Thursday, March 29, 2007

Public Health

Aside from having the girly bits prodded once a year or so, I have not been to the doctor for a checkup since 1998.

When first my health insurance then COBRA ran out and I realized I could not afford to buy it on an adjunct's salary, I simply resolved not to get sick. Ever. This choice has resulted in a lack of any adventure sports in my life. No ice skating. No horseback riding. No skiing. No skydiving. No mountain biking. No bungee jumping.

I didn't consider Zydeco dancing in birki-clogs on a rain-soaked dock to be an adventure sport, but it did result in a torn meniscus. I just duct taped the ice bags to my knee for a few weeks, laid off dancing for six months, and blamed any politician who voted against affordable healthcare as a basic human right. That was during the Clinton administration.

I didn't sustain any serious injuries during the first term of the Bush administration, but last March turned my foot upside down while going down the stairs, also something I had not considered to be an adventure sport. There were more ice wraps, less dancing, several months of hobbling, and some lingering achiness a year later. Perhaps I had a sinus infection in January, but massive doses of EmergenC seem to have vanquished that.

One of these days I will either land a job with insurance, or we will vote in an administration that gives even a tiny shit about the working poor.

Still, in the annual prodding of the girly bits, I mentioned to my wonderful nurse practitioner at the public health clinic that I have exercise-induced asthma. I told her I'd ingeniously solved the problem of exercise-induced asthma by not exercising. Pretty simple.

Unfortunately, conscientious nurse practitioners, particularly in the inner city, tend to get all bent out of shape about asthma. They want me to walk around with an inhaler on my person at all times. I have one, buried in the bottom of my dance bag, but it must have expired sometime before my health insurance did.

I promised her I would go in for a check up and request a new prescription. Today was the day.

Since the appointment was either at 8:40, according to my calendar, or 9:40, according to the clinic's, it was too early to employ my new favorite time-for-the-public-health-clinic technique: the liquid lunch. Last time, with the help of a tequila sunrise, I just snoozed away in the waiting room for a few hours or so, along with all the other drains on the system uninsured.

This time I was awake and a little worried that they seemed to think my appointment was with the dentist and not general medicine.

With all the shuttling about, there was no time to knit, but eventually they figured it all out, signed me in, took my money up front, and had me step on the scale. From her desk across the room, the aide had me read the number aloud to her. I briefly considered subtracting ten pounds, because how the hell would she know from all the way over there?

She managed to get up long enough to strap me into the automatic blood pressure meter on her way out of the room to gossip at the front desk, then take a cell phone call about something in the cupboard under the sink, no not that cupboard, the cupboard under the sink, no the other cupboard, did you find it, no the cupboard where the dishes be at, did you find it, oh, I gotta get to work.

I again conveyed my numbers from across the room yet remained strapped in to the cuff as she caught up with another aide/friend for a few minutes until it was time for me to go back. Only then did she unstrap me.

To make the blood pressure lady happy, I'd eaten a waffle for breakfast, because if I don't eat breakfast before the doctor's office, my numbers look freakishly low. Unfortunately, eating a waffle somehow messed up my chance to have rafts of bloodwork done, bloodwork they had not told me about, bloodwork that required fasting, fasting they had not told me about.

My first and only check-up in 10 FREAKIN' YEARS!!!! involved the doctor quickly looking down my throat, in my eyes, then my ears, and squishing my neck.

When he got out a stethoscope, I said, "I have a heart murmur." I didn't even finish the sentence before he cut me off with "Your heart sounds fine." From those distant days with health insurance, I know it's fine, but usually whoever I get tends to at least try to hear the faint woosh. Then it was "Deep breath, deep breath, deep breath, deep breath, deep breath, deep breath, deep breath, deep breath." I was faint from hyperventilating at this point.

Then I had to show him the palms of my hands, then the backs, and then I was done. I didn't even get to show off my carefully selected, completely innocuous, boring underwear.

Ten freakin' years! Oh, and I didn't get an inhaler prescription after all. He seemed to think my no-exercise solution was a good one.


Peggy said...

Clearly, you don't look sufficiently poor. First, have no demonstrable source of income (or a mortgage payment that is 4 times your monthly spousal support). Then go in on crutches to the free clinic that doesn't treat injuries, claiming you're out of your asthma medicine. I got three grocery bags full of free drugs, one asthma class I could have taught, one free x-ray, two free MRIs, two orthopedists, one nurse practitioner, a PAP smear, and one session with the shrink. All for free. And 9 months later, I had a healthy, bouncing baby insurance plan of my very own.

And next time, leave the knitting at home. That's why god invented People magasine.

Larry said...

I'm also without health insurance; I rely on fiddling and writing to keep me well. It's worked so far! It's been many years since I've seen a doctor. A bout of back pain last fall, followed by some friends' recommendations, led me to a chiropractor. The rather violent treatment didn't help; a new exercise and stretching regimen did.