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Henry: Germs, Priapism, and Waiting for the Doctor

Mike Henry
Mike Henry

I’m telling you about my experience this morning because I am very concerned about your health. You have not looked all that great lately and I’m afraid you might be coming down with something. You should seek medical treatment, but take my advice:


I am not yet famous and hounded by paparazzi, so my physicians will not come to my house to inject me with industrial grade pharmaceuticals. When I need medical care I have to make an appointment like the rest of you, which is humiliating enough. And that thing I have to make—the appointment. I swear I heard the receptionist giggle when she told me on the phone last week that my appointment was at 9 a.m.

I showed up this morning a minute before nine. There was standing room only in the waiting room. I pushed and shoved my way to the receptionist. I tripped over a grandma’s aluminum walker, but because of my incredible balance I recovered. The receptionist slid the glass open and pointed to a clipboard. “Sign in,” she barked. I reached for the Bic pen but my hand froze. I stared as the pen seemed to pulsate and wriggle as if alive. Using my laser-like concentration, I figured out why. EVERYONE WHO SIGNED IN WITH THAT PEN IS DEATHLY ILL. I shuddered and pulled out my own pen, knocking aside the germ-encrusted Bic with my elbow.

Under “Time of Appointment” I wrote “9:00 a.m.” and looked at the thirty names ahead of me on the sign-in sheet. With the SKREEK SKREEK SKREEK of Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO music in my brain, I realized all thirty had written in “9:00 a.m.” Well, that’s not really an appointment, is it? “Uh, Miss, all these people are….” “Sit down until we call your name,” Nurse Ratched said. I schlubbed my way to the corner.

Sixty eyes, no, make that 59, because one old guy wore a yellow-medicine-stained gauze patch covering one eye, followed my every move. I leaned against the wall, hoping someone would pass out onto the floor so I could get a seat. Two cell phones chimed at the same time. An old man sneezed then loudly described to his caller intimate details of the rupture in his groin. A nice lady answered hers on speaker, blew her nose and babbled enthusiastic baby-talk to her grandchild on the other end.

The outside door opened and a grimacing man, bent at the waist fought his way through to the reception window where he told the receptionist in a stage whisper “…they said on the t.v. if it lasted four hours to see the doctor, so here I am.” He was instantly admitted to THE LAND BEYOND THE RECEPTION GLASS and within five minutes shrill laughter from two dozen nurses filtered through the walls into the waiting area, where everyone pretended not to hear. My cheeks grew hot in sympathy. My God, man. Have those nurses no shame?

After three hours my knees buckled and I fell forward, smashing my nose against a heavy steel prosthetic leg the man next to me had removed to polish. I tore off my shirt and pressed it to my face to stanch the blood gushing from my nose. The receptionist noticed and I was ushered quickly into THE LAND BEYOND…, where a nurse practitioner stuffed my nose with cotton and asked “what seems to be the problem?” I described the shooting pains I’ve had the last three weeks running from my heart through my shoulder. “The pain is excruciating when I walk more than 10 feet,” I said. The nurse said “there’s a lot of that going around,” and told me to take two Aleve and begin a daily regimen of St. John’s Wort and one large garlic clove.

While you may think my doctor visit was less than optimal, some good came out of it. I was referred for my broken nose repair to an ENT who has opened an office in an old Sonic location. The nurses skate to your car and do a workup through the window. It’s comforting because any car is more hygienic than the waiting room and if surgery is needed, the doctor leases space on the hydraulic lift at the former Jiffy Lube location next door and adjusts the O.R. table up and down as needed. I’m scheduled for surgery at the Jiffy Lube next week, but if there’s a lightning storm and the ENT raises me to the ceiling, I’m hightailing it before the villagers show up with their torches and pitchforks.

Michael Henry is a writer in Oxford. A graduate of Tulane and Virginia Law School, Henry published his seventh novel, Finding Ishmael, in April 2014.

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