I had been sitting in the waiting room for fifteen minutes before I realized I was flipping everyone off. My hand rested across my forehead in a tired manner, middle finger splayed out and pointing to the sky like a fire hose aimed at a burning building.
Despite that I was thirteenth in line, and everyone else in the waiting room was in front of me, I did not actually mean to flip them all off. Well, at least consciously. I am, in general, sympathetic toward the plight of my fellow man. I say silent prayers for every ambulance that passes me, for instance.
Fortunately everyone present had their noses in a phone or a magazine and failed to notice that not only was I flipping them off, but I was sizing them all up as I did it. When I am in an urgent care center I make a point of using my Google knowledge of ailments to evaluate every patient—from a distance—to decide who has what, and therefore what disease has gone airborne and will then infect me.
The mountains in the distance are the doctor; all those trees are the people ahead of me.
You see, I was there with the tot, who was in a feverish sleep on my lap. High fever for two days, none of your typical viral nasal symptoms, no respiratory symptoms, but a sore throat—it looked like a closed case to me: clearly the tot had strep throat. This was a satisfactory diagnosis because it is easily treated and I never catch strep throat.
Not really wanting to let it progress all weekend before being able to get into the pediatrician’s office, I decided to do the old urgent care gamble. Part one of the gamble is whether or not we would get a semi-normal doctor, and part two is what diseases we would or would not bring home from the waiting room.
As the doctor had not yet presented himself, and realistically—being thirteenth in line—that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, I decided to focus on the what diseases I would bring home part of the gamble.
That sounds like a chronic cough, not like something that is still contagious. I consoled myself. That lady clearly is here for a limp. That other lady over there—she’s got some sort of old person complaint. The man there looks healthy, he must be here for a physical.
I looked over at the screen that was playing kiddie appropriate versions of normally sexualized pop music videos, but also displaying the list of names in line. Somehow we had jumped for thirteenth place to eighth place. They are dropping like flies, I consoled myself further.
But Only a Fool Thinks Being Taken Back Means Seeing the Doctor Anytime Soon
The nurse did the standard throat and nasal swab, and then disappeared. And I mean once that door closed I think she really did disappear. I could hear distant sounds from the hallway, like maybe we weren’t alone in that building, but no sign of a human came for a very long time. The tot was propped up on the examination table, but being so weary she just leaned over onto me, and so I leaned forward toward her, and there I stood with back curved like a bridge between floor and tot.
My hand was on that pleather examination table on the part not covered by the paper sheet. I could practically feel the flu germs crawling onto my hands, desperately seeking an opening into my fertile internals where they could then have a flu orgy and reproduce like fiends within me. It was a vision something like those disgusting parasitoid wasps that lay their eggs inside another insect so that as the babies grow they can greedily eat their poor living host.
Calm down, self. We will wash hands after this. Everything is fine. I consoled some more.
I looked at the sad little patterns within that pleather that very much wanted to be the natural patterns of real leather. I spotted an upside down Italy. Then a ghoulish face. That game got old quick.
What the hell are they doing out there?
Of course there were other patients to attend to, but it was closing time and I was one of the last to come back.
What would take so long? Are they amputating someone’s leg? They aren’t supposed to do that here! There is an emergency room right down the street.
I waited some more. The hallway had grown entirely silent. Had they forgotten me? Would the lights soon go out, and then upon exiting that tiny room I would set off the security alarm? And then I would meet your standard want-to-be-the-boss-of-everyone American gun-happy cop? Just how badly could this whole urgent care incident end?
I brushed it from mind as I realized the sound machine they had wafting noise from the ceiling was still playing. There must have still been someone around if they hadn’t shut if off yet. The sound was of waves crashing, but they didn’t make any sense. It was a gentle, small wave crash sound, but repeated very quickly—too quickly. The sort of quickly a storm of waves would cause, which would not be gentle waves. It was all so contradictory!
The supposedly soothing waves were starting to gnaw at me. I gritted my teeth.
You are starting to lose your shit. Calm down. Yes, there are viruses microscopically climbing around on your skin. Yes, the waves are the sort of sound that slowly drives people crazy—everything is fine! We are going to get antibiotics for the strep, and head home, and get a nice long lather in the sink with lots of soap.
I took a breath and the door opened. Everything was going right to plan then. We were back on track—I could feel it. I let the breath release slowly, like I was exhaling the last three hours I had spent in that building.
“No strep,” the doctor announced. “Positive for flu B.”
I looked down at that pleather examination table formerly suspected of being flu ridden…and then to the tot cuddled up against me, breathing directly into my face. No amount of soap was going to console this problem.
I looked into her big blue eyes and let out another long, less optimistic, but more resolved sigh. I had lost the gamble before it had even started.
Take me, flu. Just take me.