"Call us if it gets worse"

WEDNESDAY — I woke up with a sore throat, and it's bad. When I swallow, my eyes water with pain and my adam's apple feels like it's a mechanical device that hasn't been oiled since the Bush administration. I'm increasing my daily dose of Vitamin C from 500 mg to 10,000, but I'll need to see a doctor.

In America, health care is tied to your job — a really stupid idea, but it's very profitable for the health conglomerates and that's the American way. My job sucks, and offers no sick leave, so I went to work, where I tried to keep to myself (I always try to keep to myself). I'm supposed to BART to Margaret's birthday party on Saturday, but I'm wondering whether I'll be up to it.

Weirdly and luckily, I have a doctor's appointment for tomorrow, and let me tell you that story.

After years without health coverage, and after six months at my craptastic job, I qualified for health coverage in February, provided that I pay half the HMO dues out of my empty pocket. I'm supposed to be a grown-up, damn it, so I did the responsible thing and signed up.

Kaiser Permanente is my 'health provider', and are they any good? Heck if I know. They let me pick my doctor — hundreds of MDs to choose from, all strangers, most with no openings for new patients, so — eeny, meeny, miny, moe. They gave me an appointment for a complete physical, in late March.

On the scheduled date, though, someone from Kaiser called and told me that, due to an unexpected emergency, my doctor had to cancel all his appointments for the day. I was rescheduled for late April.

On the morning of this second scheduled appointment, Kaiser called again, told me my doctor had called in sick, and rescheduled my appointment for late May.

A week before this third scheduled date, I got a post card telling me that my doctor would be at a convention on the day of my appointment, and announcing that instead I would be seen on June 14. Is that the way it works? They tell you when your appointment is? I promptly called, told them 6/14 doesn't work for me, and asked them nicely to quit playing the shell game or refund my five months of dues paid for nothing.

They gave me my fifth appointment, for June 23, so after all the above, my good luck is that tomorrow, when I actually need a doctor for the first time in years, I'll be seeing a doctor for the first time in years — if they don't cancel this appointment, too.

♦ ♦ ♦   

THURSDAY — I went to work again though I probably shouldn't, and then left a few hours early to see my doctor, and — my doctor is a little boy. He looks and sounds like Doogie Howser, MD, and that's only a slight exaggeration. He had two pimples on his face. He's the first doctor I've ever seen who's younger than me — which wouldn't be a problem, except he already has the 'know-it-all doctor' vibe, and I don't think he knows it all. Or much of anything.

Dr Howser says I'm healthy. Blood pressure normal, heartbeat normal, cholesterol normal, and the scale says I weigh 323 pounds. Doogie's professional opinion is, "You could stand to lose 150 pounds." Thanks, doc. Never knew I was fat. Quite a shock, there.

When I told him about my throat, which is the most painful it's been in my 36 years of life, he didn't look inside my mouth. He only asked if it felt better today than it felt yesterday.

I said yes, because it did feel better, but on my bus ride home it occurred to me that was the wrong answer to the wrong question. My throat feels a little better because today I'm constantly bathing it with Aspergum I hadn't bought until this morning — that's aspirin and lots of it, to deaden the pain. So of course it feels a little better, Dr Doogie, but that doesn't mean it is better.

"Call us if it gets worse," he said, nudging me toward the door and his next co-pay.

♦ ♦ ♦

As for Maggie, she's still in Livermore, but when we talk on the phone she's now pleasant, borderline bubbly. There are no more insults, bursts of anger, precipitous moments, and that's nice, but I'm not sure what to make of it. To be honest, it feels like a performance.

It's nice of Maggie to be nice, but she shouldn't have to work so hard at it, and I shouldn't have to spend time wondering what it means. It's all too damned complicated. I wanna be me, and want her to be her.

I've known her for years, and she is a nice lady, but she's, uh, volatile. Yeah, that's the right word. Margaret is a nice lady with nitroglycerin inside. I like the nice part, and I think I can handle the nitro now and then, because that's Maggie. It gets scary when she's nice for too long, though. It makes me want to put on safety gear.

Also, damn, my throat hurts. A lot.

♦ ♦ ♦   

FRIDAY — Unable to keep my throat lubricated and Aspergummed overnight, it was unthinkably agonizing by the time I awoke from perhaps four hours of fitful sleep. As mentioned before, there's no sick leave where I work, so hi-ho hi-ho it's off to work I go. Soon as I mentioned my misery, my work neighbors rolled their chairs toward the other end of the office. "It sounds like strep! Keep away from me…"

So I called Kaiser Permanente, and told them I'd been diagnosed by co-workers. "Strep" was the magic word on the phone — it was going to be a 3- to 5-week wait for an appointment, but when I said "strep" they told me to rush in and see the doctor at once.

When I got there, Dr Doogie again didn't ask me to open my mouth and didn't take a throat culture, but he did write a prescription for an antibiotic. Thanks again, Boy Wonder.

Question: If they don't even examine my throat or take a culture, why did I have to come in to the doctor's office? They could've ordered the prescription over the phone. Answer: If I don't come in, then I don't have to pay a co-pay I can't afford. So "come see the doctor" wasn't about my throat, it was about the co-pay.

Anyway, doc says I'm contagious as hell, so I didn't go back to work, and I called and cancelled my date with Maggie for tomorrow. And now I am grumpy. See, I've never had strep throat, so to me it's like gout or the clap — a disease I've heard of but know nothing about and wouldn't recognize. You'd think a doctor might recognize the symptoms, though.

Being sick and sad, of course the best thing to do is go to a movie, so I caught the matinee of Speed at the Presidio Theater, courteously seated off to the side, a safe distance from everyone else. And then two tweedy college-age kids came in late and sat right behind me, talking too loud. Every time they talked I turned toward them and coughed without covering my mouth. Have a nice weekend, boys.

A good action movie needs to be preposterous, have a sense of humor. Speed is indeed preposterous, and Keanu Reeves is pretty, but he doesn't have enough wisecracks to make it funny. Heck, he missed two snappy retorts that came to me instantly, so maybe the scriptwriter wanted us to take it all seriously? 

It was fairly exciting, though, and I wasn't feeling sleepy enough to nap, so I went to the Paramount for Roman Holiday, a classic romance I'd somehow never seen before. It's splendid, even with no sex, no cussin', no smart-aleck teenagers, and no happy ending.

  From Pathetic Life #1
Wednesday - Friday,
June 22, 23, & 24, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.


Pathetic Life 

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