Trailing tissues behind, I burst through the base clinic doors five minutes past my appointment time. “Sorry, I’m late,” I croaked raspily to the corpsman in blueberries at the family practice desk. He directed me to the waiting area.
Fishing another crumpled tissue from my pocket, I nestled in to read juicy gossip about “The Bachelor” from a dog-eared waiting room copy of US magazine, just as “Lisa Molinari?” bellowed from behind me.
With my legs dangling like a child from the papered examining table, I waited patiently for the doctor’s arrival, mulling over the possible outcomes.
“With this terrible cough, sore throat, and congestion, it must be very serious. One listen to my chest and surely, she will prescribe antibiotics and steroid treatments. Hmm… she might very well diagnose pneumonia and order me to spend a week in the hospital under an oxygen tent, so I’d better think of someone who could stop by to walk the dog,” I thought.
As I envisioned myself securely ensconced in sterile plastic while friends and family visited with chocolate milkshakes, the doctor entered the room in a hurried swish.
“Hello, Mrs. Molinari. What brings you in today?”
I am one of those people who feel that all stories should be told properly. Even the tiniest detail can be essential in painting the right picture, conveying the correct tone, and maintaining complete accuracy.
“Well, Doc, it all started last Monday,” I began. I told her all about how my husband Francis has been gone, how tired I’ve been lately, that I may have picked something up at our daughter’s school which is a veritable petri dish by the way, that my ToDo list is a mile long, etcetera, etcetera.
Much to my surprise, the doctor didn’t seem to be listening. As I was detailing the issues I’d been having with my mini-van’s steering, she asked with her back to me, “What color is your sputum?”
Ahem. Answering that question requires admitting to shamelessly inspecting the unmentionable globs I’d spit into a sink or blown into tissues. Everyone has done it, but can’t the doctor just take my word for it that I am very sick? Assuming she needed another detailed explanation, I went on, “Well, let’s see, I blew my nose in church on Sunday, and wasn’t able to take a look until I got home, and…”
Halfway through explaining a particular shade of olive green, the doctor turned around and came at me with a reflex hammer, repeatedly rapping at my face with the pointed end. “Does this hurt?” she asked between blows. For a split second, I pondered how one might answer such a stupid question.
“Hell yes!” was just too obvious, and asking “I don’t know, does this hurt?” and kicking her in the shin seemed too hostile, so I went for, “Is the Pope a Catholic?”
By now, I could tell that this doctor operated with the fundamental belief that all patients are hypochondriacs, wimps and liars with nothing better to do than to spend hours in base clinics feigning illnesses just so they can wait again in the pharmacy for antibiotics they don’t need, which will eventually result in the spread of antibiotic-resistant “super-bugs” that will soon infect and destroy all of mankind.
As I began to snort and suck at the back of my throat in an attempt to bring up or down some kind of concrete proof to make my case, the doctor said, “Your chest sounds clear, so I’ll treat you for viral bronchitis. Pump the fluids and Mucinex.” And she was gone in a swish.
I wondered if she’d question her Hippocratic Oath when she discovered that I had to be airlifted to the ER for intravenous antibiotics later that night.
No such luck. Five days later, the raspiness in my voice, the sore throat, the barking cough and the technicolor phlegm had all but disappeared. I had to admit, the doc was right. Still, base clinic doctors should realize that, sometimes, the proper treatment for military spouses who are alone and sick is simply a little sympathy.
Chocolate milkshakes wouldn’t hurt either.