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I get catcalled on the way into the urgent care. I had to park far away from it because the parking lot was so crowded, and a couple of guys sitting on the stairs of a nearby building say, “Woah, look at that one,” when I go by. Maybe it’s not catcalling. It might not even be about me.
When I walk in the door, I’m immediately in line for the front desk. The waiting room has too many people. It’s bustling, more like an airport than a doctor’s office. The woman in front of me has a tattoo of a pin-up’s body with a cartoon cat’s head on the back of her arm. I shuffle along behind her.
The line goes pretty quick, and soon I’m up at the front. The nurse in blue scrubs behind her desk is on the computer when I walk up, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do, so I say, “Hello.”
“I need to see a doctor.”
“Have you been seen by us before?”
“Great. Sign in on the clipboard.”
There are three in front of me. “Which one?”
“The ‘current patient’ one.”
All the clipboards look identical. “Sorry, which one is that?”
She sighs as she stands up a little to push one of them forward.
“Oh. Thank you.”
I sign it. She’s looking back at her computer. “So now should I just…”
“Go take a seat.”
“We’ll call you when we’re ready for you.”
“Thank you,” I repeat.
There aren’t any seats left and standing people have already taken up a lot of the wall space. I stand in front of a table pushed against the corner. It’s got a wrinkled magazine about ancient Egypt and a biography of Sonia Sotomayor on top.
“Mr. Miller!” A man who looks like he feels awful gets up and goes through the open door a nurse is holding open. “How’re you feeling today?” she asks before the doors close. I take his seat even though there are people who’ve been waiting longer.
I pull my phone out of my bag, check emails, and scroll through apps. It gets old pretty fast, plus my phone is running low on battery. I don’t know how to get home without its GPS. I put it back in my bag and look around. A man in a red shirt seems to have a rapport with the woman at the desk.
“You know I would never!” She laughs. I don’t know what they’re talking about.
I reach up to feel for the lump towards the back of my neck. It’s about the size of a pea and feels like it moves around underneath my skin. I beat myself up for ever becoming a smoker and for only just quitting. I wonder if cancer can get someone in their mid-twenties. The carpet below me features diamonds with small lines of diagonal slashes in neat rows inside. I start to count all of the slashes in one of the diamonds.
A mom walks in holding a baby. The baby is a big hit. One guy in line shakes his keys at it, and the baby’s mouth and eyes turn to Os. An older lady waves at it by opening and closing her hand. The ladies behind the front desk say, “hell-ooooo.” I watch the baby crinkle up its legs and grab at its mom’s glasses. Its hands look pretty strong. I wonder if it could do some damage.
A woman with bright red hair next to me answers her phone. “Hey. Yeah. No, I haven’t even gone in yet. Well, I’ll let you know when I know. Okay. Yeah, I will. See you tonight. Bye.”
I watch a mom with a boy and a girl in baggy school uniforms at the front of the line.
“Hi, I have a two o’clock.”
“Oh, we don’t take appointments here.”
“I made one on your website.”
“Sorry, I really don’t know what you mean. We’re walk-in’s only.”
“The website had a section. I filled out the whole thing.”
“With your insurance information and all of that?”
“Okay, well, that was probably a pre-registration form. That just makes it so you don’t have to fill out paperwork here.”
“It said I had an appointment at two o’clock.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. We don’t do appointments.”
The kids have been winding around her legs for the whole conversation so far. They stop and look up at their mom. She places her hand lightly on the girl’s head. “This is ridiculous. How long is the wait to see the doctor?”
“About a half-hour.”
“Fine, I guess we’ll wait.”
The boy asks, “Mom, can I see your phone?”
“In a minute. Do I need to fill anything out?” she says to the woman behind the counter.
“No, you already did that online.”
Some people are looking up with wide tired eyes. Every once in a while, I make eye contact with one.
“Well, I thought I made the appointment.” The woman goes to stand in one of the last unoccupied corners of the room.
I start playing with the spot on my neck again. I’d definitely been waiting for more than a half-hour. I get back in line. When I get to the front, I say, “Hi, sorry, I’ve been waiting for a while, and I just want to make sure I didn’t miss my name being called.”
The nurse asks, “What’s your name?”
She looks at a clipboard. “We don’t have you on the clipboard.”
I say, “I signed in. Aren’t there two more clipboards?”
She says, “I don’t see you here.”
“I’m a current patient.”
She looks at another clipboard. “I don’t see you here either.”
Another nurse says, “Here, wait, try this one,” and hands it to the nurse behind the desk.
“Oh, here you are,” she says, “but you signed in on the wrong clipboard.”
“But you told me to use that one,” I say.
“Well, I thought you were coming in for something else. Here’s the right one.”
I sign it. “About how much longer will I need to wait?”
“Give it a half-hour. The doctor should be ready to see you by then.”
I go to sit back down, but my chair has been taken by someone else. I go back to standing by the table. “Miss Thompson!” The woman with the red hair who’d been on the phone follows the nurse through the door. She didn’t have a chair either. The weekend before I’d found the lump on my neck, I’d gotten drunk and chain-smoked. Maybe that’s what set me over the edge. Does a tumor start that quickly?
Another baby has entered the urgent care, this time with a dad. The babies haven’t looked at each other yet, but I really want them to. I wonder if it’s like dogs, where they get excited when they see each other. I’ve never seen two babies interact. Before they can, the mom gets a call and walks just outside to take it. The baby with the dad is looking up at the ceiling, so I look up at it too. I don’t know what she’s looking at.
A woman on a bench in the corner, a spray-tanned middle-aged one in turquoise jewelry, is reading a book. She has the cover flat down in her lap, so I don’t know what it’s called. It would’ve been great to bring a book.
An older lady walks in. The line has died down, so she gets to the front quick. She says, “Hi, I have a 2:30 appointment.”
“We don’t do that here. Sign in on the clipboard, and we’ll call you when the doctor’s ready to see you.”
“Oh. I thought I made one.”
“No, ma’am, we don’t do that here.”
“Well, alright.” There are still no chairs, so she walks to the wall on my side of the room.
The son of the other woman who thought she made an appointment has a chair. His mom waves him out of it to give the older lady a seat. “Well, thank you. You don’t need to do that,” says the older woman the boy.
The boy looks at his mom. “Yes, he does,” she says. “Come here, Chris.” He walks over, and she pats her lap. He looks a little old to be sitting on his mom’s lap. Her thighs slope down to her knees too steeply, and he can’t get a good seat. The old lady sits down and starts fishing through her purse. She pulls out some peanuts in a plastic bag and dumps some into her palm. She brings the handful up to her mouth. “Miss Bowen!” the nurse yells out the door.
I stand up, grab my purse, and walk over. “You can go ahead and get on the scale,” she says, gesturing behind her, “I’ll be right back.” I hear her yell, “Ma’am, you can’t eat in here!” as I step onto the scale.
I watch the digital numbers rapidly go up. 160 pounds. I’ve definitely put on weight. Maybe my eating habits have something to do with the lump. The nurse closes the door and walks back. She writes the number down on a clipboard.
“You can go to room four,” She says,” gesturing behind her.
“Okay. Thank you.”
I walk into the open door with the metal four on the outside. I have to push myself up to sit down on the table with the crinkly wax paper over it. I lower my bag by the strap to the floor by my feet. Maybe I should have grabbed my phone out of it. I don’t know how long it’ll be before the nurse comes back.
She walks through the door. “Hold out your arm.” I do. She wraps the blood pressure strap around my upper arm and clips the thing that checks your pulse to my pointer finger. We stand in silence as the machines work. When they’re done, she writes everything down and rips off the Velcro and the finger clip. “Open your mouth.” She puts a thermometer under my tongue. When it beeps, she takes it out and writes down the number. “Do you smoke or drink?”
“Yes. Kind of”
“Well, it depends. I’m trying to quit smoking.”
“Can you give me an estimate for both?”
“I guess…five drinks a week and an average of three cigarettes a day.” I have no idea if this is accurate. She writes it down.
“When was the first day of your last menstrual period?”
“Maybe like two weeks ago? Or three?”
She writes that down too. “And what brings you in today?”
“I have this little lump on my neck, under the skin.” I reach up to feel it again
“Okay. The doctor will be in shortly. She may want you to take a pregnancy test.”
“A pregnancy test?”
“Yes, ma’am. It’s just a precaution.”
The nurse leaves the room. A few minutes later, she comes back with a cup and an individually packaged wipe. “You can leave this in the bathroom when you’re done,” She says. “The bathroom is down the hall.”
“Okay. Thank you,” I say.
“The doctor will be with you shortly,” she repeats.
“Thanks,” I say. She walks out of the room.
I walk down the hall and knock on the door of the bathroom. No answer. I open the door. I sit down on the toilet and look at the individually packaged wipe. Am I supposed to use it on myself? Or the outside of the container after it inevitably gets covered in urine. The nurse didn’t tell me. I read the back. “WARNING. External use only.” I opt to use it on the cup after I finish up. There’s nowhere but the sink counter and the back of the toilet to put the cup, so I put it on the counter.
When I walk back to the room, it’s about a ten-minute wait before I hear a knock on the door. “Good afternoon. I’m Doctor Sherman. How are you?”
“Good,” I respond. She has glasses with a beaded string attached.
“What brings you in today?” she asks.
“I have this weird lump on my neck,” I say, reaching my hand up to feel it again.
She grabs a couple of blue gloves from a box on the counter. “Alright, let’s take a look,” she says, walking over to look closely at my neck where I’m pointing. “I’m not seeing anything.”
“It’s under the skin. You can feel it right here.”
“Oh, that’s tiny! Pea-sized,” she says, poking around at it. “Is it painful?”
“No,” I respond.
“It’s just a lymph node,” she says. “Have you had any cold symptoms lately?”
“I’ve been kind of stuffy.”
“Things like that will sometimes make them swell up. I think one of mine is even swollen right now too. It’s nothing to worry about. Just monitor it to make sure it doesn’t get bigger or painful, okay?”
“Oh yeah, why’d I have to take the pregnancy test?”
“Just in case we had to do an x-ray. It’s a liability thing. You aren’t if you’re wondering.”
“Oh. Makes sense.”
“Yup. Thanks for coming in! Exit is to the left.” She walks out of the room.
I hop off the table and grab my bag. I walk down the hall like the luckiest woman in the world. For a copay, all of my anxiety is just a lymph node, and – as a bonus – I’m not even pregnant.
Lauren Baker is a writer and environmental educator. Her stories have appeared in Litbreak Magazine and X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine. You can find her on Instagram @boom_mic_operator and Twitter @boommicoperator.