Monday, November 29, 2010

Dr. Who?

As one of my all time favorite T.V. doctors, Leonard H. McCoy aka Bones of Star Trek, once stated, "The only constant in the universe is the bureaucratic mentality." And it is bureaucracy, and nothing more, that has prevented me from registering for my MFA spring semester classes. Apparently I have one of those annoying 'holds' on my account for never having presented a record of my vaccinations. An issue which would appear to be easily remedied, save for the fact that my doctor passed away a few years ago and I now live in England. Of course, the vaccinations themselves aren't really required. What is REALLY required is a doctor's signature on a pre-formatted piece of paper, something that no doctor in the States will give me. This leaves me with one option, getting something called a titer blood test, which will then prove that I have received the appropriate vaccinations. So it is off to my local GP to see if he/she can sort out this mess.

The inside of the St. John's Wood Hospital is more or less what one would expect of a medical facility, replete with icy cold receptionists and long stretches of sterile white walls that give one the impression they are walking in place. When I finally hit the reception desk for my 3:40 appointment it is 3:42 and I'm told to wait in an area that vaguely resembles Alistair Cook's Masterpiece Theater. Despite the gold studded, high-back leather chairs, this reception/study area is seriously wanting for reading material. Unlike the customary unstable piles of magazines that teeter precariously along the edges of doctor office coffee tables all across America, the St. John's Wood's reception area is a Zen Buddhist shrine, with nothing to distract oneself accept for a few pamphlets on Breast Cancer (and one on Chlamydia). The focal point of the room is a large LCD panel, which gives one the sense they are waiting for an oil change rather than a check-up (although I suppose some males over 50 may be waiting for something that could be described as an 'oil change'). The displays function is to notify patients of their turn with a singular beep. Given, however, the symphony of chirps and chimes originating from other parts of the hospital, eager patients can often be found rhythmically snapping their necks upwards in unison, the waiting room version of a "flash mob ."

Moments after having just read about the possible ramifications of having "altered skin texture and drawing in of the nipple" the LCD board beeps. Up next: Barbara Walters... and I'm being serious. Unfortunately, this Barbara, while short and old, doesn't appear to be the one who spends her days tut-tutting Whoopi and Joy's comments. Regardless, this is a promising start to my first visit for sure.

Forty minutes and a discrete self-breast-exam later the LCD board finally flashes my name and it is off to "Room One" to meet Dr. T. Sharma. When I open the door I am surprised to find the mousy doctor already inside waiting for me. Slight and nerdy looking, Dr. Sharma sits stooped over her desk, feverishly clicking her mouse, half-looking as if she were expecting her Dungeon and Dragons opponent rather than a patient.
"And you are Mr. Mazzenga?" Her Serenity inquires.
Socialized health care really is the way to go, I think, you get a medical and an existentialist examination all at once!
After confirming my identity I take a seat in the first of a long row of blue chairs positioned adjacent to Dr. Sharma's desk, the office feng shui decidedly more 'job interview' than 'doctor's office.'
"How may I help you?" Dr. Sharma says folding her hands across her flat chest.
To the point, I succinctly explain my graduate school vaccination dilemma and what test I require to resolve it.
"You sure that is all you need?" The existentialist portion of my exam apparently not over.
"Yes, I'm sure." I confidently replied.
Dr. Sharma then proceeds to tell me that such an exam may not be possible unless I have private insurance, as it hardly seemed fair for the taxpaying British citizens to have to pay for an exam that is required in the United States. I look down at my slightly olive skin and wonder if I'm in Arizona.

"OOOOOOOOOOKkkkkkkkk...." is all I can really verbalize.

After a mentally regrouping, I intimate that the EXAM isn't necessarily required, so much as her signature... a suggestion that would never fly in the US.
"You just need a letter from me?" Sharma's voice quizzically rising. The subtext being, "Why didn't you just say that in the first place?" Turning her attention to the blue glow of her monitor, she quickly types out a letter for me (although she used the hunt and peck method to type... horrible). A final forceful keystroke later, and without any examination or inquiry at all, I have my letter. Dr. Sharma, abandoning her keyboard for a moment, picks up a pen and casually ticks a spartan white pad in front of her. I can't help but wonder if she is the most indifferent doctor I have ever met or a true slayer of bureaucratic bullshit.
"And you said something about a cough?" the Doctor says, returning her attention to me.
I had. While this visit was largely about the vaccinations, I figured I might as well mention a lingering cough I have had for the better part of 2 years. I tell her how I had been to several doctors in the past but had yet to find a sufficient treatment for my ever present and constantly annoying cough.
"You say you've been to doctors in the past and that nothing has worked?" Sharma inquires without so much as flinching.
"Yes." I replied.
"Hmmm... well I don't see what I can do for you?"
Was she kidding? Weren't doctors supposed to help their patients? Wouldn't she revel in the medical mystery that was and unfortunately, still IS, my cough?
Dr. House T. Sharma is not.
"Oh OK," was all I could muster, as Dr. Sharma's pen "ticked" a piece of paper again.
And without so much as saying "AHHH" I was on my way home, feeling somewhat empty despite having received what I came for. I can't put a finger on it but something.... something was missing. Was it attention I desired? Have I come to enjoy the customary doctor/patient song and dance? The thrill of false promises and regiment of endless testing?
While frustrating, Dr. Sharma's approach to medicine is certainly honest if not brutally direct. What else should I expect? Afterall... She is a doctor, not a politician...

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