Saturday, November 13, 2010
One among many
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.