Nothing makes me more humble than sitting in a tiny exam room at the clinic, waiting for the doctor to enter.
Time expands. In the waiting room, there is an endless stream of people to probe and measure, diagnose and prescribe. We are all slowly floating along, vinyl tubes in a wide, slow river.
I read the taped notices on the wall, from “cover your cough” to “have you had your flu shot?” The stack of dog-eared magazines next to a toddler toy and box of crayons does not appeal. In the distance, a child cries. I am reminded of a time, almost 35 years ago, when my soon-to-be husband and I waited in a similar exam room of a harried young oncologist with a brusque manner. My guy had just been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, and we were still in shock. Through the wall we could hear an adult shouting in the next exam room, then moaning, then weeping. It scared the crap out of me, but didn’t stop me from marrying him. We had a long and loving journey of 16 years.
I scramble around in my purse for a pen, and start drafting this blog post in the margins of a program leftover from Sunday’s church service. A plain, boring room is suddenly brimming with details I feel compelled to list, much like the “I spy with my little eye…” game. Above the exam table, I spot a soft ceiling panel painted to look like a serene lake scene with a small boat floating amid cattails. How delightful! My dentist in Manassas, Virginia had done something similar, tacking exotic photos from his world travels on the ceiling over his patients reclined in dental exam chairs.
On the back of the door is a “leaves of three, let them be” faded poster with rows of photos identifying poisonous plants to avoid. Beside it is taped a bright yellow ruler chart with vertical markings for measuring height. The dam of memories breaks, washing over me. How many times? – twelve? twenty? fifty? more? – did I bring our children into rooms like this for vaccinations and wellness checks, sports physicals, strep throat, ear infections, fevers, a bike accident. We were blessed with a girl and a boy, even after my husband’s cancer treatments. In the blink of an eye, they are now 26 and 30 years old. Their pediatrician is probably long retired.
I think about my present doctor, a general practitioner. Since these diplomas were placed under glass and framed on the wall, she has probably seen a never-ending torrent of children and teens growing and developing, becoming sexual and fertile, birthing their own children. And she has seen adults, from idealist to aging in the natural course of life, and then withering in the devastation that comes from accidents and illness and disease. Where am I in this flow?
I hear a noise, the scrape of papers from the plastic holder on the outside of the door. The metal knob turns. The doctor enters and sits on the once empty stool, apologizing for the delay. She keys information into her laptop as we talk, then rests it on the counter. She takes my pulse, listens to my heart and lungs, asks me how I feel after two weeks of antibiotics. She presses me on either side, and two sharp pains radiate upward. The antibiotics have done their job, but I am still healing, she says. Drink water. Lots of water. If the tenderness continues past two weeks, or any other sign pops up, contact her office.
I exit quickly, set free to breeze past the waiting room full of people to be probed and measured, diagnosed and prescribed. I am grateful for the warmth of the sun on my face and the steady ground beneath my feet. Reprieve.