Every month for the past ten, we have been asked to adjust to a new normal, which is not such a big deal for me. I’ve been dealing with a new normal every year since my 40th birthday, usually coinciding with my annual physical. Every year since 40, something comes up that I should either address or get used to after my check- up. One year I’m told my blood pressure is too low: “How do you even stand up in the morning without fainting?” my nurse asks. I would have explained it to her were I not so laid back.
I can’t grow a flower in my garden, but I can grow a bunion on my foot without even trying. Ever try shopping for a pair of heels in a double wide on the right shoe only? Don’t bother. “You might want to have that surgically removed,” says my doctor on perusing my feet during a physical. Luckily, the pandemic has removed the stigma of wearing anything repulsive from the waist down. It’s like being back in elementary school, except everyday is pajama day, and I get to wear slippers.
Given the pandemic, no one was more surprised than I when my doctor’s office called last week to remind me of my annual physical exam. I thought that it, like my new diet, would be postponed until “things returned to normal.” But the gods are keen to hurl me into whatever my new normal will be after this year’s check-up, so I put the appointment on my empty calendar and waited for the big day.
I barely have time to sit down among my fellow masked patients before the nurse calls my name and takes me down a long hallway. She makes a sharp right down another corridor but tells me to stay where I am.
“Stand on the X, cover your right eye, and read this line,” she says, pointing to a series of letters on the eye chart at the back of a room at the end of the hall. I squint, refocus, and lean in as far as I can without falling over.
“That’s not fair,” I say. “I am not familiar with the Russian alphabet.”
“Try the next line up,” she says, with no appreciation for my humour.
Although the letters are larger, I still struggle.
“Try the next line up,” says the nurse, irritated, as if I am messing up on purpose to waste her time.
“Oh, just forget it,” she interrupts and marches me to an examination room. Just forget it? I didn’t know the eye exam had a pass/fail mark. I thought I could keep going until I found some success, but this is not the case. No squeaking by with a 51 percent like in Grade 11 math class.
We enter the room and she tells me to step on the scale. Wait a minute! I am fully clothed with layers of winter wear, including boots, and I am still holding my purse! This is not an accurate assessment of my weight. But she doesn’t care. She is busy scribbling on my chart: blind and overweight.
“The doctor will be here shortly,” she says, briskly. I begin to place my purse on a side table beside the chair where I would sit.
“Don’t put anything on the table,” she says, not even looking up from her clipboard. I move to place it on the examination table. “Don’t touch that,” she orders, using her third eye again. I hover my purse over the solitary chair and look at her expectantly.
“Yes, that’s fine.”
Relieved, it’s the first test I have passed since my arrival, so I decide to press my luck.
“Permission to breathe?”
“Don’t take your mask off,” she retorts as she adds idiot to my growing list of disabilities. As a parting gift, she hands me a small container with an orange lid. “Fill this with urine and deposit it into the yellow bin outside the washroom.”
“That’s funny. A yellow bin for the urine. Good colour coding.” I am such a child. She rolls her eyes, which is the worst reaction you can get according to Malcom Gladwell’s book, Blink. It’s a sign of dismissal and disrespect and is a strong indicator that a relationship will not last. My relationship with this nurse is most definitely doomed and will last only slightly longer than that of Peter and Madison of The Bachelor, Season 24. I think she writes humorless on my chart, as if that’s something that may be addressed by the right medication.
Another, more friendly nurse takes me to a room where I get to pick a chair and have blood drawn. She is chatty and actually compliments me on my hiking boots, ignoring the pajamas poorly hidden beneath my track pants, along with the bunion bulge protruding on my inner right foot.
After a quick chat with the doctor in preparation for the rest of the exam and test results, which will occur in two weeks, another nurse takes me into a room and tells me to undress from the waist up before lying down on the table. She is so used to her job as a very busy nurse that she goes on autopilot and forgets to even tell me why I’m there, and, given my low blood pressure, I’m too chill to ask. But to be friendly and take advantage of an obvious conversation starter, I ask, “Why are you sticking electrodes all over my torso?”
“I’m checking your heart. Haven’t you ever had this done before?” she asks, accusingly.
“I suppose it’s been a while, and I forgot.” It’s not a good excuse but I’m not thinking straight because I’m concerned that the heart monitor will show that my heart is broken due to my recent breakup with the first nurse.
After my heart test, the nurse notes the container in my hand and reminds me to place it in the yellow bin when I’m finished. I don’t offer my joke, given how it flopped with the last audience, and instead humbly dress, fill my container with the orange lid, and drop it in the yellow bin with the other yellow containers.
I’m not offended by any of this, by the way. I’m actually impressed that I’m there at all and that the doctor’s office is open and running almost like normal. The nurses are tired of masking and cleaning and dealing with sick people and people with a sick sense of humour, so I write this tongue-in-cheek and offer my appreciation to everyone in the healthcare profession. They don’t have to like me or laugh at my jokes, and we only have to see each other once a year if we’re lucky.
When I leave the building I do feel lucky, because, so far, my new normal is the same as everyone else’s in terms of what I can and cannot do in everyday life, because it has been unaffected by poor health. Goodbye yellow bin. See you next year when, hopefully, we’re all less stressed and open to having a laugh at your expense. ◆