Six of one. Half a dozen of the other.
Going to the doctor is my job now. I’ve chosen one that bulk bills and is next door to a craft shop and an ALDI. I find going to the doctor very stressful, so building in these small treats works as an incentive. A reward after being poked or scraped or asked to narrow down 127 different symptoms to the most important one or two today, so that the doctor and I might stay within the 15 minutes allowed for each appointment.
In the miraculously empty waiting room as I wonder what to push to the top of the list, a woman arrives. She puts her bag (Louis Vuitton bucket bag sort of thing, possibly fake) on a chair and wanders about a bit. She approaches a door. “There’s no signs!” she says to me, appearing surprised. She opens the door revealing a bathroom. “Oh well done,” I say. “Good guess!” She replies and disappears inside. Her bag sits on the chair, gaping open, leather drawstring dangling in a strangely vulnerable way. The bag and I are now alone. I decide to protect it with steely gaze, a sort of invisible deflective forcefield that would fend off anyone who glanced at it the wrong way or felt the urge to have a rifle in it. This seemed to work. I hear the muffled sound of a toilet flushing and the woman re-emerges, approaches her bag, drops her phone in it, picks the bag up and sits where it was. Then she pulls her phone back out, puts some earbuds in and makes a call, speaking into the waiting room to an unseen friend. I know she is feeling quietly grateful that I had her back/bag.
Then a man arrives. He’s bending and twitching and stretching. He passes me and the woman in a rush and heads to the door that leads into my doctor’s room. He leans on the doorframe and I worry about how I am going to get in there because it’s my turn next and he’s navigated the entire waiting room to rest on the furthermost wall. Why didn’t he lean on the wall near the pamphlets, I wondered. Or the one that leads to the hallway? He winces, theatrically, amidst the empty chairs. He twitches. He draws a ragged breath in. He blows it out. I look at the woman with the bag. She looks at me. We are thinking the same thing about the man, I am sure. He keeps wincing and blowing and I am reminded of most of the men I have known when the slightest thing is wrong with them. I am reminded of the way women cope with pain, tucking it inside with a slight furrowing of the brow and the promise of a hot water bottle, a glass of cheap wine and some hastily swallowed pills at some late stage in the day in front of the telly. The man gasps and wobbles. We ignore him. The doctor’s door opens and he seems surprised, does a little hop and then hobbles slightly away.
A couple emerges, manoeuvring past the blowing man and then disappearing into the little room where they take your blood. The doctor closes the door. The man sucks air through his teeth. The bag lady chats on. I pinch the mask tighter around my nose to stop my glasses fogging up. This does not work.
The doctor opens her door again - it’s like a medical advent calendar, this waiting room - and she briskly calls my name. She’s wearing Gorman scrubs (they sent them to a bunch of doctors to thank them for their work during the pandemic) and colourful sneakers, eyes twinkling above her mask. I head in and sit down. She shuts the door. We say our hellos and wearily (even though it’s only 10.30) begin our usual friendly but hasty chat about all the things that are wrong with me.
Today’s pressing issues are the profound fatigue and the neuropathic itching that has been keeping me awake night after night and does not respond to the usual treatments - antihistamines, anti-inflammatory approaches, loose clothes, cool baths, creams, praying.
We talk about the latest research into my condition (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), make a decision on today’s medication for the torturous itch - putting the low dose medication for the fatigue on hold until we know how the itch meds go - organise a referral to a dermatologist, file a preliminary plan for gathering the paperwork for the intimidating task of accessing the disability pension and speedily discuss what we’ll attend to when I return the following week.
“I am sorry to be a puzzle” I say and she laughs this off and gives me a script and we both say “see you next week” and I head out the door. Hopping man is still there and so is bag lady. I ignore him and smile at her, knowing that she trusted me to mind her things while she peed and that there is a special sort of solidarity in that.
I head down the hallway, bumping into the wall due to getting up a bit too fast and also due to symptom number 28 - dizziness. It’s a sunny morning when I step back out into the street and I wince (symptom number 67 - light sensitivity). I sway along the footpath, across the road and up the ramp to the shops where I will buy some yoghurt, two balls of wool and some frozen berries for the smoothies that I just know are helping with symptoms 43 and 56.
Later I go to the chemist to get the itch medication. He tells me to “be very careful” with the pills and that if I want to harm myself when I take them to get in touch with a doctor immediately, but also to not stop taking them. He gives me a pamphlet and sends me on my way. I drive home slowly, itching.
Love to you, dear reader!
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