What’s Up, Doc?

November 11, 2011

Earlier this week I had a doctor’s appointment. It was nothing serious-just a regular checkup. In fact I’m pretty sure this was the first checkup I’ve had this millennium. That’s how frequently I go to the doctor. I know that an ounce of prevention is worth a silk purse made from a pig in a poke, but I believe an apple a day allows me to have my cake and eat it too. Basically I’m always afraid that my doctor’s going to tell me I’ve got six months left to live. And I’m even more afraid that when I say, "I’d like a second opinion" he’ll refer me to a specialist instead of saying what any doctor with years of training and experience should say in that situation, which is, "Okay, you could stand to lose a couple of pounds too."

Maybe I would go see my doctor more frequently if his office were easier to find. The hospital his office is in isn’t that hard to find. It’s a building that covers approximately fifty seven square acres and has more wings than a flock of birds or a corner bar in Buffalo. And that’s the problem: like almost all hospitals it’s a huge building, and for some reason the same architects behind old English hotels-the ones that have half floors and mysterious staircases that lead nowhere-also design hospitals. Maybe it’s because, like old English hotels, hospitals aren’t built all at once. They’ve been added onto gradually throughout the years and sometimes halfway through a renovation they’ll run out of money so they’ll build a wall where there was supposed to be a chiropody ward. This is why sometimes when you’re walking down a hallway in a hospital following signs that point you in the direction of, say, the doctors’ offices, you’ll go around a corner and find yourself in the back of the gift shop. It’s a useful way to keep the gift shop in business but it’s not very helpful when you have an appointment. When I was trying to find my way to my doctor’s office to keep my appointment I was at first thrilled to find a map right next to the elevators. And it had YOU ARE HERE clearly labeled on it, even though I already knew I was right next to the elevators. What baffled me-and this is absolutely true-is that nothing else on the map was labeled. All the map could tell me was that I was on one floor of a building with a lot of rooms. A map of North America with YOU ARE HERE printed underneath it would have been just as useful. About the only reassuring thing is that there were windows next to the elevators so I could look out and see trees and, on the other side of the trees, more windows.

This is one thing that differentiates hospitals from old English hotels: as far as I know no English hotel has trees growing right in the middle of it, but for some reason any hospital built in the last thirty years has to have a central open space with at least two trees struggling to get enough light to survive. At least the map reassured me I was in the right building, but what was really disconcerting was that when I asked someone who worked in the hospital where my doctor’s office was-this is also absolutely true-she had no idea. There are a lot of TV shows about doctors, and there are a lot of things about them that are completely unrealistic. For instance I think it’s incredibly unlikely that a group of doctors, nurses, or internists will manage every week to encounter medical conditions or emergencies that most doctors will never see in their lifetimes. It’s unlikely that doctors will ever have to deal with a three-hundred car pileup in which one of the crash victims has bubonic plague. On the other hand it could happen. And it’s unrealistic that every person who works in a hospital is not only habitually single but has sex with every other person who works in the hospital on a regular basis. It’s unlikely that a doctor is going to perform a splenectomy while simultaneously having sex with three interns, a nurse, and a janitor. But it could happen. But the next time I’m watching a drama about doctors and people rush through the hospital without ever having to stop and ask for directions or take at least two different elevators and a flight of stairs to get somewhere I’ll know that’s fiction. Because maybe doctors really do lead the incredibly exciting lives we’re led to believe. After all my doctor told me I was very healthy and that I’d probably be the most boring patient he’d have all day. And he meant that as a compliment. In the medical profession boring is good. I hope for my doctor’s sake that he has days where the biggest challenge he faces is finding his office.

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