Another trip to the med center

It was supposed to be the first match of the new tennis season. I was paired up with my running buddy, we the defenders of the Witches’ Open 2010 title, were scheduled to play at Houston Racquet Club, a beautiful club that is heavily wooded and shrouded in tennis tradition. It’s one of my favorite places to play an away match.

When I re-signed with my Alley Cats team for the spring season, I knew I probably wouldn’t get to play the entire season, since I need to get this reconstruction done. But for me, a few matches is better than no matches, and after my post-mastectomy, post-infection absence and convelescence last season, I’m happy to be upright and on the court. You hear people say that a bad day on the court is better than a good day in the office. True, but that adage rings even truer for those of us who have stared an ugly disease in the face. The fact that my game is better than ever is icing on the cake. Or fuzz on the yellow ball. Or whatever.

But alas, the weather gods conspired against me. We got another blast of Old Man Winter, and as if the frigid temps and gusty winds weren’t enough, it rained and sleeted, and the season stalled before it even began. This South Texas girl is tired of winter. “south Texas” and “winter” do not go together. And my tennis days are numbered–again. Barring any weather delays, I’ll play three matches before going under the knife in a few weeks. I don’t even want to think about how long I’ll be out–of the game or under anesthesia during surgery!–but I’m realistic enough to know that the season will be over before I’m ready to play again. Sigh.

So instead of playing tennis, I was a dutiful patient and headed to the medical center for more pre-op testing.

I hate going to the med center, and I hate testing.

Ok, let me rephrase: I appreciate that one of the world’s best medical facilities is a 20-minute drive, down a toll road no less, from my house, and that I have a vehicle that gets me there, cash in my pocket to valet park, pro-active and organized doctors who have a plan for me, and health insurance to cover the frightful expenses. And an added bonus, one of my BFFs works at Methodist in the med center, so I get to see her in her white coat and definitely in her element. That is very cool to see.

So while I hate going there and hate everything about the testing, I am grateful. That counts for something, right?

Everything about hospitals and testing bugs me. I’ve ranted about it before so won’t rehash but let’s suffice to say that everything from the smell to the idleness of waiting my turn just bugs me.

Today was relatively easy in the grand scheme of medical testing, though: just 7 vials of blood for lab work, an EKG, and a chest x-ray. The new Outpatient Services facility at Methodist is beautiful: spacious, well-lit with banks of windows showcasing stellar views, comfy chairs, quiet rooms for those of us with sensory overload, knowledgeable staff and supremely trained nurses and technicians. The phlebotomist who stuck me got the needle into the vein on the first try, something I very much appreciate.

I still hate it, though.

I was happy that I remembered to take Dr Spiegel’s orders with me, since I’ve had them for a couple of weeks.  I would have been really mad if I’d gotten all the way down there in the cold rain to be told I had to go home and get the orders. Score one for me.

I checked in and chose a soft beige leather chair. I barely had time to settle in and fire up my kindle before a tour guide called my  name and asked me to follow her to the business office to once again show proof of ID and insurance. After a quick “skim this, sign this,” it was into another waiting area, this time closer to the procedures area. It’s akin to moving from the waiting area to the exam room at the doctor’s office. Even if you have to wait awhile in the exam room, you’ve at least progressed along in your journey.

After again firing up my kindle and peeping out the room-long windows at the grey, misty cityscape, I settled in for yet another indeterminate wait. After about half an hour, an older couple came in and sat behind me. I could see them out of the corner of my eye and could hear murmers of their conversation.  I did not, however, make eye contact. I’ve learned the hard way to treat my fellow patients the way I treat fellow travelers on a plane: don’t look right at them or give any indication of interest in their life story.

Mean? Maybe. But I’ve never claimed to be Miss Compassion, and while I’m sure there are sob stories that are sobbier than mine, I don’t want to hear them. I have no room in my life for the problems of strangers. Now, before you write me off as aloof and uncaring, let me state for the record that I will render aid if necessary. If an elderly woman walks off without her sweater or umbrella, I will chase her down and return her belongings. If the granny with a double knee replacement drops her pen while filling out yet another medical form, I’ll reach it for her. I’ll hold the elevator for young mothers with strollers and errant toddlers. But don’t ask me to take an interest in and listen to your sob story. Not gonna do it.

I was trying my best to tune out this couple behind me in holding pen #2 but despite my efforts, I noticed the man becoming more and more agitated about how long he was going to have to wait. I was tempted to advise him to pipe down and settle in, since he just arrived, and really it was only 9:15 a.m. He was upset about not knowing exactly how long this was going to take. Outpatient Services is first-come, first-served. Open from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. Come early and be prepared to wait. Duh.

Does anyone ever know how long “this” is going to take, whatever “this” happens to be? If you’re at the med center for outpatient testing, you’d better plan on being there awhile. Looking around, I noticed that everyone else had a book, magazine, soduku puzzle, knitting, laptop, and even a portable DVD player to pass the time. Everyone but the man behind me, who coincidentally was the only one asking how long “this” would take.

His wife tried to shush him, and I tried to tune him out, but he got louder and more upset. He tried to talk his wife into leaving, telling her he didn’t think he could stay any longer for the procedure.

Then he started to cry.

Yes, a grown man started to cry about having to wait for a medical procedure. I don’t know what he was having done, but I do know that they don’t even do anything scary there: cardiology testing, x-ray, and lab work. I know for a fact that other floors contain other scary options, but the 17th floor is pretty tame.

His wife tried to shush him some more in a way that made me think of little kids being told to stop their crying before they were given something to really cry about. She told him to dry it up, he told her he couldn’t, and she told him that yes he certainly could. After they went back and forth a bit, she hollared at him: “James Langston, you stop that right now!” And he did. Tough love in action. Right on!

Mr. Langston coerced his wife into asking one of the tour guides who walked by how many people were ahead of him for testing. She took his name and went to check. He blubbered a bit more, then she came back to report that there were three people ahead of him (one of which was me, thank you very much). That set him off anew, and he was caterwaling pretty good by this point. The tour guide shuffled off to straighten the magazines or restock the pamphlets or something, anything, to get away from James Langston and his weeping.

I’ve spent more than my fair share in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and outpatient testing areas lately, and no matter which facility I happen to be in, I can’t help but notice that every other patient is a lot older than me. As in, there’s no way they still have small kids at home, and I’m almost certain they aren’t juggling the kinds of things I am. Packing lunches? Nope. Overseeing homework assignments’ completion? Don’t think so. Ferrying kids to and fro, from school to sports to lessons to playdates? Uh, no. Worrying about getting out of there in time to not be last in line for carpool pick-up? Not today. Rushing to the store to pick up juice boxes and Fruit by the Foot? Negative. I’m betting these geezers don’t even remember that they ever did such things. (Ok, that was harsh, but it felt good to get it out. I’m done.) It’s just one of the many things that sucks about being a resident of Cancerland, and being a young resident blows especially hard.

Still in holding pen #2, I read the same page of my book 15 times without comprehending a word. I wasn’t trying to be nosey but I couldn’t help but wonder what James Langston was so afraid of, and why no one had thought to give him a Xanax. James Langston could have used one, for sure. If I were a more compassionate person, I might have offered him one of mine. But I’m not, and I guard my stash very carefully.

Just as I was about to start to feel a wee bit sorry for him, though, he grabbed a nurse and begged her to take him next.

And she did.

Crybaby James Langston leapfrogged to the front of the line, leaving the rest of us in his dust. He’s either the biggest baby or the shrewdest patient. I have no idea which.

8 Comments on “Another trip to the med center”

  1. Amy H. says:

    Hey, I worked in the medical field for a long time. We just moved the crybabies into “holding area #3” also known as “the cry room”. It makes them feel like they’ve progressed on their journey but they still have to wait their turn…..

  2. Growing up an only child I often try the cry in just about any situation I’m not getting my way. Absurd, yes but some habits are hard to break. I have not tried it in a medical facility. Thanks for the heads up about “holding area 3” Amy! Nancy do they really hand out Xanax in those situations? If so, I might be OK with area 3.

  3. Kayte says:

    Woah. First of all: you have developed patience. Hm. Interesting “side effect,” eh?

    Second of all: This is the first time I’ve ever hoped that someone has a brain tumor. That story is appalling. That poor woman. Seriously, though: a xanax. Or seven.

  4. Kayte says:

    And by “hope he has a brain tumor” I of course mean a benign operable one that can be blamed for making him cry all the time.

    Oh, I’m a terrible person.

  5. Ed says:

    Wow. All I can say is his condition, whatever it is, had better be the cause of his crying. I watched my dad be eaten from the inside by cancer and even when he was in horrible pain and exceedingly frail he did not cry–not at home in private, never in public, and certainly not to move up in line. Kayte, you are not a terrible person, Mr. Crybaby-my-pain-Is-worse-than-yours is a terrible person.

  6. Bobby says:

    hang in there; soon, you’ll be out there practicing some groundies and working on your net game! I haven’t hit in almost two years now but I like just going thru the motions with my racket, working on my backhand form.

    Amazing….who was it that said “Hell is other people”? Was it Camus or Sartre? Perhaps Mr. Langston is to be pitied more than to be reviled for his lack of maturity or evolution. We’re all on our own journey thru life; some people are more advanced than others during the trip, or have quality of dignity and grace. Obviously, Mr. Langston does not know how selfish he had been. The biggest offenders are often ones who have no self awareness, or, as you say, quite the shrewd individual to cut in line. if the latter is correct, then the following words apply to his ilk:

    Or to quote from Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” :

    “I cannot but conclude that the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”

  7. You are a saint! I think I would have resorted to violence or at least Shakespearean insults.

  8. awww….bless his heart,,did you ever think maybe it was his momma with him and maybe she had packed his lunch and toted him to the center? 🙂

    Ok now you are making me feel like an old timer in cancerland.

    great story


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s