DOCTOR

I have a bad doctor.

When I started my job, I picked a doctor out of the provider directory supplied by my new insurance company. Having only two pieces of information to go on — names and addresses — I chose what looked like the most convenient choice: a doctor who had two offices, one near my office and one near my apartment.

It turned out to be a walk-in clinic. When I walked in, the waiting room was filled with Latino men who had injured themselves operating forklifts. Instead of seeing the doctor I had selected from the directory, I put my name on a list and was seen by whichever doctor happened to be available when my number came up, much the same way you would get someone to slice your meat or box your crumb cake at a deli counter. Maybe this is how most doctor’s offices work. I’m not sure. When I first went last summer, it was the first time I had been to a doctor in ten years.

A pudgy, balding man with a big smile picked up my chart. He must’ve been in his early 60’s. All of the doctors at this clinic, I’ve noticed, are pudgy, balding men in their early 60’s. This is where doctors come to die.

In the interest of anonymity, I won’t give this doctor’s real name. I’ll just call him “Dr. Crazy”. I told Dr. Crazy I hadn’t been to a doctor in ten years. I was ready for a big lecture on how important regular checkups and physicals are, but instead, he just looked at me and said, “I’m sure you’re fine.” He asked me how much I exercised, and I feebly replied, “Not enough”, again expecting his wrath. He sneered, “People worry too much about exercise. You’re young. Just go for a walk once a week or something, and you’ll be fine.” He wasn’t too keen on health food either and advised me not to worry too much about my diet. “If your cholesterol’s high, we’ll give you some medication to bring it down.”

Dr. Crazy asked me if I used condoms, but before I could even answer, he cut me off, “Eh, you don’t really need to. The risk of HIV is zilch.” (That’s a direct quote.) He just warned me to stay away from “prostitutes and anything weird like that” and, again, I’d be “fine”.

I knew when I walked out that I shouldn’t go back to Dr. Crazy, but once all my tests came back negative, the need to look for a new doctor seemed less urgent. Maybe my once-every-ten-years plan was sufficient. I didn’t need to think about a new doctor for a long time.

And then I got sick.

I’ve had a painful, persistent sore throat for almost a week now. It’s made it hard to swallow and even harder to talk. When I speak I sound like a barking seal. All the over-the-counter medications say to see a doctor if your sore throat lasts more than two days, so I was well into the danger zone. I called out sick yesterday and decided to visit the doctor. But who? I still hadn’t done my research, and, well, I knew that Dr. Crazy took walk-ins…

So I decided to roll the dice again. But this time, I went to the office near my apartment, where I’d be able to steer clear of the Mad Doc himself. The office in my neighborhood seemed a lot like the other one. Same clientele, same balder, older, pudgier doctors. And after I waited for about forty-five minutes, I got to see my new physician.

I’ll call him Dr. Loony.

I told Dr. Loony I had a sore throat, and he immediately scribbled off a prescription. I asked him if he might actually, y’know, like to look at it, and so he took out his stethoscope and checked my breathing. Then, he looked inside my ears. And only then did he look in my throat. Then he handed me my prescription.

I stopped him as he was going out the door. “Are there any foods I should eat or not eat?”

“Nope.”

“Is it normal that it’s lasted this long?”

“It could be. If you still have it next week, give me a call.”

“Do you want to do a throat culture?”

“If you want me to.”

I asked for the throat culture. He left, and about fifteen minutes later a nurse came in to swab my throat. She dabbed the swab with chemicals, then asked me to time it with my watch and let her know when five minutes were up. Then she left. Twenty minutes went by.

While I waited for the doctor to come back to confirm the results, two different technicians came in to look at the test. “Yup, it’s negative,” the first one said. “Es negativo,” said the second one.

And then Dr. Loony finally arrived. “It’s negative,” he said. Then he advised me to tear up the prescription he gave me. “It won’t do any good,” he said.

So I went home and rested. I didn’t fill the prescription. I just dug into the care package Drew got me — two kinds of tea, four kinds of chicken noodle soup (who knew Campbell’s made so many?) and a chocolate chip muffin. And today I feel better.

It’s a big relief, because I’ve resolved to stick to my original plan: no more doctor visits for ten years.

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