The Doctor Will See You Now

There is one senior citizen activity that I would gladly erase from my calendar if such erasure did not cause big problems: doctor visits. I would start with those registration questionnaires and permission forms that every new patient has to fill out.

You know what I’m talking about: those printed pieces of paper where they ask all kinds of personal questions. They want to know every damned thing, including the dates of every procedure you ever had done. Questions go something like this:

Did you ever have pneumonia? Yes____ No____ If so, when?________________
Did you ever have the flu? Yes____ No____ If so, when?____________
Did you ever have tuberculosis? Yes____ No____ If so, when?__________
Have you ever had a fatal illness? Yes____ No____ If so, did you survive?_________

Have you ever had surgery? If so, list every procedure, including dates.

You sit there, pen in hand and paper in front of you, trying to figure out the year, month and day of that tonsillectomy you had when you were a kid. Of course, you could always leave that date blank, but that is not an option if you are mildly obsessive from having spent 11 years in Catholic school, where following directions to the last detail was a critical part of the curriculum.

I have three clear memories of the tonsillectomy my parents subjected me to when I was in the fourth grade:

1. The weird buzzing in my brain when I was given Ether as an anesthetic.
2. Vomiting blood on my hospital bed and not knowing how to call a nurse because I was only a fourth grader and this was my first time in a hospital bed. I moved to the other end of the bed. Eventually, someone came in, saw the mess and gave me clean sheets.
3. Getting to spend the week at home watching daytime television, eating lots of ice cream and being pampered like a spoiled poodle.

Don’t ask me, though, to remember the year or the day, other than that I was in the fourth grade and I was still a little kid. That was many decades ago. After pondering this question like a mathematician trying to solve the Riemann hypothesis, I put a question mark after it and the words “Fourth grade. You figure it out.”

Sometime after you turn in the form to the receptionist but before your death a nurse comes out into the waiting area and calls your name. If you have a difficult surname, she calls you by your first name. That is only confusing if there are two people with the same first name waiting to be seen by the doctor. If those two people have been waiting a long time, the situation has a possibility of danger. This possibility is remote, however, because most nurses are as tough as Mike Tyson and only too ready to tackle rebellious patients.

Once the nurse gets you into the examining room, she pronounces the dreaded words:

“Take everything off and put on this paper covering, with the opening in the front. Then lie down on the examining table, face up.”

Those paper coverings have two important things in common: they are flimsy, and they are never big enough to go all the way around the body of anyone bigger than a Size 4. There you are, almost totally naked except for a piece of paper, lying on your back and trying to cover yourself with your hands and whatever edges of the paper will reach anywhere near the more private parts of your body. If you are lucky, the nurse has allowed you to leave your underwear on, which helps but doesn’t completely solve the problem if you are a woman. Then the doctor comes in.

Doctors come in two types: grouchy and fake-cheerful. Both types are not at all impressed by your nakedness, no matter how fit or unfit you are. If you are a woman and the doctor is a man, this will be the only time a man will uncover you, feel you up, then turn around, ask some questions and write something.

Once you are dressed and out of the examining room, you have to pass the reception area again, where eager administrative employees stop you to take your money, to hand you prescriptions, to give you instructions and to schedule your next appointment. That can keep you for another twenty minutes if they are doing their jobs right.

They then release you, and you are free to go – until next time!

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