By Laura Grimes
It’s time to re-institute home visits by doctors.
I want to hear the doorbell ring and see the black bag. With a sweep of my motherly arm I would graciously show the caring soul to the outdated plaid couch, where Oscar/Dennis would be slouched back in a daze, his slumber roused by the sound of the bell. Oscar/Dennis would flicker open his eyes a slit but he wouldn’t move. His gray hoodie that hadn’t been changed for a few days would be pulled up over his ears, and the red fuzzy blanket would be flung over his long body that stretches from one sofa arm to the other. A couple of pillows would prop up his head. The white She Cat would be curled up on his legs in a lowercase e.
Even though it would be noon, the room would be dark. The blinds would not have been pulled, but there would be a small welcoming fire. A tall water bottle, a couple of untouched Ritz crackers and a tub with a half-inch of vomit would be on the coffee table.
The doctor with the kind eyes wouldn’t pay any attention to the constant patter of Two and a Half Men coming from the television. Instead he/she would pull out a stethoscope and a Popsicle stick from his/her black bag and ask Oscar/Dennis to take deep breaths and say aaaah. He/she would take his elevated temperature. As soon as the thermometer would be pulled out, Oscar/Dennis would hack deep body-shaking coughs and reach for the tub.
The doctor would chat with me in a low voice and then would smile into Oscar/Dennis’ dull-gray, unfocused, glassy eyes and ruffle his blond hair. He/she would look at me and point to the tub. I would say five days. And with that key piece of information, he/she would write an anti-barfing prescription, put the stethoscope back in the black bag and waltz out the door with a wink and a wave.
I know. In my fevered dreams.
But that would be so much more humane, so much more in the patient’s best interest, and so much more in the service of public welfare than hauling my ghost-skinned kid out in the pouring rain.
We are lucky to patronize a wonderful medical practice that’s only 10 minutes from home. Fortunately, the office system has vastly improved over the years, though it’s still a mystery and an annoyance why every member of the family has to have a separate billing account. It’s not that way at the dentist’s office.
As highly as I think of our family’s doctors, I dread going into their germ-filled office. Oscar/Dennis has never had much of an immune system, and all his “well-child” exams when he was a youngster consistently put him at risk of getting sick. He would be a happy, gurgling baby when he visited the doctor and then, without fail, a day or two later he would be terribly ill.
One time when Oscar/Dennis was a toddler, Mr. Scatter and I were finishing up dinner and I suddenly realized, much to my surprise, that he had visited the doctor earlier in the week and had stayed healthy. I mentioned this to Mr. Scatter and on perfect cue Oscar/Dennis threw up all his dinner. I had hoped it would be his sensitive gag reflex at work or a matter of him having overeaten, but neither turned out to be true.
I took him to the doctor recently for something extremely minor that had nothing to do with his core biological system. As we sat in the waiting room surrounded by people I reminded him about my phobia of the place because of our dreaded historical pattern. He told me that I didn’t need to remind him. Less than a week later, well, let’s just say our grocery bill went down considerably.
Of course, Oscar/Dennis is exposed to germs everywhere he goes. His too-large public high school is undoubtedly a cesspool. Of course, he’s been sick when he hasn’t been near the doctor’s office. But the coincidence is just too tempting, and I wouldn’t be mentioning it if I hadn’t had to drag the poor kid to the doctor when he was too weak to sit up.
The school called Tuesday morning to pick him up after he’d been there for only a few hours. By noon, I was disgruntled that he was on his computer, asked him about homework and nagged him to email his teachers. He was coughing pretty hard, but I figured a day of rest and he would be back at school. He vomited occasionally, but I figured it was just a gag reflex from coughing.
He wasn’t better the next day, and I figured he just needed rest and would have plenty of down time to do his schoolwork. I was a bit annoyed about the TV time and waved the book in front of him that he needs to read for English.
By Thursday he was asleep on the couch most of the day in a dark living room with not even the TV on. I started to notice how little he was eating and that nothing stayed down, but I was relieved that he was resting peacefully. I figured that was what he really needed. Schoolwork was out of the question.
By Friday nothing had changed. I called the doctor’s office in the afternoon asking for advice in how to stop the vomiting, not dreaming I would have to take him in. No appointments were available that day, and the advice nurse insisted I call first thing Saturday morning and get him one of the few urgent care appointments.
I was relieved Oscar/Dennis was awake Saturday morning so I didn’t have to disturb him. He dutifully, though slowly got ready. He took a bath (he’s too weak to take a shower).
Oscar/Dennis gingerly made his way to the van in the pouring rain. We took the travel puke tub — a tofu container rather than Tupperware. We stepped around puddles and got to the office right on time and pressed the after-hours button to get in. We stood there in the nasty elements as a thin, tiny voice said something over the intercom, possibly, but the harsh wind and the traffic noises swept it away. I hollered into the box again. More inaudibility. I hollered that I couldn’t hear anything. Finally, a slightly louder voice, still hard to catch, said, I think, “Come on up.”
The waiting room, usually crowded with people, was mercifully empty. I thought how dreadful it would be to expose anyone to this miserable sickness. I was worried when a pregnant woman came in. The practice specializes in prenatal care, and I chillingly remembered how some years earlier Oscar/Dennis had to go to the clinic when he had a mysterious rash. It turned out to be chicken pox, which can be devastating to fetuses and can lead to birth defects. We never dreamed that’s what it could be because he’d been vaccinated. We certainly wouldn’t have taken him to the doctor had we known that’s what it was. The doctor diagnosed him and sent him home, which seems like a wasted and potentially dangerous visit, but it did rule out other illnesses. A rash can mean something serious.
A home visit could have spared everyone, and that’s what I wished for on Saturday as we sat in the waiting room. I pulled out a favorite Zits cartoon book Oscar/Dennis and I like to read together, but he shook his head. He just sat there and occasionally asked for the time and compared it to our scheduled appointment. A woman came in several minutes after us and was called almost immediately. Oscar/Dennis muttered “no fair,” but I told him that could have happened for any number of reasons. We waited, the minutes much more precious on this day than most others when we’ve sat there.
After nearly 25 minutes, Oscar/Dennis’ name was called. I waited while he was weighed. I absent-mindedly watched the nurse write down the amount and then it registered. “Are you kidding me?” I said in a low voice. Only Oscar/Dennis heard me. I looked at the scale to confirm it. The nurse had grabbed Oscar/Dennis’ shoes and was already moving down the hall, but Oscar/Dennis caught on immediately.
He whispered to me. “Seven pounds.”
He had lost that much since we had been in 10 days earlier. His previous weight was right on the piece of paper. The nurse easily could have compared it, but she was surprised when I pointed it out.
The pleasant nurse took his vitals and asked a few questions. She more-than-generously rinsed out the puke tub and handed it back. Then she left. We waited some more.
Oscar/Dennis sat there looking miserable, holding the puke tub. His arms and legs were shaking. He lay down with the puke tub next to his face and closed his eyes. He was the same color as the flimsy white tissue paper on the exam table. His feet hung over the end so I pulled out the extension. We waited silently.
After many minutes, we could hear the doctor outside the door conferring with the nurse and trying to figure out which patient was in which room. After a while he came in.
The visit lasted maybe 10 minutes, if that. He took a throat culture and said it would take only 5 minutes to get back the results and left. Oscar/Dennis lay down again. I rested my head on a counter. We waited another 25 minutes. This wasn’t lost on Oscar/Dennis.
When the doctor came back we discussed medication options. I never mentioned I was sick, too, but it was hard to miss when I would interrupt listening to let out deep bronchial coughs into my arm. The doctor left to fill out prescription forms. We waited some more.
He came back some minutes later, looking over the forms. He realized he had forgotten to sign one of them. He did that and handed them to me. I looked at them as he was standing in the doorway, trying to leave. He was polite but impatient as I held his attention until I was entirely sure the prescriptions were clear to me. One of the drug names didn’t resemble anything we had talked about. I asked about it, and he casually said it was another name for the same drug.
“OK?” And he was off.
Oscar/Dennis asked me to push in the extension on the exam table so he could climb down on the step underneath it. He was too weak to jump down and he didn’t want to jostle himself.
As we walked through the empty waiting room on the way out, I noticed through the tall windows that the rain was coming down even harder now. We made our way home. We would both go straight to bed, spent for the rest of the day.
By the time we slowly walked in the front door, drenched and exhausted, we had been gone nearly two hours. The combined time with the doctor, nurse and receptionist might have added up to 15 minutes. Might have. But I doubt it.
PHOTO: I’d rather be home any day than in this germy place./Wikimedia Commons