On being a patient

Hearing your name called in a walk-in clinic waiting room feels somewhat like winning the lottery or an Oscar.
Having experienced neither of those events, I can only guess, but I’m reasonably sure the sensation is somewhat similar.
You feel like blushing as you stand, looking at the poor souls left behind you, their wait still ongoing.
You smile apologetically, shrugging your shoulders to confirm you had no control over any of this, but internally you are shrieking, “They picked me, they picked me.”
Sally Field comes to mind. You wonder about an acceptance speech and if you should take the time to pause and speak to the captive audience who remain and thanking those who drove you to the clinic or acknowledging the flu for this opportunity.
You reconsider and humbly drop your eyes as you walk toward the nurse.
Then you seem to forget what you even came for and wonder if you were miraculously cured by the simple experience of having your name called.
Though I’m not questioning the great value and convenience of seeking medical attention when circumstances arise, the walk-in clinic isn’t a place any of us wish to frequent.
But when we need to go, and if we aren’t on the verge of taking our last breath, the clinic is an interesting space to occupy.
I find some of my best characters for my fiction at the walk-in clinic.
People who are sick let their guard down. They can’t be bothered with putting on airs of being totally “together.”
Sometimes her hair isn’t combed, his shirt may be miss-buttoned, and sometimes socks don’t match, though mismatching socks was ordinary dress code for my children. I was never sure if that was laziness on their part or a fashion statement.
I think I’ll go with the latter.
The walk-in clinic are for those things that flared up, that you ignored for as long as possible until you became desperate.
I once saw a gentleman engrossed in a magazine but from my angle I could see that his eyes were really peering over the top of the magazine.
The clincher that he wasn’t really reading Time magazine was that it was upside down. Perhaps he wrote fiction, too, and was hatching out a plot with the characters in the room; a whodunit maybe.
Or maybe he was considering what diseases were present in the room, a bit Howard-Hughes-ish.
He wiggled and looked at his watch almost constantly and tapped it a few times.
When each name was called, he fidgeted inside his clothes like his underwear was too tight, looking like he wanted to leap from his chair to protest.
“I was here first,” I imagine were the words just aching to be shouted out. When his name was finally called he looked perturbed, a bit of a told-you-so stare at the nurse as if she had just come to her senses.
I, on the other hand, always feel as though my doctor or hairdresser or mechanic have done me a huge favour by seeing me, as if I should start our eventual conversation with an apology for the intolerable inconvenience I have caused.
I may try to adopt a bit more of that told-you-so quality, maybe just a hint of it.
We’re not at our best when we’re sick. Our tolerance for crying babies and fussy children is limited. The out-dated magazines don’t soothe our anxiety to get in and get out.
They call us patients, but that only implies we are able to “wait without becoming annoyed”, which is Webster’s explanation for the word.
Yet we are so fortunate to live in a country where we are tempted to take our medical care for granted.
Though many of us have to function without a family doctor, most of us have access and are not required to threaten our financial well-being by seeking a doctor’s advice. The system is not perfect but Tommy Douglas’ vision made it much closer to perfect than not.
I save my magazines with the good intention of dropping them at a waiting room near me, but most times that good intention does not see fruition.
At last visit, the Reader’s Digest was from 2001.
I think perhaps I should try harder.