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June 11, 2010

“We Value Your Opinion”

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 10:47 pm

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I remember the first time I did my physical for Antarctica. Sitting in the cold doctor’s office waiting room, filling out pages and pages of paperwork neatly printed in triplicate, wracking my brains to remember if any great aunts had died of hypertension, arthritis or a thyroid condition, worried that I might accidentally slip an ‘N’ into a ‘Y’ box or reveal a fluke in my brain chemistry that would keep me from deploying, getting poked and prodded and squeezed and bled and x-rayed, the alienating feeling of having my body examined as an insurance risk and the fear that I might not stack up…

I forgot to bring my completed History Form this morning. The pink-cheeked Midwestern blonde at Reception rolls her eyes and indulgently prints me a new copy, eight pages I quickly scribble my way through while August, next to me, stresses about having misprinted his own name. “Shit! I can’t believe I did that!” “Who cares? Cross it out.” Never realized how nervous PQ’ing made me until I notice how stressed I’m not today. Is it because I’ve done this so many times before (it’s almost pleasantly familiar) or because I don’t care whether I go back to the Ice this year (in fact, if I fail my PQ, that makes the decision easy for me)?

The tech who does the blood draw is my favorite; a friendly, chatty, easy-going Latino guy whose name I’ve never learned. He’s got the ideal demeanor for a job that requires comforting and distracting people who are, I’m sure, often less relaxed about being jabbed in the veins than I am. I’ve always liked the bloodwork part; I’ve been fascinated by my own blood for as long as I can remember. I like watching the needle bite into my arm, the colors, the dark pressurized gush and bright crimson flecks spattering the glass tube. The TB test, I’m less fond of. It’s gooey. I’ve had so much Tuberculin shoved under my skin in the past five years it’s a wonder I’m not consumptive.

The physician’s assistant who takes my blood pressure has very warm hands. While he pumps air into the cuff, our forearms rest lightly against each others’. I think about what a sensual and intimate gesture this would be between people who weren’t exchanging money over it and how neutral and devoid of electricity it seems now and wonder what that might mean for sex workers and their clients and their experiences of their bodies. When he takes my height and weight, I face away from the scale, saying, “Don’t tell me, if you don’t mind.” He complies without batting an eye and I feel one momentary self-destructive twinge of regret at my commitment not to know my own poundage. PQ’ing always brings on a bit of weird emotional throwback because bloodwork is the only reason I’ll fast anymore and by the time we get to the Thai place later, I’m shaking. Doesn’t help that this is the same Thai place, the same table, where Jackie and I used to spend our weekly lunch dates sharing mango sticky rice and blithely deconstructing the sociopolitical significance of bulimia as if we weren’t talking about our own lives. Height: 3/4″ taller than I was last year, apparently. It seems unlikely that I’ve grown; maybe I’m just standing up straighter.

Dana is tall, stocky, middle-aged and almost certainly gay, with a steady smile, a shock of salt-and-pepper hair and the best bedside manner I’ve encountered in any medical professional, ever. I won’t go so far as to say she makes pap smears pleasant because that would be ridiculous – but she makes them no big deal. Even when she chides me about not doing my self-breast exams regularly, I feel respected rather than patronized. Dana’s the kind of doctor I expect to find in progressive sexual health clinics, seemingly so good-humored and comfortable with herself that you can’t help feeling comfortable too despite being half-naked and awkwardly straddling a pair of stirrups. She’s the only person whose lectures about smoking I ever take seriously. I’ve never understood why she works in this corporate medical center, except that I assume they pay her better than a not-quite-doctor could make anywhere else.

I’m curious about all the people who support the Antarctic program for years without ever deploying – the folks who run the offices in Christchurch, the Denver doctors and dentists who see a slew of PQ’ing patients each Spring, deftly manage our complicated paperwork, ask us thoughtfully and knowledgeably about our jobs, say, “What is this for you, now? Three? Five!” and wish us a good season. They are – almost without exception – competent, professional, engaged, friendly, and totally unlike any of the discombobulated folks who actually work at headquarters. What’s their angle? How did people this pleasant get tangled up with the silly circus that is Raytheon Medical without even getting the payoff of seeing Mt. Discovery at Winfly?


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