script for you for your blood pressure and I’ll see again you in three months.”

“Okay,” I said. “But what can I do about my wife? Can you tell me how to care for her? What can I do?”

The doctor glanced up for the first time, said, “Just do the best you can. And get some exercise. The nurse will show you out,” and left.

I sat for a few moments, trying to absorb the fact that two day’s planning, an hour and a half of time, and who knows how much money just got spent on the last two minutes, then “Ping.”

I fished the phone out of my pocket just as the nurse poked her head in, “Okay, just take this paper to the front desk, you’re all set now.” I fumbled with the paper, my coat, the phone, and eventually managed to limbo my way out of the closet into the maze. No one in sight – I picked a random direction and wandered until I bumped into the Money Lady.

“How would you like to pay today?” she chirped.

“I wouldn’t,” I thought. Out loud, “Huh?”

“Cash or credit?”

“I don’t care – here, I have a card.” I gotta get out of here before I explode.

“Ping” says my phone.

“Let me just look up your insurance quick… Okay, you have a fifty dollar co-pay.”

“Sure, whatever…”

*ping*

“Okay,” she said, “the doctor wants to see you again in three months. What time works best for you?”

Seriously? Like I know exactly what I’m going to be doing three months from today? “I don’t care, whatever.”

*ping* I can tell without looking at my phone – either I’ve been fired or my wife has died.

“Well, let’s see…” A pause. “We have an opening at one-fifteen on…”

“FINE! That’s fine. I’ll take it.”

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll just write that down on this card for you… Oh, my pen doesn’t work, just give me a minute and I’ll find another…”

*ping* went my brain – remember the *ping*

Out the door, finally. Three angry customers, one angry boss, a wife having seizures, a fifty-dollar bill that the insurance company will undoubtedly refuse to pay leaving me to foot the entire two-hundred and whatever dollars myself, it’ll be after three before I get home – and I’ll need to find a way back to town tomorrow to pick up a prescription for medication I don’t need and can’t afford… All so I could see the doctor for less than four minutes to talk about what she wanted to talk about instead of what was bothering me.

*ping*

Someday I need to try to find out how much the blood pressure medication company pays her. “Probably more than I do…” I thought as I drove my broken Toyota past the Porsche parked in the “Doctors Only” space.

1 thought on “A Patient’s Perspective

Leave a Reply