So…this week it was time for my annual physical. Who cares, right? My wife…maybe my kids. Me, of course. Not many else, nor should they. Life is busy for everybody, and I won’t bore you here with what looks like good to neutral results on all tests so far.

Instead, I want to take you into the waiting room at the lab where my blood was to be drawn. If any of you out there belong to Kaiser Permanente (I joined a couple years ago for better/cheaper insurance before I get to the golden handcuffs of Medicare just over a year away), yes if you belong to Kaiser…I don’t have to do much more than say it was a very popular morning for lab work. Picture bingo day at the rest home.

ticket dispenserIf you don’t belong to a large medical services provider, picture holiday checkout at Costco or Bloomingdales. The difference here is that you need a number (looks like a deli ticket) before you can even get up the check-in counter. I pressed a digital number feeder and pulled out my ticket. I was number L084.

waiting room 2

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The TV displays hanging from the four corners of this zoo cage said they were currently “serving” number L060. How long does it take to get from 060 to 084? You guessed it, an eternity, which is what 30-45 minutes feels like when you’re crowded into a room of people, mostly seniors…like me…, coughing and wheezing, sneezing and snoozing in their wheelchairs or yakking way too loudly on their cell phone.

I left and went over to the pharmacy to fill a new prescription. Twenty minutes later, I came back in. They counter was on L072. I gave up and sat down.

I had the New Yorker with me, which I’d temporarily swiped from the Dr’s. office upstairs. But I couldn’t stay focused on the love story I was reading (it was as love story summer reading special for the New Yorker). Instead, I looked around at the backs of heads, at the legs and the arms, at the plump stomachs and wrinkled faces and sagging necks of the other lab hopefuls all around me.

“Now serving, L073” the PA announced.

I and others scanned the room to see who’s number had been called. It was an old woman, too old to be here on her own I thought, who struggled to get out of her chair and shuffle slowly to the blood drawing stations at the far end of the room.

click

click

Wow, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being suspended in time in some kind of anteroom to eternity. I felt as if I were dead already, along with this roomful of people, and this poor old shell of a woman was heading to the back of the room to meet her Maker and receive her judgment and assignment into the great galaxy of our collective afterlife.

Then the number calling seemed to speed up. I wasn’t in a hurry anymore. I didn’t want my number to get called anytime soon. I leafed through the magazine, tried to reconnect with the love story. No dice.

“Now serving L077.”

Shit! Had they skipped numbers? Or had I stopped listening? An old man stood up carefully with his cane and headed to face his destiny.

“Now serving L080.”  It’s too close. What if I’m not ready to go?! Not ready for my final destiny?

“Now serving L084.” Oh my God, that’s me! What do I do!!?

“Now serving L084” the PA repeated. Everyone was now looking at me! I had no choice. I bowed my head in limp acknowledgement of the inevitable.

I stood up. I walked toward Lab Station #1.

wraith 1

click

A young, other-worldly girl with bright eyes and robust torso pointed for me to sit in the chair directly in front of her.

“Please confirm your name and birth date,” she chirped as slits seemed open up in her cheeks.

I still had time. I could deny my name or make up a new one or a new birth date. I sat dumb as the swift seconds shot by.

“Your birth date and name, please sir,” she chirped again without any sense of surprise at my reluctance…perhaps she thought I had Alzheimer’s.

I nodded glumly and mumbled, “Frank Zajaczkowski, 12-28-50.” Sheesh, that sounds like a very long time ago indeed…1950. No wonder I was about to be sentenced to oblivion.

“Please place your right arm on the table in front of you.”

I did as I was told. What was the point in resisting any further?

click

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She tied on a rubber tourniquet. She dabbed my pulsing blue vein with alcohol.

“Please make a tight fist.”

I made a tight fist.

“This won’t hurt,” she smiled as she inserted the needle. It did hurt.

I turned away, lost my grip on reality, and remember hoping she would wake me when it was all over.

 

 

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