It’s March 5th. We, Rosemary and Steve, have returned from our road trip with Steve suffering an ailment. Seeing that whatever it is will not go away on its own, I take my brother’s advice and call the dermatologist/allergist office:
“Hello, may I make an appointment for a skin problem?”
“We are booking for the end of April.”
“But, I am really suffering now.”
“I don’t know what to tell you.”
“I guess I’ll call my primary.”
Meanies… though not blue.
(dial, dial, dial… or push, push, push, actually)
“Hello, I have a bad rash and I think I need to see my doctor.”
“Who is your doctor?”
“We’re making appointments for mid-April.”
“I really need to see someone sooner.”
“Go to the walk-in clinic, if they can’t help you they’ll send you to the ER.”
“The ER…? I thought that’s where you went when you had no insurance or were bleeding.”
“Walk-in will help you.”
Rosemary and I go to the walk-in clinic at Mount Auburn Hospital. We stop at the information desk and are told to go to registration first. At registration we give my name, a brief problem description, sit and wait about fifteen minutes before we are called:
“G. Stephen… Steve is good.”
“Hi, Steve, please come with me. How are you today?”
“Fine… wait, no… I am not well. Thus my visit here today.”
I go into a little office with the nice lady, sit, answer questions.
“Your date of birth…?”
“March 24, 1948. Don’t I look good?”
“Ha, ha… Yes, actually, you do.”
After more Q&A, and making the nice lady laugh, and blessing of the Holy Insurance Card, enter Nurse Evelyn.
“Hi Steve, please come with me.”
There is gay banter with Nurse Evelyn on the way to a little exam room. We like Nurse Evelyn. More Q&A as blood pressure, temperature, and pulse are taken. Nurse Evelyn scowls, pleasantly, at my vitals.
“So what’s the problem?” she asks.
Remove shirt. Show problem. Cover ears as Nurse Evelyn runs screaming from room (just kidding).
“Ohh, that does look uncomfortable,” she says. “Have you had heart problems?”
“I… what…? I mean… no, not really… How is that rash-related?
“Your heart rate is forty-eight beats per minute. Are you feeling alright? Light headed? Chest pain?”
“No. I’m good.”
“You should be checked out in the ER, your heart rate is a bit low.”
“Well, I used to do a lot of aerobic exercise: swimming, biking and such.”
“Yes…? And how long since you last did that?”
“Ohhh, maybe twenty years or so.”
“Mmm, I see. Let’s take you to the ER for an EKG.”
“But… my rash…?”
“Don’t worry; we’ll make sure the ER doctor checks that out, too.”
So, having come to the walk-in clinic for problem A, we are off to the ER for new problem B. Problem A deemed less important. This is one reason you should never go to the hospital. It’s always something else. I want to ask if I could die from this. But I recall that those were Andy Gibb’s last words upon his visit to the ER, and history has a penchant for repetition.
Nurse Evelyn asks if I want to ride in a wheel chair. Really…? I have to ask, she says. So off we go: Rosemary, Steve, and the affable Nurse E., all of us ambulatory. It’s a long walk around corners, into elevators, down corridors, all the while we share a few laughs and I think that Nurse Evelyn is really good at her job.
We arrive at the ER where several people wait to be seen. Cold air rushes in through the double doors as EMT’s push a gurney back out to an ambulance, lights still flashing. Real emergencies here.
The ER. E for Emergency. Is this an emergency? The dermatologists were booked solid. My own doctor was not available. I wasn’t really suffering, just itching, bumpy, and red. Maybe hospitals need another room called the Overflow Room. The OR! Not that. How about the EBR: Everyone’s Busy Room. Not an emergency? Try the EBR. But, then again, there is Problem B.
Nurse Evelyn hands us off, and, after a brief wait, we check in. More laughs with the intake lady and her cohorts. I love making people laugh, and this is an easy crowd. I get a wrist band, and I joke that this is just like being admitted. They tell that I am indeed being admitted… to the ER.
Another brief wait and Andy, an adolescent, calls me in to the EKG room. I did not know that middle schools had work study programs. Andy stickers me up while I ask him how many of these he does a day. Thirty-five to forty, he says. A serious production line. These guys should be paid piece work. Andy says to relax every muscle in my body. I do, and it’s over in a couple of minutes.
Back out to the waiting room. Rosemary and I are called, along with a woman wearing an oxygen mask and a johnny, to follow a diminutive, efficient Asian nurse. The four of us parade single file to a single exam room. The johnny-clad woman goes left; we go to the right bed. A flimsy blue curtain separates us. This has the potential to be most awkward. I ruminate on the situation. It is more usual that patients brought here are unconscious, shot, run over, or otherwise unconcerned about who is on the other side of the flimsy curtain.
At first Rosemary and I maintain a polite silence. But the poor girl next to us is really having a hard time breathing and we find it better to chat and create a little noise pollution so our neighbor can suffer in a semblance of privacy. This is why restaurants pipe in music. But why Year of the Cat at my sushi bar? Angular banjos sound good to me.
I sit on the bed. Rosemary, now my health proxy sits in a chair. We wait.
We were prepared for many hours of waiting. I brought materials to write letters. Rosemary brought her book. But, until now, there has been little waiting. I barely got one and a half letters written. Now it appears we will have a bit more time. I sit on the doctor’s stool and resume letter writing.
Rosemary doesn’t need her book. We are in a busy ER. She loves listening to the goings on. And she is good at it. In fact, Rosemary can filter out a single conversation five tables away in a noisy, music filled restaurant:
“That couple is having a fight over there.”
“No way! You cannot possibly…”
“Shhh! I’m listening…”
“You know I don’t like to be shushed.”
“Sorry, please be quiet for a minute… Ohh, they’re breaking up!”
All around us people are being examined and interviewed. Many of them are old and hard of hearing. The ER is child’s play for Ms. All Ears.
Thus occupied with letters and listening and chatting it up. We wait. The following sequence of health care providers enter and exit. Each with their own, “How can I help”, and, “What brings you to the ER.” Like this:
Enter: Efficient Asian Nurse: Remove shirt, apply monitoring stickers. I was entertained by watching my vital signs on the screen, wishing my now ever so normal heart rate would skip a few beats, thus justifying my taking up all these health care resources.
“Now, put on this johnny,” she says.
“Do I have to?”
“Yes, all the better to examine you.” I thought not, and took it off as soon as she left.
Enter: Physician’s Assistant. A handsome young man, but definitely over the age of consent, with his own Q&A: What? A rash. Where? Everywhere. Show me (here I must pull the curtain) When? Eight days ago, on the New Jersey turnpike, at 7:35 PM. So precise? Rosemary does all the driving. After 12 hours in the car I had little to occupy me. What about your heart? Any pain? Discomfort? You mean this normal beating heart right here? Yes. No. All good.
Wait. (full disclosure here… I do take atenolol for P.A.C. (look it up) a common heart issue afflicting millions of people, non-lethal. I had stopped taking it four days before.
Enter: Physician’s Assistant again. MOS (more of same)
Enter: A doctor from New Jersey. MOS. Though he was amused about the New Jersey Turnpike.
“I’m from New Jersey, that road has a lot of fumes. How’s your heart, previous problems?”
“I’m good. Though I do take atenolol for PAC.
“I am looking at your EKG here,” he says. “It shows PVC.”
PVC. Also not a big deal, usually. “So, about that rash.” Ahh, finally.
“It looks like contact dermatitis to me. You’ll probably never know what caused it. It’s easily controlled with an anti-histamine and Prednisone.”
Great! The pills were soon produced and administered. Prescriptions were written.
A few more visits from the PA and Efficient Nurse—also young, cute and charming (is that wrong?)—and, with appropriate waiting between each visit, we are free to go.
After paying our $100 co-pay, I took Rosemary to The Greek Corner in Cambridge. A restaurant featured on Drive-Ins, Diners, and Dives. Rosemary got the address by going out to the ER admitting desk and asking if they could help her find it. Computer consoles were manned, Internet searches were done and voila! This was, of course, between emergency admittances. But, could you ask for more from your ER?
The food was great. Rosemary was happy. Life is good.
So that was my visit to the walk-in clinic at Mount Auburn Hospital. All in all a positive experience. You will never hear me complain about medical care in the Boston area. Maybe a bit of overkill. However, the PA had scheduled a blood work-up that the doctor cancelled, saying he thought we might want to get out of there, and he didn’t feel it really necessary. So someone is watching the store.
I am feeling better, too. Not sure if that is good. I went on the internet and checked out the side effects of Prednisone. There are about fifty of them, none pleasant. Two stood out: A Rash, and Itching. Ahhhm… Hello?
But here’s the best one: Inappropriate Happiness. I feel good. Na na na na na na na.
Steve Rapson is the author of The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage & Podium. He is a concert guitarist and composer with several CDs in release. Find all at soloperformer.com and even more of Steve at reverbnation.com/steverapson Email : firstname.lastname@example.org