Friday, August 26, 2005
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. G
I drank my coffee at my desk, slowly. By the time I finished the last slurp it was cold, yet it was more exciting than any of the worked I consumed until lunchtime, of that there was no doubt.
I met with Dave and Tom briefly in Clark's for a pint over lunch, caught up on all the news and heard about the work night out they were on last night before going back to the office. I wasn't there long though, since our insurance company has had arranged an appointment at the doctor for me, for 3.30pm.
They sent me a letter a fortnight ago saying they would require me to undergo a cotinine test and provide a pee sample to prove that I don't smoke. Fair enough, it's not like I've got anything to hide.
By now the weather had turned. It was blustery and sporadic showers had fallen all afternoon leaving a wintry feel to the streets of Edinburgh's New Town. I found the health centre easily enough and stepped up to the large Edwardian door, rang the bell. A woman answered and buzzed me in.
I let the heavy door bang shut behind me and found myself in the entrance hall; tall, wide and empty with health advice leaflets lying untidily on a nearby table. Hundreds of mini tiles created a chequered pattern beneath my feet. I followed them and turned the corner into the main part of the building. The woman who let me in was sitting at a large wooden reception desk, her grey hair neatly permed and not a smudge of make-up out of place. Other than her voice, the building sounded empty as she told me to wait in the reception room.
I followed her orders into another large but warm reception room. The smell of fresh coffee filtered into my nose and I noticed how soft it had become underfoot with the plush blue carpet. A large wooden fireplace formed the main feature to my left, encasing an old-style gas fire with two solid wood and green covered chairs either side of it. A glass bookcase stood in the corner by the window displaying a selection of disorganised medical material, and in front of this a couch of similar design to the chairs and water cooler. I pulled a plastic cup and filled it with water, then continued to look around as it gurgled itself full of water again behind me.
Just then, another door opened and a well-dressed gentleman of a much older age walked in. He cleared his throat.
"Mr. Galbraith?" he said, offering me his hand.
"Yes," I said, and finished as much of the water as I could and placing the cup on the table. I shook his hand and followed him through.
"We're down the stairs I'm afraid," he said, allowing me to go ahead. "Two floors down. Straight on here - then right - then through the door to the left - then first right and left. No left, right - I mean correct - and the room is to your right."
I followed his guidance to the letter as he followed me through the gleaming white corridors, shaded ever so pink from the bright red carpets that lined them. I walked into the examination room and heard him close the door. He moved around me and sat behind his desk like a 19th Century Schoolmaster. "Sit down please, Mr. Galbraith."
I sat on the edge of the flimsy wooden chair, my hands resting on my knees. I watched him pull out a file and open a sealed packet. From this he retrieved a small plastic case, like a cigar tube, and opened it. He handed me a small stick with a pad on the end.
"Can you put this in your mouth please. Make sure there's lots of saliva; that's how it works you see. The more saliva the better it will be. While that's working can you complete this form as well, please?"
He pushed some papers towards me and I looked them over. It had all the usual questions one would expect so I filled it out in no time at all, covering it in ticks and crosses. He took it from me and looked at the end of the stick still sticking out my mouth.
"The end of that turns blue. That's when it comes out," he said. "Make sure you swish plenty of saliva about. Take your clothes off please."
"What?" I attempted to say, but couldn't manage a word for the small, ever darkening stick in my mouth. My frown and startled impression, I hoped, would send my alarmed message loud and clear.
"For the medical exam," he acknowledged. "You need to take your clothes off."
Concern was now the main factor flooding into my mind. Take my clothes off? I was of the impression this was only meant to be a quick swab in the mouth and a piss in a pot.
I loosened my laces and slid off my shoes, stood up, and tried to remove my t-shirt but the stick in my mouth kept getting in the way. The Doc guided me to the scales, wrote down the result then measured my waste with a tape. The stick finally went blue, so I removed it and he placed it back in the cigar tube.
I wiped the dribbling saliva from my chin. "I thought this was meant to be just a cotinine and urine test?"
"They want a basic insurance medical apparently, so there's other things to check for."
"Like what? What exactly are you looking for?"
"Just your weight, blood pressure, statistics, things like that."
"Yeah, but why? I'm a non-smoker and I only thought this was going to be a quick test."
He shrugged his shoulders. "No idea. The underwriters must have asked for it. It's in case you die, you see."
"Die?" I asked alarmed. "But I'm not the smoker!"
"You'd need to ask them. Now, can you jump on the bed please?"
Now I was feeling really alarmed. I could feel my blood pressure rising, my heart thumping and my eyebrows furrowing deep scars into my forehead as I slid semi-naked onto the plastic sheeting of the doctor's bed.
The Doc felt my abdomen. Why, I have no idea.
"Can you sit up, please," he said.
I sat up and he moved behind me, placed a cold stethoscope on my back and told me to breathe heavily. I of course, obeyed him.
"Can you do it heavier, like this," and he started to blow short sharp breaths against the skin of my back.
I did as he asked and on each breath he pressed his implement on a different spot of my back. I could feel my face reddening, but this was not due to being out of breath.
"That's fine," he said. "You can le back again."
Images of me lamping this guy, with my blocked fists then running half naked into the street were now flashing through my mind. The plastic ring tightening around my right upper arm was still not enough to deflect my thoughts of basic homosexual-abuse-defensive violence.
"Strange," he muttered, once the machine had finished clicking away.
I looked up at him, his wrinkly face and busy nostrils filling my eye-line. I waited for an explanation.
"Your pulse is doing over a hundred. That can't be right - better do it again to be sure."
And he did, while I lay there, enraged but trying to calm myself down to give the meter a more realistic reading of my blood pressure. It never came.
"Are you feeling okay?" he eventually asked.
"Well, now that you mention it I am feeling a bit stressed."
"Work trouble? Family?"
Are you fucking mad? I thought. "I just wasn't expecting all this, as I explained earlier."
"Oh, don't worry, it's all standard procedure. You can get dressed now. We're done."
I got dressed incredibly quickly and he handed me a small cold clear plastic plot with flip-top lid. He showed me where to go and when I returned into the room I handed it back to him, now full and warm. He thanked me. Fucking weirdo, I thought, but probably unfairly.
He shook my hand on the way out the door, and when I turned to acknowledge it, he had already shambled back into his laboratory. I left at speed, surprising myself how well I remembered all the directions to get out through the maze of corridors and different levels.
Back in the street the rain had begun to fall. I hurried home and told Gail of my experience. Her response convinced me it would okay to write about it here. I should expect more of this kind of thing the older I get, she said.
One thing is for sure; I may have more of this to look forward to as my body ages and starts to fall apart, but I'll never be cruel to a smear test ever again.