Saturday, November 13, 2010

One among many

Photo thanks to nola.com, by Ted Jackson

If you have forgotten that we are all in this together, try spending time in the waiting room of a medical lab collection office.

Fridays and Mondays, the phlebotomist said, are their busiest days. When we arrived, all but one seat was taken. My hierarchy of mobility is thus: something to hold onto, use cane; flat and nothing to hold onto, walker; flat with distances to be covered, wheelchair. This is why my 75-year-plan includes suspending the laws of gravity - floating, drifting, sproinging, hovering, ahhhh. So my son and I each had a seat.

When I switched to the health care plan of which this lab is part, the parking lot of the block-sized office building was run like Mussolini's trains. Now it is willy-nilly - yes, free - but out of the hundreds of spaces, many "Reserved for Management," there are two designated disabled spots. Workers were cutting rolls of carpeting in the aisles. We didn't do badly, a spot with room to open the car doors. It was enough.

I believe this lab serves a number of Medicare providers as well as other PPO-type plans, so there has always been a diverse population visiting there. This was true yesterday. A young man, in his 20s, had paper work spread across the floor near the entrance. A sturdy, perhaps 18-month-old future athlete was kicking a soccer ball, then dunking it in the receptionist's wastebasket. There was collective, yet still, restlessness, for it was obvious the wait would be measured in hours, or halves of hours.

The previous night, we had watched the re-make of CLASH OF THE TITANS, my son wanting to compare it to the original with Ray Harryhausen's classic special effects. Then, of course, there was the trailer with Liam Neeson bellowing, "Release the kraken!" All in all, the gods were unhappy. I whispered to my son that perhaps Perseus could come and liberate us from this Underworld, but not before having my blood drawn. It was a gloomy chamber, likely because we shared, on some level, unvoiced concern about the outcome of our tests. Mine was a routine check to determine that nothing essential had gone south in the previous months and my anxiety level was, oh, miracle, too low to register. I have no idea what any of the others were facing.

The staff, one receptionist and two phlebotomists, were efficient, patient, helpful and kind. It was not one of those "distract you from your monkey mind" offices with a television showing endless loops of things that we needed to watch out for. It definitely was not at all like the Social Security-approved bus station of a medical center where my son needed to be seen, in a storage closet, as part of his lengthy approval process for benefits. There they were showing Maury or some paternity-based, chair-throwing excuse for entertainment that made me long for chloroform. People who had come here together spoke in low tones, except for soccer boy and his mom who had to chase him around the room. Another mom had her hands full with a daughter of enviable curly red hair, age around five, for whom the vibe became intolerable - it has taken me years to learn not to whimper when I empathize too accutely in a crowded room - and who had to be comforted in the hall.

There we were, strangers on the bus, getting by, getting through. Since I imagine most of us had been fasting, and by now it was past 11, one of the strangers had brought a container of Ensure, and mentioned to the woman at the front desk that he was starving. My son and I were dreaming of our drive-through coffees, assuming we were done in time. It is an independent stand that closes at noon, the only drive-through coffee vendor in the greater Pasadena area. And you call yourselves civilized.

We did not really make eye contact with each other, not easy if you didn't bring a book or did not choose to immerse yourself in a two-year-old "Entertainment Weekly" laden with the germs of those two years. Occasionally it was possible to exchange a smile or a few words about how it shouldn't be much longer. I would like to know what sort of pre-employment tests they administer to find staff so centered, so unruffled, so able to bring their best game to this crowded island which no one visits by choice.

Driving through, Pasadena has a pungent air of prosperity, though the Maserati dealership did close. But in the waiting room, we of the budget health plans were not the people I pictured behind the elderly oaks in architect-designed stucco and redwood. They may have been, though my sense was we shared more than just the need to have our blood give up its secrets. We did not seem like a group which has all the answers for tomorrow's questions; since I knew I still had to get back up the stairs once we got home, I didn't even have answers for today's questions.

In spite of that, there we were, assuming, as I have written of lately, the good outcome. They talk in 12-step programs of "suiting up and showing up" and we did, patients and workers. There is comfort in company, in crowded waiting rooms, in mutual uncertainty, in just taking the next indicated step. Fingers crossed, I hope we all receive the news we want.

21 comments:

Laoch of Chicago said...

Going to the phlebotomist sounds daunting.


When I first went to Pasadena a couple of years ago I was stunned at how beautiful it was. It likably had some fine bookstores as well.

Artist and Geek said...

Marylinn-I'm sorry you have to go through all of this, but glad that it was not a negative experience.

When I read posts like this in relation to modern health care, I'm always reminded by the fact that not too long ago surgeons were called butchers, hospitals did not know what antiseptics were and bloodletting was the cure all.

Much improved and I am grateful.

Kass said...

The level of trust we have to have in order to be acquainted with our bodies is daunting. We turn ourselves over to waiting rooms, questionable help and methods that don't take into account our spirits.

But, as you say, we're all in this together and now all your readers are pulling for a favorable outcome.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Laoch - Daunting, really, only because getting places challenges me. Otherwise, okay. And Pasadena is a beautiful city. There are architectural details even on four-unit apartment buildings that nearly make one weep. The city is filled with mature trees which, when seen from freeway height, completely mask residential neighborhoods. While we have a fraction of the bookstores we once did, there are still some, enough, - for new or used - that hold their own.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Artist and Geek - On all accounts, other than simply having to go, it was a positive experience, certainly a nod to our technicians and modern times. And anywhere I find people who understand the value of wearing their humanity to work, I am more than grateful. Interesting that I seem to find it more and more...is it because I am looking or are we becoming kinder to each other? I can't recall when anyone I've encountered as a customer, client or patient has been anything other than helpful and thorough.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Kass - We are, in health and every other aspect of our lives, in this together. Our commonality, whether acknowledged or not, crosses all boundaries...hopes, fears, the necessity of trust in a system or something greater. I would still like to see spirit and the body/mind connection more fully considered in the practice of medicine. I so much appreciate having you and visitors here in my corner. Thank you.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I have a great aversion to needles regardless if they are putting things into, or taking things out of, my body. Having accepted that, most of the people who do this for a living do it very well and my apprehension is usually ill spent when weighing the outcome.

The insurance and paperwork aspect of this process is far more painful.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Robert - Though I never look while blood is being drawn, it does not bother me. There is a procedure, however, involving blood gasses which requires poking about around nerves in the wrist (shudder, forgive me) that seems to be very tricky. Avoid it if you can.

Thus far, with this Medicare plan, paperwork has been kept to almost nothing.

Radish King said...

oh lord i was there saturday. are you fasting they asked and i was but only because i shun breakfast. why i asked. because you're here for a glucose test. no i'm not i said i'm here for a liver panel the way i am every month and have been every month for um 6 years now. no they said GLUCOSE. i let them take the blood. i hope they took enough to do a liver panel. i called my shrink's secretary today and she dithered and dathered and said she was pretty sure she sent the right form and she always has before but she'd call them. my appointment is wednesday. if i don't get the liver panel i don't get the meds if i don't get the meds i go crazy and then have seizures and other embarrassing social acting outisms.

aiyeee.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Aiyeee, most aiyeee. My wish, before you have time to think of it any longer, is that it will be in order, your Wed. appt. firm and help on the way. I am always so, almost pathetically grateful when things are smoothly, efficiently and accurately dealt with. Kindness is a great plus but since I am usually on the phone, they don't see me fall to my knees.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Rebecca - Previous response to you. I will forget, at times, where I am and what I'm doing.

Claire Beynon said...

Dear Marylinn, I love that your 75-year-plan includes 'suspending the laws of gravity - floating, drifting, sproinging, hovering, ahhhh.' Perhaps if more of us adopted this idea, we'd be able to actualize it between us?

There's more to say. . . I will be back in a mo.

Love meantime, Claire x

Donna B said...

Did I ever tell you I was born in Pasadena at Huntington Memorial Hospital? Wonderful memories there... Your picture made me shutter...it reminds me of the lab I used to frequent...now, my primary care physican does lab work in his office on Tuesdays and Thursdays...much better! Hugs to you...

Marylinn Kelly said...

Claire - I say, it can't hurt, to believe in the untried, the unknown. I absolutely believe that impossible things happen and are there not documented accounts of levitation? Focused thought would help move the process along. Join me, please. xoxo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Donna - Being on the other side of town, I was born in St. Luke's, my son at Huntington. I do wish my doctor's office offered lab work. It would be so much simpler and, I would think, more efficient. They almost always ignore or overlook something he's requested. Retirement wishes to you both. xoxo

Claire Beynon said...

". . . There is comfort in company, in crowded waiting rooms, in mutual uncertainty, in just taking the next indicated step. Fingers crossed, I hope we all receive the news we want."

You have drawn a circle around our human condition here, Marylinn, summarized the reality of what life is like. There is so much more uncertainty than certainty, which is perhaps the very thing that gives our journey its poignancy and its potency? Its urgency, too? As you suggest, we live in best faith and keep showing up. I hope with all my heart that your tests reveal that the blood coursing through our body is a vigorous current in finest health.

xo

Radish King said...

I get to go back tonight and have it drawn again only this time I can't park for free and the reason they screwed up is because they thought my last name was London. Or something. Even though I've been in the ER in this hospital twice and also they have my appendix.


sheesh.
xo

Claire Beynon said...

Sheesh indeed, Rebecca. That's appalling. The mind boggles. How could they have given you the wrong test and the wrong name. . . ? And ouch, you have to have face the needle again. Hugs and cussing on your behalf, Claire xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Claire - Thank you, for all who await answers. When examined closely, is there much actual certainty? It has never been otherwise, yet - I can really only speak for myself - we continue to try and nail things down, at least by the corners, so all won't be blown away. I carry an image of life as a picnic and my cloth on the ground is pegged about every half inch, tent pegs, and still we can only pray that something will hold. In daily reality, I've given up the pegs for trust. It leaves more money for candy.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Rebecca - Can't allow myself even to speculate what might have gone awry with a misunderstood last name. Shudder. I hope you feel well enough to go back, that your weather is merciful. With an organ on deposit, one expects better treatment. Sheesh. I have a friend whose expression of disgust, distaste, disaster, is Giant Rolling Booger. Stand back. xo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Claire - I think a group cussing on Rebecca's behalf is indicated, keep her from straining her throat. xo