The Silent Spring: The astronaut will see you now

I had my routine annual physical yesterday. I knew my doctor would be wearing a mask, as was I, but I didn’t expect her to come into the examination room suited up in PEP, mask, gloves, cap and visor. I took it in good faith that it was my doctor, but it could have been any short person impersonating my petite doctor.

The examination was, in fact, mostly complete when she came into the room. The protocol has you call from the parking lot where the medical tech completes check-in and reviews your medical history by phone; one of the questions is always, “Have you recently felt sad or depressed?” Yep, like the rest of the world right now, don’t yer think? You then wait until they call you to permit you to leave your vehicle and walk into the building. It was hot and humid in Atlanta yesterday, typical July weather. I melted in the car for 25 minutes – they were running late – because I didn’t want to risk putting on the air conditioning and running down the battery that has barely had a charge since March. I was concerned my body would evidence a high temperature, which sent my blood pressure up.

The nurse meets you at the door, takes your temperature (normal fortunately) and you follow her immediately into the examination room. I noticed that all the magazines have been removed from the rack – I never liked touching them anyway. After a few more questions, she took my blood pressure (slightly high, not surprising) and because it’s a formal age-related (65+) examination left me the cognitive behavior paperwork to complete. She has given me three words to remember and to write down on the sheet. I know the drill now; the first time I only remembered two out of three, but now I make up a sentence and keep repeating it to myself so when I am given the test, I quickly go to page 3 and write the words down, before going back and filling in the rest of the form. You have to draw a clock face and put the hands at 8:15. Sounds easy, but when you start overthinking it, it’s hard to remember which is the little hand and which is the big hand. I make them sort of even so it could be 8:15 or 3:40 just in case.

Then you wait until the doctor calls you from her office to review your answers over the phone, which means when she finally enters the examination room, she need only listen to your heart and lungs, prod your tummy a bit and you are all done. It’s efficient but soulless. I keep thinking about patients being given bad test results or serious news. I remember it was in that exact examination room that I was given the news of my breast cancer diagnosis in 2010. My doctor at the time didn’t exactly hold my hand, but at least I could see his face.

Yes, life is definitely different now, doctors look like astronauts and who knows if they are smiling. I hesitate to change the current title of my blog to The Lost Summer but sadly I think we are headed in that direction. But we continue to be blessed, unlike so many others and count our blessings by the hour.

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