SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
April 28, 2013

Dr. Joe Friday, Part II

 

“Ya can’t talk while I’m doin’ this, ‘cause I’m right by your vocal chords and the waves’ll show up here. Now I’m gonna lean on you a little.”

            She did. She was a large woman. I didn’t say anything for fear she’d slit my throat.

            “That Dana, she’s always bitchin’ at me about the air-conditioner. She says she’s chilly, but it’s gotta be on when the machine’s on, and I told her that, right? But she’s cold. So I compromised ‘cause I’m a nice person. Except with that doctor. Gotta give him a piece of my mind.”

            It was the same woman who’d given me the echocardiogram two weeks earlier, and the same room. She was one of those people who seemed to fear that if she ever stopped talking, she’d die. And for her, talking and complaining were one and the same. She was driving what felt like a roll-on deodorant deep into the flesh of my throat. I had no idea what was happening, or why—which seems to be par for the course for my new doctor.

            There was a knock on the door. The handle turned and it opened. A woman with a heavy Spanish accent shouted, “Why the fuck’s the air conditioning on? I’m fuckin’ freezing!”

            “The machine’s on! I told ya it’s gotta be on when the machine’s on!”

            “Oh.”

            I heard the door close again.

            “That was her,” the woman with the roll-on said. I said nothing, as per instructions. I was kind of relieved not to say anything.

            I’d been sitting in the waiting room listening to three ancient Brooklynites trade malady stories. Not only their own, but everyone else’s as well. Everyone they knew had cancer, or some mysterious unnamed illness, or was going blind, or should be in a nursing home or hospice care. It was all very entertaining. Then this woman snatched me out of my seat, brought me to the dark and chilly echocardiogram room, and with very little explanation began digging the deodorant into my throat. It went on for about ten minutes, then she pulled it away and sort of wiped the goo off my neck.

            “That’s it,” she said. “All done.”

            “Good,” I said. “So what the hell was that all about?”

            She then launched into a highly technical description of a Carotid Doppler, which is hard to take seriously when it comes out in a heavy Brooklyn accent.

            “Yeah, I know all that,” I said. “But why was it done?”

            “Doc wanted it.”

            “Yeah, but why?”

            “Hell if I know. C’mon, take my arm. I’m ya date.”

            She led me back to the waiting room and plopped me in a chair. The television was blaring, and the three elderly patients were still sitting together. Now instead of talking to each other they were all on their cell phones, describing their maladies to assorted friends and family members throughout the tri-state area. It took a long time. On the television breathless reporters were still speculating wildly about the identity of the Boston Marathon bomber, misquoting and misinterpreting various statements from FBI officials. It was at least more interesting than Dr. Phil.

            I was wondering why I’d ever come back to this office again. Part of me, I think, was hoping vaguely that I might come to understand just what the hell happened that first time I’d been here, or at least be able to confirm that they were all trained and certified medical personnel. It was starting to look doubtful that I’d be able to satisfy either curiosity.

            Half an hour later I was yanked into the office of Dr. Joe Friday, whose machine gun monotone and endless questions immediately put me on the defensive, and suckered me into role-playing a dragnet routine.

            “How are you feeling today,” he demanded.

            “Fine.”

            “No pain.”

            “None.”

            “Okay then, let’s see here.” He flipped through my file and the results from the Carotid Doppler. “Dana!” he shouted out the door. “Fix my stapler!” The chilly woman stuck an arm in the small office and snatched the stapler away. “Okay, your heart looks good.”

            “Good.”

            “Your carotid arteries look good.”

            “Good.”

            “All your blood work looks fine.”

            “Good.”

            “Do you smoke.”

            (I’d been wondering when that one might come up.) “Yes.”

            “Well, you need to stop.”

            “Okay.”

            “Have you had a colonoscopy.”

            “No.”

            “We should schedule one. Would you like that.”

            “Not particularly, no.”

            “Well, we’ll talk about that. I want you to come in for a stress test.”

            “Okay.”

            “You also—DANA! Where’s my stapler!?—have a blockage in one of the arteries that leads into your brain.”

            “Doesn’t surprise me.”

            “So I want to get an MRI. No, an MRA.”

            “Whichever. Fine.”

            “Okay then. DANA! STAPLER! The blockage is right up here.” he tapped above my right ear. “We can’t see it with the Doppler, so we need the MRI. No, MRA.”

            “Okay.”

            “Good. Do you have any questions.”

            I wanted to ask what I was doing there, but was too stunned to do anything more than shake my head. I’d been in his office for about forty-five seconds and felt beaten and exhausted. What had he said, and what had I agreed to? I didn’t know. Was he even the same doctor I saw last time?

            “Good,” he said, closing my file. “The girls will take care of everything so you won’t need to do anything. STAPLER!” Dana finally returned with his stapler.

            “Here,” he said to her. “Take this gentleman out to the street and make all the arrangements.”

            “Um, what?”

            Suddenly I had a woman on either side of me, pulling me to my feet, handing me fake appointment cards and giving me the bum’s rush toward the front door.

            I was wondering for the ninth time if maybe I should get another doctor.

            It was only after I was out on the sidewalk, dazed and smoking and heading vaguely toward home when the two necessary questions in all this came to mind. If my heart, lungs, blood and goddamn carotid arteries were all fine and dandy, why did I need a stress test? And if the Carotid Doppler can’t see into my skull, and if he’d done no other tests on my head, how did he know about the blockage leading to my brain?

            Oh, I am so fucking doomed.

 

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