My husband didn't want me to go.
But, of course, I had to be where all the hot people are on a glamorous, holiday night ... The waiting room of an urgent care center.
Not that I was hot, nor even mildly warm. In fact, I was freezing. Every time the door opened, a gust of frosty air came in. The chill mixed with the sounds of clear bells and gravelly coughs, and made me pull my coat in tighter around me.
I felt clammy, like death warmed up.
I'm not sure I even combed my hair. Nope. I didn't. When I turned toward the plate glass window in my isolated corner perch, I could see ruffled feathers at the back of my head. I laughed a little. My reflection, sandwiched between the parking lot and the reception desk, seemed surreal, as if I were a cartoon character that had been partially erased.
A door opened. A voice called a name.
It wasn't mine. Not that I expected to be called so soon. I hadn't been there long, and I could see by the number of occupied seats in the alcove there were a few people ahead of me.
I didn't want to look at anyone. Didn't want to see the weariness of lingering respiratory distress on their faces. I didn't want confirmation that we were all here with the same thoughts:
No one likes to be sick over the holidays. We all have so many expectations. Not for the perfect holiday memories, necessarily, just not to miss them entirely.
“How many visits is this now?” asked the receptionist when she'd handed me the clipboard. “Two? Since September?” Keyboard fingers flying, she answered her own question. “You can go back into the waiting room. Someone will be with you shortly.”
I smiled tightly and returned to my seat. Yes, I've been here before. More than twice, but I wasn't the patient on all occasions. I was here trying not to panic when Ittybit sprained her thumb. I stared into the light-box, squinting at an x-ray to see the crack in my husband's elbow. And, yes, I was here in September, contorting on an x-ray table trying to show the camera where my ankle hurt.
This time my visit was the result of a weird virus. Ittybit already had it, and I wouldn't doubt if it hadn't breathed, at least lightly, on all the other kids in her class. It started with jaw pain that moved up into her ear. There was gastric upset and headache. Low-grade fever.
“Most of those symptoms seem to be gone now,” I told the nurse as she took my pressure, pulse and temperature.
“It's just that no matter what I do, this rotten little headache wouldn't release me. I was worried it was a sinus infection, and that it would just get worse if I didn't come in and have you take a look.”
I babbled. She scribbled.
“The doctor will be in soon.”
Softly, I banged my heels against the examining table as the door clicked closed.
Forgot my cell phone in the car. Have to amuse myself as I wait. I look around, tap the table, pop my lips.
If my kids were here, I'd tell them to stop being so annoying. “Patience is a virtue!” … and then I'd define virtue.
The doctor knocks and opens. Smiles. She presses here and there. Asks a few more questions. She listens. She prescribes rest and more fluids, and the generic name of an over-the-counter decongestant.
She wishes me a Happy New Year as she hands me the sheet with my “aftercare instructions,” which clearly state, at the very top of the page that I have been diagnosed with “The Common Cold.”
I think about how my husband, who already thought I should wait a little longer before jumping off the hypochondria diving board, would react.
“Um … could you do me a favor and change this right here to 'Man Cold?