Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Urgent Care

Three hours in the urgent care clinic, confined to a room full of coughing people, one heartbreaking baby girl who wheezed terribly while crying, another baby who promptly vomited in the corner.

Most of us wore masks and did a complex shuffle to allow old or frail people to sit down. First we wrote our names on an admission sheet, and then we waited to be called for registration. I sat on a small table and read my book, always listening for my name, and also listening to the other names and the deft ability of clinic workers to pronounce Hispanic surnames, Arabic ones, Japanese ones, East Indian ones.

There were very few hitches to break the monotony of everybody staring at everybody else. First was the woman who kept returning to insist that she be allowed to get an H1N1 shot, even though she wasn't in a high-risk group. She'd argue, the receptionist would explain, she'd argue some more, she'd leave the clinic in anger, and five minutes later she'd come back again.

Other hitches were the people who signed the admission sheet without actually having their children present, and then were called to registration to have their ruse revealed. After having already waited ninety minutes in line, these people were sent home to get their children, only to return and go through the whole process all over again.

The rest of us, I suspect, had a subdued loathing for the angry people and the rule-breakers, and then we smiled inside when their efforts were thwarted. WE were sitting quietly and following all the rules. COMPLIANT mothers were entertaining their children for three hours out of their busy day. By vicariously enjoying the punishment of others, we reaffirmed our own worthiness, even though we were wearing hot facemasks and sitting for hours with extremely sick people.

There was a dignified old man who refused all offers of seating, only to collapse gently when a chair became naturally available. An impromptu trio of cynical strangers entertained themselves by the free telephone. A small boy reached out and tilted my book up to see what it was, and perhaps to read the blurb on the back: "Jerry Cornelius copulates, hallucinates, devastates..."

"I don't know how much longer it will take," the receptionist kept saying. "Probably hours. Everybody's in the same situation, you'll have to take your turn."

After I got my H1N1 shot they sent me out the back door, to reduce my exposure to sick and coughing people. A black, swollen bruise has slowly formed and now I have TWO useless biceps. Tiny virus, stay away from me until I am fully immunized.

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