“I got the rockin’ pneumonia and the boogie-woogie flu.”
I have shoes older than my new primary care doctor. He has a pageboy haircut, like Prince Valiant in the comic strip. At times he ties it back in a ponytail, a spritz of hair sticking out from the back of his head like a party popper. On my appointment day, I trail a nurse through a labyrinth of hallways hung with framed photos of birds, flowers and clouds, assuring me that I am in a happy place. This makes sense. Black and whites of ruptured spleens would not be encouraging. We enter a 12 x 12 room with cabinets and countertop, two rolling chairs, and an examination bench covered in sterile white paper, preventing me from contaminating the bench. I do not sit on the bench, because the paper makes crinkly noises and creeps me out. She takes my vitals and departs, shutting the door carefully behind her. I look around. My old doctor had his very own examining room with a wall of pride (medical degree, college degree, Rotary membership) and colored illustrations of body parts. This room has the warmth of a public lavatory, without tiles. Prince Valiant arrives, pushing ahead of him a rolling stand with two computer screens. He howdies me, grabs a chair, plops down, and disappears behind the screens. There is silence but for taps on keys and an occasional “Hmmm.” Was that a “Hmmm, things look OK” or a “Hmmm, Oh my God!”?
As I await the verdict of my lab results, I think about the pain I have felt for a week. A muscle pull I thought. I finger the site, pressing. Could it be my kidney? Or maybe I have an inflamed appendix. Wait, if it were an appendix, it would have burst by now and I’d be dead. No, it’s definitely a kidney. But don’t I have two kidneys? If they take one, I’ve got a spare. Whew.
I am picturing the gurney ride to the operating table when he reappears from behind the screens and hands me a printout. It lists 55 medical terms from “WBC” to “T4 Free.” Every one of them has a printed number relating to my personal blood. He has checked off “Sodium”, “Potassium” and “Chloride” and scrawled next to them “Eltrprrts.” Then, by BUN and Creatinine, he has scrawled “Kilplits.” Further down, in the cholesterol department, I see writing I can understand: next to HDL “Good”, then, right next door, in caps, LDL “BAD”. He clucks disapprovingly. My LDL number teeters near the out-of-bounds marker. I take a statin for cholesterol. My blood shuttles statin bits all over my body and puts them where they are needed, just like our postman Tommy delivers letters to our condo letter boxes. Sometimes Tommy can barely wedge a letter into a box. It is jammed full of junk mail: ads for hearing aids, retirement homes, and political campaigns. Pats of butter and bacon and eggs from breakfast and the Krispy Kreme gobbled down at coffee are the junk mail of my body, getting in the way of well-meaning statin bits. I assure the doctor that I will watch my diet in the future. A voice in my head goes “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”
The door to the Modern Mellow Medical Care office barely closes behind my bum when I hear the buzz of a text message: “Tell us how Dr. Valiant did in our brief survey at http://www.modernmellowcare.com I click trash.
I was an Army brat. My mother was Platoon Craig’s Master Sergeant, tolerating no shirking of duty, disorderliness, or tardiness in her troops. She was also our 24/7 doctor, no white coat. There were five conditions addressed by Sergeant Dr. Mom: upset stomach, constipation, the trots, headache, and fever. For upset stomach there was Phillips Milk of Magnesia, for constipation there was Castor Oil. If Castor Oil failed, there was the guided missile of ass destruction, a suppository. For the trots there was Kaopectate. For headaches and fever there were APC pills, we called “Armored Piercing Capsules.” They were banned from medical use in the 1970s.
The Post Hospital was part of life’s triad: the Post Exchange, the Post Commissary, and the Post Hospital. It was where we got vaccinations. At birth I was issued a wallet-sized card where shots like DTP, measles and mumps, and a particularly nasty piece of work called the Schick test were recorded. Once a year my mother marched the four of us down to the Post Hospital and presented our cards. We bared our arms and got stuck. Other visits to the Post Hospital were ad hoc, for sore throats, the flu, and chicken pox. Doctors were men in white coats who jabbed me with needles annually and in between stuck dry wooden tongue depressors down my throat and told me to say “Ah,” making me gag. There followed a stethoscope to the chest, a stethoscope stored in a freezer for the occasion.
Sergeant Dr. Mom did not take us to get an ice cream cone after a visit to the Post Hospital. I am still waiting for one.