First-World Doctor’s Office

Behold, the mighty Rhinovirus! The "molecular surface" of a common cold virus. More fun images here:

I went to the doctor earlier this week.

I meant to go on Tuesday, but I had been vomiting the night before, and was feeling overly cautious — I called the advice nurse and the clinic, and eventually the clinic told me not to come (they see a lot of kids, and I was harboring a rotavirus, a highly contagious stomach virus that can cause all sorts of gastrointestinal distress). They rescheduled my appointment for Wednesday evening.

I told my doc the beginnings of my sad and sordid tale: two weeks of cold, one week of “productive” phlegmy hacking, and so on.  Before I got to the end of my sentence, he had me into the lab to do a CRP test.

CRP stands for C-reactive protein. The test counts the level of the protein in your blood, which is an indication of inflammation — when you have damaged cells or tissue in your body, perhaps from a bacterial attack.  In this case, the doc was testing to see if I had pneumonia.

The doctor said to me, well, I’ve never done this part before, but we’ll have to make do, and then swabbed my thumb with alcohol and stabbing it with a lancet (sterilized, sharp metal tube, wrapped in plastic, immediately tossed into the trash). The blood welled, and he gathered the drop with a tiny plastic baster, housed in a t-shaped cassette. After applying a bandage from a huge stash, he popped my blood sample into the open maw of a bread loaf-sized machine sitting on the counter, shut its hatch on top and pressed a few symbols on the LED display.

We walked back to his office, where he then proceeded to tell me how I really ought to visit Norway because it’s gorgeous.  Then he hopped up, looked into the lab, came back and told me that I have a normal cold, and not the Mycoplasma infection that everyone here is worried about.  The bacteria can cause pneumonia, though the strain here seems not to be a deadly type — it’s something you can easily get over, he said.

So, the doc filled out a prescription for me for cough syrup and a nasal spray, hit enter on his computer, and I was free to go — and walk straight over to a pharmacy, any pharmacy at all, at any time, where my prescription would be waiting in the computer database.

I’m fascinated by this — and consider it with me for a moment: a loaf-sized piece of equipment that costs how much? A database system that is connected to how many stores across the city, with my accurate information? And most likely the drugs I want to pick up?  All to help me treat a cold? A battery of first-world options to treat the common cold, an ancient and uncurable illness. And one that I probably should have fixed myself by sleeping a lot and drinking more fluids.

But also note a few of the other first-world amenities that we take for granted: sterilized and disposable tools for dealing with blood.  Electricity to run the countertop device at any time. The band-aid the doctor applied to my bloody thumb.

I’m feeling privileged — sick, but privileged.

Fun reading at Wikipedia —

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2 Responses to First-World Doctor’s Office

  1. Lila says:

    Ack, you’re still sick? Sorry to hear it. Does sound like a nice dr’s office visit, though. And how much did it set you back?

    Do you know what the machine was? I’m curious.And what was the doc doing for the first time?

    • zurichsee says:

      I should have written down the name of the machine, but I got distracted by so many other things he was telling me (he also rattled off a list of names of places to visit in Sweden!).

      This was his first time using the particular type of lancet to draw blood, and the visit cost me nothing. I hit the ceiling for payments sometime last year, and will not have to pay for any procedures or office visits until this coming April. (!)

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