Everyone who knows me can tell you that I’m well known for weaving tall tales and sometimes exaggerating small facts for the sake of making the story a bit more humorous or dramatic, but what I’m about to tell you is absolute fact without any stretching of the truth, for I don’t need to. I will try my best not to deviate from the actual precise happenings, while telling you what my experience with a certain Family Medical Clinic on Devon Avenue in northwestern Chicago was.
This is how it happened:
Early Friday morning (around 6 a.m.) I suddenly awoke to a small POP sound in my ear. I felt a small tickle inside and assumed it was just my sinuses or most likely water from a shower that hadn’t properly evaporated. I got up and gently cleaned out my ears with a Q-tip and then went sleepily back to bed.
When I reawoke 2 hours later I found that I had completely lost all hearing in my left ear and felt some considerable pressure inside. Justly alarmed, I told Petra and spent the remainder of St. Patrick’s Day weekend with our friends shaking my head sideways and constantly pulling on my earlobe to try and relieve or release whatever the problem was to no avail. Sunday I awoke to a very sharp pain in my ear and began to get concerned.
Because my and Petra’s health insurance has a very high deductible, I spent early Monday morning on the internet looking for a local cheap family medical clinic to go to in order to find out if I did, in fact, have a punctured eardrum, an inner ear infection, or hopefully just a mild case of swimmer’s ear. (cockroaches or spiders laying eggs was also in the back of my mind figuratively, but of course I also fantasized literal interperations of that concept as well ).
I finally settled on a family medical clinic that shall remain nameless lest they are shut down for improprieties of the highest order. The main reason I chose them was because they were relatively close by and they had “walk-ins welcome” in bold text on their site.
I had been dealing with this ear problem all weekend and all the clinics were closed until Monday (because people only get sick on weekdays, you see) and I was anxious to stop the pain, end the silence and cease the sensation of wadded wet toilet paper in my ear. The clinic opened at 2:00 p.m. (I should have known then that something awry was afoot), and I decided to be first in line. I rode my bike out to the clinic as it was the first nice day outside in months, saw the neon “open” sign out front and walked up to the window inside as the secretary (we’ll call her ‘The Awesome Assistant’) stood before me for over 15 minutes without even acknowledging my presence.
Finally, she shyly asked me “yes?”.
“I think I have an ear infection”, I said meekly with the friendliest smile I could muster.
“Not now”, she said.
“I’m sorry?”, I questioned.
“This is for Children’s medicine now”, she said apologetically.
“But your website said Adult and children’s”, I said slightly irritated.
“You have to come back at 6”, she said.
“Six?”, I looked completely confused; eyes widening.
“Adult doctor comes at 6”, she clarified.
“What time do you close, then?”, I said.
“We close at 10.”
“Oh…Wow. Okay, I’ll come back then”, I walked out shaking my head and grumbling to myself about how none of that information was on the website and rode home lopsided, managing to barely avoid oncoming traffic and zigzagging through the quiet nearby neighborhood streets all the way home.
Four hours later I returned at exactly 6:00 p.m. and walked up to the window, as the first and only patient in the waiting room. Once again with the most cheerful friendly smile known to man, I stood at the window, only to have The Awesome Assistant successfully avoid my gaze again for the next 15 minutes; busying herself with random manilla folders, paperclips and sharpening her pencils. Just as I was beginning to think this was a plot to get me to leave, she told me to write my name on the patient list and have a seat. She couldn’t have told me that when I first came up to the window, I thought? My face was getting redder than my ear.
“The Doctor will be here at 6:30” she said.
You said 6:00 before, I thought to myself, and I took my seat already thinking I could just walk out and be done with it. However, I knew I would just have to find another place and make an appointment, postponing my pain and wellbeing possibly another 3 days or so.
A man stood near her (we’ll call him Cavaricci) dressed in the latest high fashion of the 80’s (pegged white stone washed jeans, huge puffy winter jacket covered in an intense purple and brown pattern with complimentary sweet ass elastic waistband and ‘Merry-Go-Round’ patent leather shoes) and leaned against a cabinet of patients folders while leering at me suspiciously.
over the next 15 minutes, 3 other adult males came in to be recognized immediately at the window and took their seats nearby. I busied myself with my phone texting friends and family.
An hour passed. Nothing happened. A few new families came in with their children and were immediately escorted back into the rooms to be taken care of by the female pediatric doctor. At approximately, 7:30, one of the gentleman with which I was sitting next to who had been hacking and coughing his way through what I can only assume were gallons of phlegm on my shoulder, got up and inquired where the adult doctor was.
“He is arriving soon” she said calmly.
20 minutes later the old, frail doctor sporting a grey rooted Bee Gees style haircut dyed to a ridiculous black, finally staggered through the waiting room on his way to the back. Looking like a disco mummy brought back to life, he (we’ll call him Dr. Feelbad) was dressed in pants at least 3 sizes too big, cinched tightly below his ribcage with a leather mexican weave belt, no socks, a tattered wool sport coat with leather padded elbows and a blue polo shirt delicately decorated with a festive coffee stain the size of a football that looked as if it had already been washed and just left for added decoration, quickly disappeared in the back and only returned into my field of view ANOTHER 20 minutes later casually looking through his mail and searching for the nearest horizontal surface to avoid collapsing on the floor from his rigorous exercise of moving 10 paces.
By all means, take your time! It’s only 8:30 at night! I’ve got nothing better to do than sit here with all my new friends!
Cavaricci and The Awesome Assistant continued to look at me and quietly talk in a foreign language about what I can only assume was their confusion at what the hell I was doing there. I couldn’t argue with them, I was wondering that myself.
All I wanted to know was wether or not I had any possibility of losing my hearing as many of my friends had warned me of over the weekend. My ear was pounding with sharp stabbing pains every 15 minutes or so and I just wanted to go home.
One by one every single person that came after me was called to the back to be examined by the doctor. Finally, 45 minutes later Cavaricci told the Awesome assistant to call me up, at which point she handed me a clip board to fill out my usual information on. Name, address, phone number, health insurance…that was it. No questions about medication I was taking or medical history whatsoever (this made me relieved and worried at the same time). I quickly filled it out (thinking why didn’t she have me do this when I first arrived? Were they trying to figure out wether or not they wanted to help heal the infidel that had invaded their sacred temple?)
Okay, that last comment was probably uncalled for, but I was almost at my limit for patience.
WHAT. THE. FUCK. WAS. GOING. ON. BACK. THERE?
Cavaricci called me back and took me into a room. Took my blood pressure and asked of my complaint.
“I can’t hear out of this ear. I think I have an ear infection”, I said.
“You have pain?”, he asked.
“Yes, it’s sensitive when I touch it and you can see it’s red.”, I answered.
This is where it begins to get RIDICULOUS.
He reaches over to a FLASHLIGHT and tries to look into my ear with it. No shit. A large black and decker FLASHLIGHT.
“uh-hm”, he says as if confirming my statement.
He writes down some information into my newly created file and walks out. I look at what he’s written and see that he’s put down “Tinitus. Pain.” and two other words that are illegible. I turn on my iphone to search online for “Tinitus” only to discover that it is the condition of having a constant ringing or hammering sound in your ear. He returns looking around the room slightly confused as The Awesome Assistant enters the room with a cordless home phone for him. He pulls out his own cordless phone from his baggy winter jacket and answers it.
Unbeknownst to him, I can hear everything the person on the other end is saying clear as glass due to his proximity to me and the volume setting of the phone. The conversation was as follows and I quote:
White redneck voice on the other end:
“Hey Amal! It’s Jerry!”
“Jerry? Hey you said you need to be married to become a U.S. citizen right?”
“Yes. That’s right” (smiling, slightly embarassed)
“Well I got a girl here who will marry you, so you can become legal! I told you I’d find one for you. She’s a friend of mine. She’ll marry you!”
“Well, hold on…I mean how old is she?”
“What? Well what does it matter? How old are YOU?”
“Me? Well I’m 35.”
“Well, my friend. She’s 28! (pause, then talking away from phone) What? Oh…She’s 30.”
“Well, I’d have to meet her.”
“She’s real cute. We can talk about money later, okay buddy?”
“Okay…(sounding sheepish) I’ll talk to you later.”
I sat there wide eyed looking the other direction, trying my best to act like I didn’t have the slightest idea of what I was hearing. Let me be clear about this; I am not making any of this up. This really happened right in front of me, while he sat beside me tapping his pen on my file as if he was in his livingroom relaxing.
He hung up and put the phone back in his giant winter coat and then looked over my file one more time and told me that the doctor would be in to see me soon. He left the room, the door shut and my jaw dropped to the floor with no one there to share the moment with.
This is right around the time that I began to look around the room and realize that there were no sanitizing products in the room whatsoever. There WAS a melted greying piece of old soap on the rust stained sink and a collection of old medical “toys” covered in dust on the small cabinet that held cottonballs, tongue depressors, and the flashlight though. That was comforting.
15 minutes later, desperately in need of a walker, the Doctor finally wobbled into the room to ask me what he could do for me. I told him I couldn’t hear out of my ear, it was painful to the touch and that I thought I had an ear infection. He looked at my folder and asked about the ringing in my ears and I told him there was no sound in my ear.
“No sound?”, he asked confused.
“Right. I can’t hear out of this ear”, I said.
“So if I talk into this ear…”, he leaned into my left ear “you hear nothing?”
“Well, I can still hear you a little bit, but it’s very quiet. I might be hearing it with my other ear. I’m not sure”, I said.
He seemed to be suffering from hearing loss as well.
“I SAID”, elevating my voice almost to the point of yelling “I CAN HEAR A LITTLE. NOT MUCH.”
He told me he had to go to the room next door to get the ear thing. He pointed to one that was inches away from the flashlight and stated that THAT one didn’t work, and that he would be right back and disappeared.
I sat there for the next 30 minutes in silence. Using my phone to write down details of this evening so as to remember as much as possible for my blog. I deciding at that point that the experience was no longer a nightmare, but in actuality, a blessing in disguise and a lesson very well learned about the need for universal health care in America, as well as the funniest experience I’ve yet had in the world of modern medicine. My aching ear gave me another jab.
When he finally returned he motioned for me to grab my things, including my own medical folder, and follow him into the next room where a functioning “ear thing” was waiting. There I saw old blood, iodine stains and some unknown white substance spattered randomly on the walls and drawers (seriously, I’m not adding that just for the sake of good storytelling. The grey marble floors were even covered in what I can only hope were rust stains). He looked in my nose, listened to my heart and checked both ears with the ear gadget and told me I had an outer ear infection and that he would prescribe medication for me. He also announced that I had a deviated nasal septum and that it was most likely the cause of the ear infection.
“You were sick before this ear infection?” he questioned.
“Um…No? That’s why I thought it was so strange. I just woke up like this.”, I said.
“Hmm”, he thought.
He closed my folder and wheeled himself to the doorway where he stood up and stammered out of the room, blocking my exit with his chair. No goodbye. He simply said something to Cavaricci and went into the first room to meet with the next patient.
Cavaricci told me to wait by the front counter and that he would get me my “medicine”. 10 minutes later he returned with 3 small envelopes with indecipherable markings on the outside and a strange drawing on each.
“You take one of three every morning and night for the next 3 days. Okay?”
I pull out my credit card, at which point he motions to the small sign on the wall that says, “WE DO NOT ACCEPT CREDIT CARDS OR CHECK. CASH ONLY.”
“$50.00” He says.
I look in my wallet and give him $45.00.
“Can I go to the ATM and come back?”, I ask.
He looks at me suspiciously, “You only brought forty-five?”
“Uh…yeah. I figured I would use my credit card. I didn’t think I would have to pay cash”, I said.
“Okay”, he said. “I keep the medicine until you come back.”
“Alright, I’ll be right back”, I said apologetically.
I returned with the money and got my “medicine” and rode home in the dark on my bike at 9:55 in the evening vowing to never again return and promising myself to do everything in my power to get better health insurance as soon as it was financially feasible. Which probably won’t be happening anytime soon.
UPDATE: It’s the following day and my ear is still muffled and hurts.