A visit to the doctor can be a real pain (British spelling)
A massive map of the world covers every square inch of the wall, four-foot panels connecting one global segment to the next. The panels disappear behind a line of chairs that rim the circumference of the waiting room. Every chair occupied and defended, every patient sporting a smirk of entitlement mixed with the smug air of superiority.
Nine AM on a slushy winter's morn and there's any place on earth I'd rather be.
Following orders from a handwritten sign taped on the door, I place my boots on a black rubber map overflowing with dirty water and slush, then join the other sock-clad zombies milling about the place.
I'm possibly the youngest one here. I certainly feel atypical; everyone looks like aliens. Most are grey, wrinkled and terribly shrunken as if insidious vampires had slowly sucked the life out of them when no one was looking.
These early arrivals, perhaps fifteen by my estimate, look numb; no eye contact whatsoever, their heads turning sharply if I catch their gaze. The complete absence of magazines leaves the floor their only viewing option. I take a long look at the carpet myself, in case I'm missing something.
It's inconceivable this many people are here so soon after opening. I can only presume they have nowhere to be and nothing to do, perhaps they don't even have appointments, or they're leftovers from yesterday's patient list. I, on the other hand, have somewhere to be and lots to do. I'm important. I wonder if they'd let me go first if they knew how important I was.
I'm actually early; my appointment's for 9:30, but I deluded myself into thinking that if I arrived early, I'd get in sooner, but there's no chance of that happening now, an entire retirement community ahead of me.
Is it too early for a drink? They should actually serve alcohol at the doctor's office. Many more people would look after their health, and besides, most of these folks take the shuttle-bus home anyway.
There's faded music playing from elsewhere, soft and voiceless, reminding me of a Rolling Stones song re-mastered by Yanni.
A nurse appears on rare occasions, announcing the name of a lucky winner. I die a little each time the proclamation is unfamiliar. As each of the chosen disappear, two more humans file in from the street. It's now standing room only.
I briefly consider offering my seat to an old man who seems confused and overwhelmed by the sea of humanity, but I don't like the way his grey track pants are tucked into his black leather loafers, and frankly, my ass hurts. It's been hurting for weeks, that's why I'm here.
A collective feeling of hopeless despair permeates the waiting area, each employee moving slowly, seemingly unaware of the growing sea of humanity pressing against the sliding widow like zombies in search of brains. Any brains would do at this point.
The nurse shouts, "Mrs. Swartz," and a man, seated along the near wall, bangs the back of his head in frustration, sending ripples throughout the African subcontinent.
A tall Asian man arrives, pushing the door with authority and striding in like Jagger. He quickens his pace, beating "Old-Man Track-pants" to Mrs. Swartz's recently vacated chair.
"Ya, I'm here." He states loudly, raising heads and eyebrows. "It's full. Gonna take hours." He groans emphatically into the small device protruding from his ear.
"Christ!" I mumble, rolling my eyes. I already hate him.
The one-way conversation continues at operatic volume to the strained looks of the older patients who could still remember what manners and common decency meant.
Yuppie, prick, punk!
I need a diversion. I start texting people I don't like, hoping for a meaningless conversation or entertaining argument. Nobody wants to play.
Stacks of toys sit in the corner of the waiting room. Plastics toys, covered with germs and kid gunk. The fire truck alone could engross me for at least an hour, but I think these seniors have been through enough already. The sight of a grown man playing firehouse under their chairs might pop a heart valve.
Deep blue oceans and aqua seas dominate my surroundings and mock my imprisonment. The colours tease me - I could be outside, under a robin's egg sky, frozen, but free and happy. The occasional landmass injects green and brown hues amid the blue walls. I feel very small and insignificant.
I'm concerned about the capacity of the waiting room. There are roughly forty-two people in here now based on my calculations using length times width. I determine that, with two patients arriving for every one that leaves, critical mass is likely within thirty minutes. I don't know what that might look like, but I fear it includes a breakdown in personal space and direct contact with wrinkles.
The oldies look terrified, no doubt caught between thoughts of leaving and the realization they've no particular place to go before their next medical appointment.
The Chinese basketball player is arranging his New Years' Eve plans, rooftop dining followed by dancing into the wee hours. Nobody gives a fuck.
I need to pee, really bad, but I must protect my primo-seat, so I cross my legs and think of sandstorms and crippling drought. Besides, they'll probably want a pee sample from me, so if I go now, I'm screwed. I'll be stuck in that miniature bathroom, pushing like a Sumo wrestler, trying to turn a trickle to a sample.
Forty-eight people now and the air is getting thin. An asthmatic man stares at the exit, blocked by a thick wall of vertically stacked primates. He sucks on an inhaler, his eyes wide like saucers.
"Mrs. Stevens?" The nurse shouts over the sound of Yuppie Boy booking a limo.
Nobody moves. I conclude that Mrs. Stevens is dead. She's probably still standing and wedged between the man with the fedora and the fat woman with a knee brace.
More people arrive, and the door will no longer close behind them. I have nothing but crotches and ass in my line of sight and it smells of ointment and soiled diapers, but there are no children in the room.
I think I might be hungry. It must be close to lunchtime, or maybe dinner, but I'm not entirely sure what day is it, or what time zone for that matter.
Suddenly, with the angelic pomposity of Gabriel himself, a disembodied voice heralds my name from the other side of the room. A small tear wells in my left eye.
I rise and begin my trek through the throng, leveraging my weight against the weakest areas of the blockade, such as walkers and canes. Something cracks behind me, but I don't dare look back for fear of a lawsuit.
Bursting into the inner office, I suck back the clean air, filling my lungs to the bursting point, then pausing for a moment of sanity and stability.
The nurse motions towards the open door of an examination room and smiles the way a serial killer smiles, just before they lock you in that room with the abandoned well and the collection of dolls heads.
"Please strip down and put on the lime green gown." She says, quickly glancing at my belt buckle and back up to my eyes. I suspect her of harvesting and selling body parts on the black market during her spare time. But I do as I'm told, sitting on the tissue paper covering the exam table, wondering who will die in the waiting room while I'm in here being groped and probed. I sincerely hope it's the yuppie, but he looked too young and could likely hold his own in a geriatric brawl for survival.
The door opens, and the doctor cheerfully strolls into the room. He seems relaxed and under-worked, sporting a beautiful tan and bright striped rainbow socks, the type you might find in a Dr. Seuss book or bad Swedish porn. He's a tad overweight and reeks of cigarette smoke, but his smock is clean, three pens and an Oh Henry bar protruding from the top pocket.
Reaching into a small box for a latex glove, he stretches it over the fingers of his right hand and snaps it at the wrist. "So?" He smiles. "How's your day going so far?"