Healthcare can be a funny thing.
Not that long ago I wouldn’t have thought that, but in the last year or so I’ve had a moderate amount of contact with the healthcare ‘process’ and I’ve changed my mind to some extent. (I mean, you meet a ton of people and people can be funny, you see a lot of technology and technology can be funny and there’s a large bureaucracy and bureaucracies can be funny when they’re not being frustrating and obstructionist — and sometimes even when they are.) In that time every single encounter with the health-care system has triggered my sense of the absurd to some extent. A couple of them were odd enough to make me want to write them down and inflict them on other people. One of those (an encounter with an MRI machine) caused flashbacks — to an ancient email routing syntax, to the best damn bulletin-board-ish system ever invented and to old memories of a Celtic songstress (one that Craig Ferguson meditates to). In the other (when I went to a clinic) I had an encounter with some technology that made me feel horribly inadequate and with a woman’s shoes that didn’t.
(Well, not as much.)
A lot of other stuff made me smile or just scratch my head. I’m lumping all that together here.
At the clinic, I was Summoned to the desk where two harried-looking receptionists (too big of a message to be conveyed by one person, I guess) told me that despite the fact that I had a little appointment card thingy, I did not in fact have an appointment — so said The Computer. (Trust the Computer. The Computer is your friend. Keep your laser handy.) A piece of surrealist (or at least absurdist) theatre followed after which I walked home and tried to decide if I was more like Vladimir or more like Estragon.
It didn’t get any less absurd: when they sent me away they gave me a phone number — I was to wait three days, reflect on paramagnetic contrast agents, then phone that number. When I called the number, though, I got voice mail — the message said (a) that they (whoever ‘they’ were) wouldn’t return my call and (b) I should fill out a form I didn’t have and had never seen. Neither of those seemed relevant to my particular circumstances so I phoned back. And phoned back. And phoned back.
For five days.
When I eventually spoke to someone her first question was “Who gave you this number?” When I babbled incoherently about orange shoes and Irish playwrights she seemed confused. I think she gave me an appointment just to make me go away.
When I eventually saw the doctor, we talked for a while, he stuck pins in me (“Can you feel that?” “YES!”) and then sent me off for more tests. That was kind of what I expected (except for the pins — that part was a surprise).
On the day of the first test, I was walking down a hallway toward the relevant office to check in (and hoping there wouldn’t be a touchscreen) but before I got there I was accosted by a guy in a white coat. At the sight of the white coat I cringed, scrabbled against the wall and shrieked like a character in a 1997 video game. (Very dignified.) He waited patiently until I calmed down then asked if I was there for an appointment. Yes I was; I was on my way to tell ‘them’ I was there. Don’t bother, he said.
Say what? That’s practically seditious — you always tell ‘them’ you’re there. (Of course, it might be better if I didn’t check in — the check-in process couldn’t make me feel inadequate if there was no check-in process.)
The next test was on a Friday evening sometime after 9 PM. I wandered
empty halls, looked at empty offices and surveyed the empty check-in
counter. How could I check in with nobody there? But then I spotted a
sign. The sign told me to find the waiting room and wait.
Finding the waiting room was a bit of a challenge — it was down a (deserted) hallway, hang a right, walk about half a mile, turn right again, walk another half mile, then turn left. In the waiting room were the usual waiting room furnishings — hideous yet strangely uncomfortable chairs, ancient magazines and… another sign.
A sign that said to go back to the check-in desk.
Apparently the check-in process involved walking back and forth between the check-in desk and the waiting room. That seemed a little odd but I can occasionally be an obliging sort, so I started walking.
While walking down the (empty) hallway to the waiting room for about the third time I bumped into a technician (maybe there’s something to this no-check-in check-in process after all) in a white coat (Aieeee!) who told me to get ready for an injection from a giant, comic-opera syringe. (AIEEEEEE!) Suddenly, the uncomfortable chairs in the waiting room looked very attractive.
But that’s not what I was going to talk about. I was going to talk about ultrasounds.
One of the battery of tests that I took (an examination of my neck) apparently suggested that an ultrasound of my abdomen was in order. Well, okay. You’re the professionals. I didn’t know much about ultrasounds; in fact, I knew exactly two things: they were usually nonthreatening (and hence would probably not involve any Syringes Of Unusual Size) and I could probably wear my glasses so I wouldn’t walk into walls and things and generally look like a schlemiel.
I learned two more things that day.
Firstly, ultrasounds involve goo. My understanding (dim at best) is that goo aids in the transmission of acoustic energy from the transducer to the middle-aged lump of meat. (I read a little about matching acoustic impedances but I got dizzy and my eyes glazed. Give me a good old-fashioned set of general relativistic matching conditions any day of the week.) The goo isn’t sticky or anything but they use a lot of it, it gets everywhere, and they give you a towel the size of a postage stamp to clean up afterward.
The second thing I learned is that ultrasound technicians have a sense of humour. (I was going to say more, but let’s just leave it at that, shall we?) After squirting me with about a liter and a half of goo and poking me with his thingy (no, not that kind) for a while, he said the three little words that every fiftysomething male desperately wants to hear:
“You’re not pregnant.”
Well, that was a relief. (Probably an ultrasound technician staple when dealing with middle-aged men, I decided.)
Six months later there was a ‘followup’. And that meant another cold examination table, more goo in my shorts and a slightly larger postage stamp. This technician was a nice lady with a sore arm and a limited conversational repertoire (“Take a deep breath.” “Roll to your left.” “You can leave now.”) So limited, in fact, that she didn’t make the joke.
So what am I supposed to make of that?