Illustration by Mitch Handsone
While the rest of us stand in the check-bronchitis-for-pneumonia line, one very small human — a child, in my opinion, about 4 years old — runs circles and triangles around us, spinning, giggling, squealing, glancing like a pigtailed pinball off the walls and chairs and doors into the fevered queue of phlegm-gobbers waiting for factory physicians to anoint us with the proper paperwork.
Every three to four revolutions, the child’s mother, Mommy-Mommy, makes a feeble attempt to shut the kid down, or at least up. “Stop,” Mommy-Mommy says with the affect of a tollbooth. “Miracle, stop.”
Miracle does not stop, but dashes through the waiting-room door and into the hallway, counts audibly to 10, then returns to taunt us a second time, fourth time, tenth time . . .
“Stop, Miracle. Stop running.” Before me stands Mommy-Mommy, a beefy burl of a woman, clad all in denim and with fat little feet overflowing tiny shiny silver shoes like Vienna sausages stuffed in thimbles. Me fever stare floor shiny space out.
Miracle’s nonstop nonstopping runs allegro for 20 minutes or more — easily long enough to put her in the double-bonus. With little else to distract me from the rusty X-acto blades playing Pong in my lungs and a fairly high fever, I spend the time keeping Miracle’s score (knees and walls are worth 500 points each; open doors, 1,000; closed doors and falling to the ground, 5,000) and trying, in vain, to come up with one reason why it should be legal to name a child Miracle.
A faceless nurse costume behind bulletproof glass calls out the customer’s name.
Nexton walks to the window, leaving a trail of petrified Kleenex pastries in his wake. The rest of us shuffle forward, a bit more spirited, a bit more upright in our backs and forthright in our coughs. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for: Mommy-Mommy and her Miracle are next.
And less than a minute later, they’re gone, having been whisked and/or ushered through something, down something and into something else, where the door would shut behind them several times before someone with a clipboard entered, prodded, poked and departed to the exact specifications so defined by the CEO of the HMO in such a way that he might best pocket 5 percent of a billion dollars annually. Or so my fever and I assume.
“Well, it’s about time is all I can say,” says no one, but all of us together, silently. We may not much miss Mommy-Mommy and Miracle, but all there is to do now is listen to ourselves, listen to moaning, dripping, gurgling grown-ups with shredded throats and fevers. Let the party begin.
A door opens for me, so I walk through it. Beyond lies a series of corridors and lab coats, doors opening and closing, clipboards and pens writing CBC and CXR. I’m given a charming plastic cup and invited to deposit a pharynxload o’ phlegm therein.
Similarly, I’m deposited in a charming plastic chest-X-ray waiting room, where, after 10 minutes of solitude, a remarkably slutty-looking moreover blatantly stoned woman appears and guides me around the corner to the upper-body radio-
I’ve never before seen someone run this sort of equipment while stoned and removing her lab coat to reveal a red tube top, shredded black spandex leggings and red snakeskin shitkickers, but I’m grateful for the opportunity. And when, after I’d removed my shirt, off-duty apprentice porn star X-ray technician (a pseudonym) mentions what a lonely job she has and then compliments me on my exquisitely adequate torso of manliness (or something), I glaze over with the hope that Something Almighty is writing me into a Penthouse Letter.
And awaken to her voice in the waiting room. “Hey, man,” she says, through stoned giggles. “We gotta, like, shoot the . . . you know . . . your side, man . . . like, over. Because, like, you must’ve, you know, like . . . moved.”
For years I followed the painted green line on the hallway floor to the door with a slot and a sign that reads X-RAY DROP. I obey, sliding my manila envelope of monochromes through the slot, then follow, as I’d been advised, the blue line to the elevators, up two floors, then to the right and down something and into something else, where, just as I’d suspected, the door shuts behind me.
A few minutes later, someone opens the door, apologizes for having opened the door and closes the door again. Five minutes later, this happens again, with someone else opening the door. But then, just 13 seconds after someone else had shut the door, the same someone else opens it again — this time with a clipboard and confidence — and introduces himself as Dr. Gonsaud.
Dr. Gonsaud explains that I’ve sprained my diaphragm (the muscular partition separating the abdominal and thoracic cavities, not the popular uterus-lid), apparently from unduly robust coughing. Writes me a prescription for Motrin 800, a.k.a. da shit, shakes my hand, sends me on my way.
On my way down to the pharmacy, I study the elevator floor and read my prescription over and over again. The elevator opens and in walks two tiny thimbles stuffed with one Mommy-Mommy, alone. We recognize each other as civilians and nod and smile.
“How you doing?” Mommy-Mommy asks me, pressing the one button that’s already pressed.
“Not bad,” I reply. “How you doing?”
“Pretty good,” says Mommy-Mommy. “How you doing?”