(Yes, that’s right–you see there are three tags on this post? I was out of town yesterday, and tomorrow has already crept into today. Such is life.)
I live in Moses Lake. We have Walmart and Safeway and a bowling alley. When you go to the clinic, you share the waiting room with drooling children, expectant mothers, and eighty-year men.
The population can’t possibly support specialized medical departments.
Yesterday, I visited a town that can. And as I passed through frosted glass doors that slid open and shut with Star-trek-ish pneumatics, and walked the marble halls, I thought to myself, Were I very young or very old, this would be a frightening place. As the elevator rose silently to the fourth floor I was a little disconcerted to realize that I was old enough to do this thing on my own.
I am a middle-aged woman with a driver’s license and the ability to read a map and ask for directions. I can draw my own conclusions about proposed tests and treatments. Indeed, I am certain that if I had an elbow partner commenting on the close feeling of the halls or the space-age decor or the fact that everyone else in the waiting room is clearly over the age of eighty, I would want to side tackle them into the glass of the floor-to-ceiling windows.
They say one of the symptoms of liver disease is irritablity and anger. (We’ll blame it on that.)
Although. I’m not angry, as I sit there.
I am glad to be on my own. I do text my daughter. There isn’t anyone else in this entire clinic under the age of seventy.
Does it smell like old people? she asks.
And really, that is about as much input as I want from the outside world; from the world in which I live. This clinic business is in another dimension. I am escorted to a tiny cubicle with a sweeping view of the valley and am left even more alone. I sit in the afternoon sunshine, alternately reading up on Hymes sociolinguistics theories and nodding off. I stand and shake off my sleepiness and stretch. When the door clicks open, I am face to face with the doctor and he is startled.
“You look very healthy,” he finally says. He grips my hand for a long moment, as if to reassure himself that I am not a figment of his imagination. I should be hunched over in the corner chair, peering at him with yellowed eyes, not confronting him in the doorway.
But that’s the thing: I am young and I am strong and I am healthy. The test results and my symptoms and the me that is reduced to raw data on the screen do not add up. If I were eighty-years old, he tells me, he would put blinders on and go straight for the big guns, but those tests are intrusive and expensive. And so I will be returning frequently over the next few weeks as we rule out everything else, one possibility at a time.
As I drove home, I was surprised at my equanimity. Possibly, it came as a result of sitting there in the midst of dozens of people three times my own age, and feeling my own vitality. I am young and strong–whatever ails my parts, it cannot take away my aggregate power to make these choices for myself, to live every day to its fullest and love important people. And also from an assurance that no matter how long the road, I will have the strength to walk it, with an elbow-partner of my choosing or without one at all.
I came home and took the family out for pizza; it was Tuesday, after all. And in a town our size, on a Tuesday night, that means we had the place pretty much to ourselves (minus the family with really bad taste in Jukebox selections). We poked fun at the silent commentators on the muted television and drank slightly odd tasting soda and took our leftovers home in aluminum foil. And we are happy–in this close little world we have created for ourselves–mother, father, children, untouched by war or violence or hunger. It is a strange and blessed life and I find myself smiling at unexpected moments.
God bless America–its little towns and its big ones and all the beautiful open country in between, with its conveniences and troubles and schisms of voices. I could not live this life in any other place on earth, and I am grateful for it.