Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Observations from the doctor's office

I've been either lucky or stubborn so far, seldom coming into contact with the inside of a medical clinic. So when that streak recently came to a screeching halt, my curiosity at least kept me occupied for the three days that (it seemed) I was waiting in a chair for a nurse to call my name.

A few observations:

* First and foremost, do medical clinics not make enough money to afford chairs on which all four legs are at least approximately the same length and on which some modest amount of padding is available for gluteus maximus? *Note to self* - donate to Foundation for Better Medical Waiting Room Chairs, which I just bet exists, somewhere.

* Front desk people sit behind a big plastic sneeze guard, like some kind of medical administration salad bar. No fools are front desk people. So, on my second visit, I repeatedly sneeze all over my insurance card just outside the door and smiled as I hand it damply past the plastic barrier.

* Unlike clinic front desk folks, I am surprised to find that in these buildings, there are quite a lot of sick people. I know what you are thinking, "duuuuh," but remember, this is all new to me. There are a lot of cigarette hacks, and more than a few people who have fallen asleep in their waiting chairs. (At least I hope to goodness they are asleep.) There is not much for sense of humor to be found in that waiting room, and virtually no one who wants to play "thumb war" or sing a cappella Eagles tunes to pass the time. Oh, well, hopefully we will meet again in a happier condition, people.

* There must not be a class in clinical magazine racks in med school. Most of the decent stuff is stuck in those 10-pound plastic binders you may remember from the dentist's office circa World War I, so you can only really read the outside halves of the pages. Somebody's sales brochure for the latest Pontiac subcompact car is in there passed off as reading material. Wait now, do not give me the doctor who drives the entry-level Pontiac - I want the one who has that Porsche out in the parking lot, I figure there's no room for malpractice suits in his budget.

* People almost always go to the doctor in twos. I think this must be some kind of built-in human nature support-system, like the way the Marines will leave no one behind wounded in battle. A man and a woman are both bent and in wheelchairs, and I'm not sure which is the patient, but it is clear the other endured struggle to get there with their loved one. What I take to be a daughter and granddaughter refuse to leave a grandmother's side for the examination. This is a nice thing. I feel that I have broken a code by coming alone.

* Once you are summoned from your teetering chair through the door into medicine-land, the first thing they do is nudge you onto a scale, just like Gary Bussey in "Celebrity Fit Club." Now I don't have a scale, so I'm reasonably interested in this. I'm three pounds lighter than I guessed I was based on my buffet consumption, so I'm still in that cloud of euphoria as they hand me a plastic cup. No thanks, love, I'm driving. "No? Then what's this thing for," I ask. The lady just points to the door labeled "men." Ohhhh. This is one test you do not need to study for. Soon enough, three and a half pounds lighter.

* I am relieved (again) that they do not make you wear those nightgown things with the back open to let the open air flow just where one does not usually want open air flowing. Another chair, this time in a tiny little examining room with a modern art drawing of a multicolored cat, which is really darn good if it was done by one of the staff's children in kindergarten, and really darn bad if purchased from an art dealer for a lot of patient money. More waiting. I wonder if it is still winter outside...

* It is a fine and thoughtful idea to have an old radio playing in the little room where they draw your blood. Great distraction. But when it happens to be playing John Mellencamp's "Blood on the Scarecrow" as you are doing it - eh, not so much.

* After they take blood, they let you wander the maze of hallways to try to find your way back to where you started. It is not wise to allow someone who always wanted to go to medical school free rein behind the scenes. By the time I'd found my nurse again, I had diagnosed three patients and played a game of Madden NFL 2003 on an EKG heart monitor.

* It does not seem right that the doctors all look to be in worse shape than you as a patient are. Those chairs never seem to get empty for them, and it's gotta be just a depressing assembly line blur of whiners like me at times, and yet the guy has time to sit down and talk to me - I mean "so how's it going" talk in real English and not medical Greek, and to seem to care. He orders me to get more rest, and I wish him the same. I hope they are able to hire some more help. They keep our town and our families ticking, and I get the feeling it is not easy work physically or emotionally. They deserve a break. Perhaps we should care for our doctors at least as much as they care for us.

* Finally, there is no angel on God's green earth to compare to a kind nurse who, while you are nervously waiting for test results in an environment as foreign to you as the surface of Saturn, pops her head in the door to tell you that she took a peek and it looks like everything is going to be okay. Somebody give that woman a raise. And a hug.

* Dana Larsen is the editor of the Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune. He can be reached at dlarsen@stormlakepilottribune.com