This Is What It's Really Like In A Doctor's Office Right Now

Most doctor's offices and clinics are only making and keeping "essential" medical appointments at this time in the the COVID-19 pandemic. Because I am a type 1 diabetic--which in and of itself puts me at higher risk for contracting COVID-19--all of my doctor's appointments are considered "essential." I had a medical appointment today, and had no idea what to expect.

I'll admit right now that I was (am) just as nervous about exposing myself to COVID-19 as I was for the appointment I was there for.

First of all, I put my own travel-size bottle of hand sanitizer in my jacket pocket. I also took the bare minimum inside with me; I only took my wallet--no purse, no phone. That might sound extreme, but these are "frequently touched" items of mine, and I didn't want to waste precious disinfecting wipes to wipe these things down. I also purposely wore a hoodie, so i could nonchalantly pull my hood around my shoulder and cover my nose and mouth with it.

Secondly, I was surprised at how full the parking lot looked. Granted, it was WAY emptier than usual, but the amount of cars still surprised me, given the circumstances we're in. I guess I was assuming--or hoping--that I would be one of just a handful of patients in the clinic today. But there was definitely more than a "handful" of cars in the parking lot.

My husband and I walked in. RIght inside, there was a checkpoint of sorts. A man behind a desk asked both of us if we had coughs, fevers, or chest pain. We both replied "No." Then he hit us with:

"At this time, we are asking that only the person who has the appointment comes inside."

I looked at my husband, wide-eyed. We always attended ALL of my medical appointments together. This was the first time I was seeing this particular doctor; I wanted my husband there. But, in hindsight, this precaution totally makes sense.

My husband walked out to go wait in the car. The man behind the desk asked me who I was seeing, confirmed my appointment in the computer, gave me directions to the proper check-in window that made my head spin, and off I went.

There was the random straggler here and there in the halls, both doctors and patients. Some were wearing masks. No one was talking to each other. (Social distancing for the win!) It was cold. Mostly I was reminded of those scenes in horror movies where the protagonist is walking along a dimly lit hallway in a hospital. I half-expected the lights to flicker. I passed a cleaning lady, mop and supplies in tow, who was wiping down a chair. "God bless her," I thought. She was wearing latex gloves and a mask. There were opportunities to use hand sanitizer everywhere.

I took a solo elevator ride--down to the basement, no less--AM I in a horror film??--pushing all buttons with my sleeves around my fingers. I turned left when the elevator opened and ran into another checkpoint. This lady asked me the same questions as the gentleman at the entrance had. She, too, checked that I actually did have an appointment in the computer, and sent me to the waiting room beyond.

The chairs had been placed about six feet apart (another win for social distancing!) and there was a sign ordering us to stay a certain distance from the check-in window until your name was called. Mine was called fairly quickly; I was finally officially checked in for my appointment. I sat, but I sat on the very edge of the seat, avoiding the temptation to use the armrests and wanting the smallest amount of contact as possible with the chair. There were other people in the waiting room, but not many. I watched an elderly couple across the room. He gently helped his tiny wife into a chair. Another patient passed the checkpoint in the hall. I breathed into my hood. Anxiety made me pick at my cuticles.

For some reason, I felt better once I got back to where the nurses were (was it truly cleaner back here??). The air was tense. You could tell everyone was on edge. The nurse who took my weight, pulse, and blood pressure was perfectly nice, but they were clearly running a tight ship, wanting to take care of patients but still get them in and out quickly.

After seeing the doctor, I got a mixed message about how to check out. I hung in the doorway for a few minutes, but then decided to just go back out to the waiting room where I checked in. I inched toward the window, and the nurse behind it said, "Didn't so-and-so check you out back there?"

"No," I answered. "The doctor told me I could leave. Should I go back to the room I was in?"

The nurse gave a frustrated sigh. "No, I can just do it. Come back through the door."

I did as I was told, and we walked past my exam room and around a corner. As we walked, Window Nurse was muttering under her breath, visibly irritated. Then she turned and said to me, "I'm not complaining about you, I promise. They just aren't doing their job back here."

"I'm sorry," I said, not knowing what else to say. Window Nurse found the nurse who had taken my vitals in the exam room, and said, in an annoyed tone, "She needs to check out, and she came out to my window!" I felt my face get hot.

Vitals Nurse looked at me, obviously fighting an eye-roll, and said, "You just saw the doctor, right? Did he say when you should come back?"

"Not exactly," I answered. "He did day that I need an x-ray."

"Okay, we'll call you for that. You can leave."

And leave I did, and quickly, because Window Nurse raised her voice slightly and said to Vitals Nurse, "People are coming up to my window again, are you guys telling them..."

Overall, all of the precautions my clinic had taken made me feel better, and less anxious if I have to go back. But I was reminded that medical staff are just as confused and worried as we are. Their days are long, frazzled, and frustrating. They're doing the best they can. No one has a rule book here.

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© 2011 BY Shanique Byrd