During one of my recent bouts of prednisone-induced insomnia, my restless mind replayed the first time I went to see a doctor on my own.
I guess this was sparked by my thinking about all the doctors I've seen recently and my mind then struggling to remember exactly how my association with these strange people first started.
In any event, I think I was about 17 when I went out into the world all alone in search of my first consultation with a physician.
Not wanting to choose a physician more or less at random from the phone book and hoping for the best, I set off in search of the general practitioner whom I'd been told had delivered my sister nearly 30 years earlier. I guess I thought that any guy who'd managed to bring my sister into this world without accidentally killing her wasn't very likely to end up accidentally killing me, either. After all, I was much bigger.
Dr. D. had an office in an old house in a part of Toledo I'd not been to before and haven't been to since. I had to take two buses to get there. The second half of the second bus ride seems to have involved a canopy of trees swallowing the road. No one else on the bus seems to have been as excited about this as I was. I now wonder if they were inflatable dolls or department store mannequins scattered randomly throughout the bus by a bus driver who didn't want first-time riders of his route like me to feel quite so alone....
Dr. D.'s rather small waiting room was crowded with old women with mysterious diseases and younger women with crying children. I think I took the last available seat then did my best to blend in as much as possible by coughing at odd moments for no apparent reason and grimacing between coughs the way that I imagined savagely infectious people do. I certainly didn't want to draw attention to my oh-so-male and oh-so-young self by smiling maniacally, and I didn't want to blow my first audition as a patient by appearing too healthy.
Had I known the waiting room was going to be so crowded, I probably would have practiced waiting at home first....
Experienced patients may have already noted that one thing I did *not* do was go to the receptionist lurking behind the odd sliding glass window and let her know that I was there. I didn't know that this was what I was supposed to do - I just thought my name would be called when my appointment time arrived and that would be that.
When other patients came in and gave their name to the receptionist, I began to feel uneasy.
When those who arrived after I did were called back before I was, I began to squirm and sweat.
I felt trapped, not sure what to do. If I got up and gave my name to the receptionist after having sat there for what must have already been an hour or more, I'd be drawing unwanted attention to my oh-so-male and oh-so-young self. If I just got up and left, I wouldn't get to see the doctor - not unless he suddenly bolted out of the house and chased me down, which would have presented me with an even worse situation. So, I just continued to sit as the minutes slipped by, as minutes are wont to do....
As evening drew near and the waiting room slowly cleared out, I began to feel better about things. The air seemed cooler and less infectious, the sound of crying children became nothing more than a vaguely hellish memory, and - once I became the waiting patient with the most seniority - feelings of superiority and ownership began to wash over me. I welcomed newcomers with a knowing glance, sighed nostalgically as each departing patient brushed past me, and pondered at length the exact nature of the new carpet I would order for the place if and when I once again had access to a phone.
All these thoughts and feelings vanished in an instant when Dr. D. suddenly appeared like a white tornado behind the receptionist. Seeing me through the window, he practically yelled at the poor woman, "I told you to send him back to me as soon as he came in!"
She was flustered and probably flummoxed. I was perturbed and distressed. I certainly hadn't wanted to get her or anybody else in trouble with my behavior, yet apparently I had. And I certainly hadn't known that my condition was so serious that it required immediate attention. What else might I not know?
A waiting room appears to be such a simple thing. If such a simple thing could lead to so much confusion and trouble, what hope had I of ever learning how to deal with the much more complex human body?
Fortunately, I didn't have time to ponder that question at the time as I was quickly called back and escorted into Dr. D.'s private office rather than any of the cold, white exam rooms I'd seen on TV and had fully expected to end up in as appropriately dramatic music played in the background.
Did the rabbit hole I'd fallen down not have a bottom?
My mind now wants me to believe that his office was straight out of Dickens - a Victorian England parlor, lined with velvet curtains and curiosities from all around the world. In truth, it was probably nothing more than yet another too big, too cold, overly gray room of the sort I'd seen too many times already in my life as a temporary visitor to innumerable old homes in an old town.
I sat down in a chair in front of his large, undoctor-like desk. My mind now wants me to believe that he looked like a cross between Albert Schweitzer and Alan Alda's father but I know that that's a lie. What he actually looked like was something I have never been able to quite bring back into focus. The lie eclipsed the reality at the time; there is little chance of my now recapturing what was never really captured in the first place....
A severe bout of depression is what had prompted me to make an appointment in the first place. I'm not sure what I may have been depressed about. Maybe the Ford administration. Maybe disco. Maybe the sheer shock of being alive. It's safe to say that none of those things were helping even if they weren't the exact cause of my feelings of world-weariness.
I suppose I'd heard that doctors were now doing wonderful things for world-weary people and that we all owed it to ourselves to consult them the moment world-weariness crept into our minds.
I was surprised when those wonderful things began with Dr. D.'s bellowing, "What are YOU depressed about?! I see SICK people ALL day long. If anyone ought to be depressed, it's ME!"
Fortunately, he didn't leave that thought hanging long enough for me to suggest that we forge a suicide pact and make plans to off ourselves together.
Unfortunately, what he did instead was pull out some generic "Are you depressed?" check list and read it to me.
You know the type.... Are you sleeping ok? Are you eating ok? Can restaurants trust you to use a steak knife only for the purposes for which it is intended?
It was all so dry and mechanical, as if the human being who had so recently barked at the receptionist and me had been replaced by a carnival fortune telling machine.
And then he asked, "How's your sex life?"
I was stunned.
I was 17. I wanted to say that I didn't *have* a sex life.
Instead, I croaked "Fine" or "Ok" or some such nonsense that quickly got lost as he methodically continue on down his list.
Soon I was out the door, probably with a prescription for sugar pills.
From that moment to this, I've often wondered what he might have done had I told him my sex life was lousy. Awful. The worst in human history.
Would he have prescribed a lover instead?
Would any doctor in any society from the Hopi to the Swedish have wisely declared, "Son, what you need is some fresh-squeezed pussy - three times a week to start with, and then as needed for the rest of your life. Here's the address of a pharmacy that will set you up...."?
I know, I know - that would be oh-so-wrong, and oh-so-terrible for oh-so-many, many reasons.
But you have to understand.
I actually somehow lived through the Ford administration.
I actually existed at a time when you couldn't turn on a radio without hearing Disco Duck.
You wouldn't deny your grandmother the pain-killing benefits of marijuana as she lay dying in agony on her deathbed, would you?
Please don't deny the 17-year-old boy that's dying a slow death in every man the pain-killing benefits of this fantasy.