Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Diagnostic Process, Part One

Yesterday I finally got in to see a doctor about my shingles.

First, I was a half an hour late, because instead of writing down the time I need to leave to make the appointment I wrote down the actual appointment time. When I got there, I read the look on Lorraine's face. She normally greets me, when I have Ben in tow, with a warm smile and our wait is never more than 10 minutes.

"I'll have to see if he can still see you." That's what I like about this clinic, they don't stand on the pretense of saying "The Doctor." Normally, someone like Lorraine might have said, "I'll have to see if The Doctor can see you," the capitals audible. But not here. This is the Ypsilanti Family Practice, and we know the docs are just humans. The huddled masses pass through this clinic, and they are welcomed and healed without regard to class.

I, all apologetic, said, "Oh jeez, Lorraine, did I write down the wrong time?"

"What time did you write down?" she asked, one eyebrow raised.

"1:30--I think the time I have to leave to get here." The clinic is across town, across an interstate, and a world away from upscale Ann Arbor. "I always write Ben's appointments down as the time I need to leave," I add, hoping the mention of The Prince will soften her judgment.

"Your appointment," she said, pausing just there for emphasis, "was scheduled for 1:30." Her regal posture has not moved. She looks me square in the eye. She is not moved by invocation of The Prince.

I look away from her gaze, for a nanosecond, but I know it is enough to signal I am defeated. "God, I hate middle age," I say. And then, genuinely, "I am so sorry. Of course I'll reschedule if I need to."

She softens, just a hair, reaching for the phone. "Let's see if he can see you." It's not even a capital h.

Thirty minutes later, she says, "I am sorry you waited so long, he can see you," and flash, I am into the inner sanctum and The Scale.

The Scale is a dirty liar, but I let it go.

The height is recorded at 71 inches, so I haven't shrunk at all, which is heartening. I could still win bets in bars with men who claim to be six feet tall.

The nurse who takes me to room 9 says, "He doesn't have that many patients, he has time to see you. How's Ben?"

I want to kiss her. I love this place. "Ben's fine. Thanks for that," and she smiles graciously.

"You don't really need to do the gown, I'll just set it here." After my encounter with The Scale, the thought of sitting with my fat apron lolling around the edges of the gown was really getting me down.

"Thank God," I say, and she smiles again, that knowing I'm-an-older-woman-too-and-I feel-your-pain-sister smile.

In walks a taller, thinner, brunette Dougie Howser. I'm "John Stracks," he says, extending his hand, "You're Cynthia Bostwick? We haven't met." I love this place. No "Me Doctor Surname, you Cindy" crap from this guy. We're almost equals.

"Hi, John," I say, feeling emboldened by the sisterhood of the nurse. "Good to meet you."

He asks why I am here, and I explain I think I have shingles. I tell him I called two weeks ago and this was the earliest appointment available. I tell him I have had them before, during my first year of law school 22 years ago. I describe the course of the illness to date. I do not ask for drugs, just confirmation.

He asks me if he can see it. I lift up my sweater and the bottom of my bra, and show him the rash, right there, under my too-ample right breast.

"Are you sure it's not your undergarment rubbing?"

This comment removes any trace of apology I still felt for being late and makes me want to lecture this high school kid about imitating a doctor. Then I think, oh wait, he's acting like a doctor, so he must be one.

I had the exquisite luxury of knowing my doc as a friend for nearly 20 years in St. Clair County. He trusted me, he knew I wasn't a nitwit, he believed I was capable of educated guesses about my own body. We talked about kids, life, politics, the art of medicine and law, and the child welfare system. Paul Bruer was a healer. This guy doesn't know me yet, so he's being a Doctor, not a partner in curing illness.

"I realize I am overweight and my undergarment," I sneer the word, "doesn't fit me like it used to, but I am certain this is not caused by the rubbing of same undergarment on my skin. This hurts. It started as a piercing back pain two days before the rash appeared. I've had them before. It's shingles."

"I'll be right back," he says. I think, from the look on his face, that he might be going to use an emesis basin.

He comes back in with a woman who looks even younger. "Hi, I'm Susan Yost, the Chief of Family Practice here. Would you mind if I took a peek at your rash?"

"Not at all," I lift the tight undergarment and she turns to him and says, "Yep. It's shingles, it's all along the nerve."


(to be continued, it's late, and I have shingles, whine, whine.)


Undeniable Liberal said...

Good luck with your shingles, i have heard that it's quite painful.

The Curmudgeon said...

Things they never told us about childhood diseases:

They did say, once you have chicken pox, you'll never get them again.

They didn't say: But the same virus can come back and cause shingles.

Of course, I wouldn't have wanted to hear that. Ever.

Hope you feel better soon.