“Does this hurt?”
“Does this hurt?”
“How about this?”
I was lying on my stomach on an exam table while the doctor pushed on various parts of my spine. I was facing the one accent wall, which was painted bright red. It was far too aggressive for the tiny, windowless room. Size and flickering lights aside, it took me a couple of minutes to figure out what was so unsettling about it: There was no sink. In its place was a giant bottle of hand sanitizer.
I hate hand sanitizer. What was wrong with good old-fashioned soap and water? How could this be an exam room without a sink?
I questioned the cleanliness of the doctor’s hands as he continued to push along my back.
“How about there?” he said.
He was somewhere between my tail bone and my lower back, but not underneath the navy surgical shorts I was asked to put on in spite of having brought my own as instructed on the website. I am nothing if not thorough about matters involving my health.
“YES. That’s it. That hurts.”
“OK. So you’re pretty active.”
“Yeah, extremely. And I’d like to get back at that point again.”
This is what I’d come for. I’d researched ortho docs with a specialty in sports medicine and I was eager for him to drop some wisdom.
“What kind of workout where you doing when started having more serious symptoms?”
“Um, my workout that day had deadlifts in it, and–”
I felt my face fall. Mr. Fancy Sports Medicine didn’t know one of the most basic weight training exercises in the history of weight training. I was doomed.
“Well, nothing seems seriously awry from the exam, so I think we ought to get some x-rays if that’s OK.”
“I’ll get Randy.”
Randy, as it turns out, was their lone lab tech — and the creepy guy in a red polo who had stood in the doorway of my exam room eavesdropping on my medical history when the nurse was reviewing my symptoms. I’d thought he was a wandering and potentially mentally unfit patient.
Now he was walking me down the hall and into an x-ray room that hadn’t been updated in 30 years and saying, “We’re going to get through this together.”
I’ve had a lot of x-rays in my life, and none of the rooms had looked like places women go to die. This one had mastered the Princess Bride Torture Chamber / Civil Rights-Era Back-Alley Abortion Room motif.
I lifted myself onto the x-ray table and stared at the thick hazmat-approved rubber gloves propped up on a side table. What could those possibly be used for?
Randy explained that he needed me to sign a waiver for the x-rays. I nodded and took the clipboard, which had two yes or no questions on it. The third and final question inquired about the date of my last period. Randy was about the sixth motherf*cking person with whom I’d shared this information today.
I handed it back to him and he stared at it for an uncomfortably long time.
Finally he said, “June 15th, huh?”
He was standing about four inches from my knees, which were hanging over the table.
“So… you’re not like, trying for one.”
“You know… are you TRYING for one.”
His intonation didn’t include anything resembling a question, which made this more uncomfortable.
“No,” I said flatly. “I’m not.”
Randy instructed me to lie down on the table the way Buffalo Bill first told Catherine Martin to put the lotion on her skin — calm but menacing. He flipped on a light above me and zeroed the antiquated machine over my stomach. Then he smoothed my t-shirt over my stomach.
This seemed like a good time to mention that my husband was a lawyer. A malpractice lawyer. Actually, if we’re going to talk about the law, let’s make him an SVU detective. You know, f*ck it. My husband is Leon Panetta and he will have the CIA come to your house while you’re looking at kid porn and you’ll never been seen again.
“OK. Now hold your breath. Hold your breath! Please.” Randy shuttled back to his picture taking room.
He came back out and attempted to help me roll onto my left side.
“I got it,” I quickly said.
“Now, put your hands together up by your face as if you were sleeping. Yes. Together like you were sleeping.”
Oh, I get it. This is how he poses all the dead corpses in his basement for their photos before he ditches them in a a rural Maryland swamp.
He smoothed my t-shirt again and told me not to breathe. Or what? The hose again? How was this happening?
Because I’m a hypochondriac and wanted to rule out a spinal tumor, I told myself to hang in for one more photo. He took the picture and I bolted out of the room and back to the sh*tty exam room.
I sat there fuming, staring at the red wall, trying to pry the sticker off of my surgical shorts and wondering what it was going to feel like to call my husband and tell him I had back cancer AND that I wanted to sue everyone who worked here.
The doctor came in after a few minutes and pulled up my films on the monitor crammed next to the hand sanitizer.
“Well, Megan. These look perfect. I don’t know what to tell you. I think you may have irritated some of the soft tissues in your back and probably need some physical therapy.”
“Interesting. Nothing there at all that would suggest pain when I so much as sneeze or bend over and tie my shoes?”
“No, everything looks perfectly healthy.”
Right. Because by all accounts, you people know what you’re doing in here.