3 days ago
Monday, November 29, 2010
Notes from the Field
I decided to drop into a walk-in medical clinic this afternoon, and I came away with more astonishing anthropological anecdotes for the note book. I need to get it down before the details fade further into the farrago of my increasingly clouded consciousness.
I've had an ear problem of some sort since last Thursday. I decided that, rather than add time and physical distance to my already heavily compressed daily schedule, I would drop into a walk-in clinic downtown, and save me a drive out to my own doctor beyond the pale of the downtown core. One ear has been plugged intermittently, and the other seems to percussively "pop" every so often. A little potato of ear wax had gotten stuck, I presumed, and I simply needed a flush with a medical syringe.
In my immediate neighbourhood, there is a (putative) clinic that's only open one or two days a week. And last Friday wasn't one of them.
So, on Friday, I trekked about 15 blocks, against an unusually bitter November wind, to the hinterlands of the downtown core, only to be told to expect at least a four hour wait.
The waiting room was suffocating in the swell of sick humanity. Screw that, I says, and I went off to the gym as per usual on Friday afternoons. During that session, my ear got unplugged somehow, so I didn't worry anymore about it.
On Monday morning, it had returned. After getting a reasonable amount of work done, I decided to give the walk-in clinic another shot. The one nearest to me was open today, and I had other errands to do on the same street.
I got there around ten to 1, and a few people were lined up. I went and did a couple of other errands, and when I returned more people had lengthened the line. They all seemed rather anxious and hopeful at once, as if they were in line to buy a limited edition copy of "Halo" or "Call of Duty: Black Ops". I waited for another minute or so, and finally the line started to move quickly into the vacuum of the now open walk-in clinic, and I was pushed from behind into the swirling vortex as the crowd surged forward. I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of my decision, thinking that I should have just jumped into my car and made the pilgrimage outside the pale to my own practitioner. By then, however, it was too late.
I was herded into the waiting pen along with the rest, and once I was registered, there was no going back. An hour and a half wait. OK, I can do that, get my ear flushed, get over with it, and get out of here.
I pulled out my reading material, and settled into a seat. Not long after, an old white man and an older black woman who may or may not have known each other began to engage in a rather loud and public conversation. Eventually the conversation drifted into a discussion of race and ethnicity. "What are you?", the man asked rhetorically, as he had previously asked the receptionist behind the front desk. The woman, without a hint of Samuel Jacksonian irony or self-reflexity, replied, in her shout-speak, that she was a (offensive n-word deleted). For some reason or other, this otherwise mundane conversation continued and escalated to the point where she was repeating, matter of factly, she was a (offensive n-word deleted), and that was that. Stunningly, very few people in the waiting room seemed to bat an eye. There were a few black people in the waiting room, and one of them was getting noticeably and understandably agitated. Even the old man she was talking to was begging for her to shut up, but she inexplicably kept describing herself using that term. I couldn't help but peer up from my page -- almost everyone else was staring into space, seemingly oblivious. Even the receptionists went about their business as usual. It was exquisitely uncomfortable.
Finally, the young black guy told her to shut up, explaining how offensive she was being, and that she should be ashamed of herself. The verbal spat went on for several minutes in the waiting room, and all I could do was squirm in my chair. Then she stepped out for a few minutes, the two still shouting at each other through the window.
Things calmed down after that, even after the older woman returned, and then it became the usual exercise in ennui as all those before me were called in to see the "doctor" down the hall. I finished my TLS, wishing I had brought the following issue with me as well.
Eventually my name was called. I was ushered to a tiny examination room, and almost immediately she entered behind me. I had seen this woman earlier, floating around the front desk in a confused state, and I assumed she was a previous patient. A gnomish four-footer, she was wearing a blue jean jacket and sporting a cheap, bloody orange dye job. She looked to be in her mid-80s and going through a 2nd or 3rd postlife crisis. I expected Ashton Kutcher to pop out from under the examination table telling me I had been PUNK'D.
She demanded to know what was wrong with me. I told her about my ear, and I bent down to allow her to shine her light. In all of 15 seconds, she triumphantly declared "No Wax!" after a peek in each ear with her little light. She proceeded to start writing a scrip for a decongestant and to see her again in a week. I explained that I had my own GP and several other oncologists and endocrinologists, and I had simply expected the walk-in clinic doctor to instantly see what was in my ear and syringe it out. I tried to thank her and leave, but she held me for another five minutes as I dictated an abridged narrative of my health history the past 3 years to her. I had to tell her how to spell a few things, and I really began to wonder where the hell I was.
She handed me back the narrative I had dictated to her, put her stamp on it, and I walked dumbfoundedly outside to the street. 2 hours lighter, and 2 hours later.