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meddling through healthcare

I’m not great at going to the doctor. It usually takes me a couple days to realize I’m sick, and by then I figure I can wait for my white blood cells to battle it out amongst themselves. I drink lots of fluids and try and think positive thoughts, but in the end I usually have to drag myself in to see someone a solid week past when I could have been healthy had I just gone to the doctor in the first place.

Which is why when I started feeling sick a couple months ago and called my doctor’s office the next day, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. The receptionist let me know the doctor wouldn’t be in until the following week, but I could see the nurse practitioner. As I didn’t think my symptoms were too serious, I figured this would be fine.

The first part of my visit was routine; a kind nurse in bright pink scrubs assessed my weight, height, and blood pressure as I answered simple questions about my medical history (“I usually just think good thoughts and drink lots of fluids”). When we were finished, she led me down the hall, cheerfully telling me it was “time to see the doctor.” Didn’t she mean the nurse practitioner?

“Oh yeah, that’s right.”

The nurse practitioner, who may or may not be making the other nurses refer to her as “doctor,” is a tall, pale Russian woman who does not smile, stand or shake my hand when I enter. She has jet black hair, cut short and slicked back on her head with enough gel to rival the entire Broadway cast of Grease.

When I ask her how she is, she dryly looks to her watch and deadpans, “Great. It’s almost 5:00,” which is a pretty lame joke coming from anyone but most of all from doctors and/or nurse practitioners; I get it, we all would rather not be at work but when your work is to figure out what’s wrong with me, can you at least pretend you’re not counting down the minutes to happy hour? She immediately starts loudly peppering me with questions in her thick accent before anyone has closed the door.


As I answer, I hear my voice echoing down the hallway of the small office and ask if her if maybe we should shut the door.


After we discuss my bowel movements loudly enough for the entire waiting room to take notes, she informs me she’d like to do some blood work, however I’ll have to come back the following day as I need to fast beforehand. But because I’ve also told her my chest feels a little tight, she says they can do an EKG in the office to make sure everything is ok.

She barks for the nurse to come back in and take me next door, which she does and as she’s hooking wires to stickers on my chest and ankles, I want to apologize to her for having to hear about my diarrhea, but I don’t because I also don’t want to say the word diarrhea anymore.

The nurse runs the test, rips off the little ticker tape with my seismic heart movements on it and brings it next door to the Russian, who I hear thunder through the paper thin walls, “IS HE RELAXED? DO AGAIN — MAKE SURE HE’S RELAXED.” When the nurse comes back in a moment later and gently tells me to relax, the Russian chimes in from across the wall, “YOU MUST RELAX!” which obviously leaves me feeling super relaxed.

Two tests later I go back to see the Russian who tells me I need to go to the ER immediately because my heart rate is alarmingly low. She says the hospital can run more tests, but I should hurry because I’m basically going to die in her office and she’d rather I not because it’s almost 5:00. (She didn’t actually say that. What she actually said was, “IF IT WAS ME? I GO. QUICK.”)

Because I live in Los Angeles, when I get to the hospital I discover I can either valet my car or park in their lot, which only accepts cash. And because it’s 2017 and I almost never have cash on me, I decide to drive around the block to look for street parking, wondering if my apparently lazy heart is going to stop and I’m going to die steps from the hospital all because I don’t keep a twenty in my wallet like an adult.

I haven’t been to an emergency room since I was little, so I don’t realize when you tell the reception desk you’re having chest pains what you’re actually saying is I’d like to cut everyone in line and be rushed in immediately. Roughly three seconds later, I’m in the back with a triage nurse doing another EKG and everyone is moving really quickly but also telling me to relax in much more comforting tones than the Russian. However this time when they see the results, the room breathes a sigh of relief and tells me my heart appears to be fine and I promptly feel like an idiot who lied about his chest pains to get a fast pass to the ER. They order a chest X-ray and a bunch of blood work and send me down the hall.

As I’m being shuffled along to get the X-ray and my blood taken, I’m getting angrier at the imposter Russian doctor and myself for listening to her. And now my chest pains are getting worse because I’m realizing I don’t know how much my insurance covers for ER visits and am picturing being handed a $12K bill for two aspirin and having to write “believed fake Russian doc, bankrupted by medical bills” on my cardboard sign that I’ll be waving at cars outside the freeway underpass where I’ll be living when this night is over.

After I complete the tests, they put me in a room with two other beds separated by curtains and hook me up to the monitors again, leaving me to wait for the doctor and wallow in all the poor choices that have led me to this moment.

My roommates are a 83 year-old woman who cannot see or hear and doesn’t really know where she is but does know she would rather be at UCLA, which she says loudly and repeatedly to anyone who will listen. I know she’s 83 because she keeps saying “I’ve lived 83 years for this?” and I love her instantly but never actually see her. The man next to her does not announce his age but does have to relay how he he slipped and fell on his driveway to each new nurse and doctor who arrive. As they wheel him in and out for various tests, I see him moaning in pain and he does not look good and I remind myself to be careful on driveways.

The nurse in charge of our room is a young, tiny Armenian woman who is being shadowed by a tall male nurse with a solid beard who instructs her on how to use the computer system and then leaves her to deal with us on her own. She tells me it is her first night at this hospital, but she is visibly shaking as she takes my blood which leads me to believe it might be her first night at any hospital.

When the doctor finally comes to see me, she is a very kind woman who is very concerned with my chest situation, even though all the tests have come back fine. I try to explain how I never really go to the doctor and when I finally did it wasn’t actually a doctor but a Russian woman who makes the nurses call her doctor and bullied me into driving myself to the ER and I’m sure all I need is some rest and fluids and positive thinking. She tells me she wants to keep me overnight so I can be monitored and then meet with a cardiologist in the morning. I tell her I would love to stay, but I’m a very poor, struggling writer slash actor slash substitute teacher who definitely can’t afford an overnight stay at the hospital and also I’m parked on the street and need to move the car so what if I sleep at home and then meet with the cardiologist in the morning? She’s not amused, but we agree if a second round of tests are done and come back fine, I can go.

While waiting for the test results three things happen in this order: a man is pronounced dead outside our door, the woman next to me cannot get anyone to answer her buzzer and consequently pees on herself, and my phone’s battery dies because I’ve been busy reading stories about Donald Trump that definitely aren’t helping my chest pains. I take the hint from the universe, put my phone away and work on being present and enjoying the precious and fragile existence that is this life.

Finally, the doctor returns and lets me know my tests have come back the same and while she doesn’t agree with me leaving, she can’t really stop me. She does have to legally inform me that by leaving I’m at risk of disablement or death, to which I joke, “but aren’t we all?” She gives me a small pity laugh and then returns her face to a look of deep concern as I unplug myself from the machines and start to get my things.

In the end, I saw a cardiologist and nothing is wrong with me. I mean, besides an impressive level of anxiety and an equally impressive ability to whole-heartedly believe a Russian woman in scrubs pretending to be a doctor who sent me to the hospital so she could make it to happy hour on time.


This is post #26/30 in a 500 Words-A-Day Challenge. Read them all here.


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