The trouble about always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind.
-- G.K. Chesterton
"Did you fast?" The seated woman with gold-rimmed spectacles balanced on the ridge of her nose held the clipboard to the counter with one finger, indicating with raised brows that I was not to take it until I gave the correct answer. I stared at her dumbly. I didn't "fast," I just skipped breakfast. It was only 9:30 a.m. Thinking she must be the kind of person who keeps snacks in her purse so as to never suffer the fate of a stomach pang, I answered, "Twelve hours, nothing but water, as you told me. Wasn't hard, I was asleep for most of 'em." I handed her my insurance card and snatched the clipboard from her.
I sat on one of two love seats in the lobby, taking precautions not to touch any part of my exposed skin to its coarse blue fabric, no doubt rich with the history of sick people, and went about checking all the "No" boxes on the goldenrod paper. For a moment my pen hovered over the "Yes" square near the word "anxiety," but after revisiting the instructions at the top of the page, I marked "No" -- my bouts of anxiety do not cause me "serious concern," I told myself, they merely confirm a healthy dose of neurosis.
Finished with the questionnaire, I ruminated on my mixed feelings for seeing a doctor when nothing was wrong with me. On one hand it was a relief to know I didn't have to try and make her understand some ailment and then scrutinize her level of concern, which is never as high as I think it should be. On the other hand, the visit seemed so irritatingly pointless -- signing up to get poked, prodded, and probed just so someone can tell me what I know, it was like paying good money for a show I'd already seen and hated.
A woman's face popped into the room from behind a door she'd opened just enough for her head to fit through and called my name. On the other side of the wall there was a scale, one of those old-fashioned, accurate kinds with levered weights. I kicked off my shoes and hopped on, giving a little "woo hoo!" at the number before me.
The young nurse simply nodded and jotted the figure on her clipboard. Noting her long, dark hair hanging loosely over her shoulders, I wondered why they ever got rid of those stylish white caps and made a mental note to check and see if any were sold at the Crypt. The nurse, dressed plainly in blue scrubs, measured my height next, as if it were possible I might have had a growth spurt or lost a vertebra since my last appointment.
She led me into a room just large enough for an examination table, two small silver trashcans, a stool, and a sink with cabinets over and under it.
"You're getting a Pap today, right?"
"Uh, yeah," I muttered, relieved she didn't use the second half of the term, a word I find to be overly graphic and disturbing in any context.
"So would you like to use the restroom?"
"You mean so I don't, like, accidentally pee on her?"
"Yeah, basically," answered the nurse. Her face had contorted into a wry smile in reaction to my uncanny bluntness. I nodded. Yes, peeing prior to the moment of truth was a great idea.
"It's right around the corner. When you're finished, you can come back in here and remove your clothing. This one," she pointed to a large, white, folded piece of paper on the examination table, "goes on your upper body. The other one," an even bigger piece of paper beneath the first, "gets draped over your lap."
"Got it," I said.
Ten minutes later, I sat on the edge of the table wearing nothing more than black socks (the last remnants of my dignity) and toilet paper. It wasn't even two-ply. What is this, a county hospital in the ghetto? My insurance doesn't cover actual cloth? I sighed, loud enough for everyone beyond the thin walls to hear, and waited -- intermittently reminding myself out loud that it is not okay to handle, lick, or in any way contaminate any of those sterilized plastic ear-telescope covers that were stacked dangerously within reach against the wall.
I chose my doctor based on two criteria -- she is local, and she is female. Despite the glowing testimonials of girlfriends who swear by their gyno-guys, I refuse to believe it is possible for any man, however well educated, to be capable of understanding "girl stuff."
Still, my doctor's woman-ness was not enough to put me at ease. Growing up with three sisters did nothing to help me in the modesty department. My sisters and I turned our heads or left the room when another was changing, our bodies our own to ponder.
I remember, during my first year of college, how disturbed I was when I hung out at a sorority house. I had stared hard at that freaky Nirvana-underwater-baby poster as some sorority sisters, in the buff, walked around aimlessly, painted their toenails, or sifted through drawers in search of the perfect outfit as though nothing was out of the ordinary. Even in Vegas a few weeks ago I made a show of averting my gaze so that any one of the mostly naked girls in the room would not think I was being rude with a longer-than-necessary glance at their naughty bits, despite their cavalier attitude toward the towels that were tossed on the bed instead of tied around those freshly showered torsos.
Two knocks, courtesy statements more than requests, and there she was, in all her doctorly glory. We said our hellos, and she sat on the stool slightly behind me and to my right, from where she had a clear view of my derriere, the one area of me not covered by the standard public park--issue toilet paper I wore as a half-shirt and the sheet of the same insubstantial stuff draped over my lap. I had to turn my head and hold it at an awkward angle to maintain eye contact.
She looked over the goldenrod paper like she was grading it. Someone knocked on the door, and I was horrified to hear my doctor say, "Come on in!" Sure, invite the whole staff, why don't you? I want everyone to see me in my fabulous new Charmin-fucking-outfit!
"The rep on the phone told me her insurance terminated in December," said the same woman who had been sitting at the front counter.
"What? That's ridiculous!" I snapped, even though she hadn't addressed me directly. "I never miss a payment! I didn't receive any kind of notice or anything!"
My doctor looked at me with this sad, understanding expression, as if to say, "I'm sure you want to believe you paid, hon, but the reps don't lie." In actuality, she said, "I'm not sure how to proceed; if I should go ahead or if you want to sort this out first."
"Is this something we could have checked before I got all naked?" I shrieked. "Look, I'm sitting here in this toilet paper for Christ's sake. Just do whatchya gotta do, and if I end up paying more than my deductible, I'll deal with it. Okay?" I glared at the woman still standing by the wide-open door, offering every nurse and paper pusher behind her a glimpse at my revealing ensemble, and said, "Okay?" but what I meant was, "Close the fucking door!" It wasn't until much later that I realized I had given the diligent woman behind the counter the wrong insurance card.
I fumbled my way through the next terrifically uncomfortable 20 minutes, making unfunny jokes in a sad attempt to divert attention from what was really going on -- that some near-stranger was groping my breasts for lumps, feeling my abdomen for God-knows-what, and sticking all kinds of shit up my, well, you know . After a Dick Van Dyke--like tangle during which my left leg got stuck in the drawer at the foot of the examination table and, in my fight to retrieve my foot, I ended up ripping away most of my "clothing," I was left in the room, a used and violated wretch in tatters of tissue, to re-dress in my real-fabric clothes and head to the laboratory to have my blood drawn.
Once in the lab, I eyed the needle with gross fascination as it was plunged into my vein, and I said a little prayer to the gods of technology that, by this time next year, someone will have figured out how to decipher my cells with a microscope more accurately than any doctor can read my body with eyes and hands, thus forever after sparing me the humiliation of the examination table.