The Waiting Game

I’m late for my doctor’s appointment. Per usual, I tried to finish just one more thing before I left the house. Then I hit road construction on the main thoroughfare between home and the medical center. By the time I have parked and found the right office inside the cavernous hospital, it’s a good 15 minutes past my scheduled arrival. And the doctor is running on time. Uh-oh.

Usually, it’s the other way around. But I get lucky. The waiting room is empty and my appointment doesn’t get bumped. I have my Kindle along, but I get distracted by the waiting room flat screen TV. It’s an episode of The Doctors, featuring a team of attractive specialists answering studio audience questions about their health. The ER doc wears a pair of blue scrubs and the others, white lab coats. The pediatrician is responding to a young woman’s query about the birth mark on her chest when the nurse calls me into my appointment.

Hoping to shave a pound or two off the digital scale readout, I take off my coat and shoes when she weighs me. We review my meds and allergies. She takes my blood pressure and temperature. We chat about the weather. As she leaves the room, I check the magazines in the wall rack. This exam room could use some better reading material—there’s a Vermont tourist glossy, a couple of trade health publications and an ersatz women’s magazine. I flip through its pages and scan the list of recommended books, wondering why it’s such a struggle to get published when all this dreck makes it into print.

My doctor is prompt and pleasant. He’s an infectious disease specialist, and we’re reviewing the plan we made over the summer to manage any future infections in my finger ulcers. After another year of on-again-off-again antibiotics, it was time to get pro-active. We marvel at the fact that I’ve had no infections since I saw him in June. I joke that all the germs have been scared off by his presence. He laughs. “I wish it were so,” he says.

We review what to do when the next infection hits. It’s a foregone conclusion. The only question is, how soon? There’s a piece of calcium migrating toward the surface of my right thumb. It’s causing me difficulty squeezing a tube of toothpaste and picking up cups. When it finally breaks through the skin, perhaps in a few months, there’s a high chance of infection. And, as the weather gets colder, my skin breaks down and is at greater risk, anyway.

We agree that I don’t need a follow-up. I’ll just call him when the next infection hits. I have the necessary antibiotics at home and know when and how to use them. He trusts my experience and my judgment. I thank him and say good-bye, for now. As I walk out through the waiting room, Family Feud contestants cheer and clap before the commercial break.

Leaving the hospital parking lot, I wait in a line of cars. It’s almost 3:20 and the shift is changing from days to evenings. On the drive home, I ease my car around the exposed man-hole covers that have turned the street under construction into a slalom course. I get home just over an hour after I left, pretty good for any doctor’s appointment—especially when I was the late one.

At the back door, Ginger is waiting patiently for my return. The sun casts long shadows. My right thumb twinges as I set down my Kindle, little green medical notebook and cell phone on the kitchen table. It’s almost time for our walk.

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

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