If anyone had asked me why I rescheduled my January physical for March (which they didn’t), I was going to say it was because of icy road conditions, but really I wanted time to lose weight. My doctor has always tackled the topic of my weight compassionately and non-judgmentally, but I prefer congratulations to gentle scolding, so it didn’t seem like a big deal to delay the appointment a few months.
Then the apocalypse happened.
So, I rescheduled the appointment again, picking a random date in the future, having no idea what that future would look like or if I’d even have a future since there was a deadly virus on the loose after all. When the week before July 6 came, I checked the Indiana COVID-19 infection rate chart and saw we were on a downward slope. I also suspected we’d be on an upward slope soon enough and that autumn was going to be absolutely brutal, so if I were going to go to the doctor this year, July 6 was a pretty good day to do it.
I considered not going to the doctor, but my risk management assessment concluded that the risk of not going was higher than the risk of going. I mean, a tele-appointment would have been great, but I don’t think they’ve invented a way to do a pap smear over Zoom yet, so I had to go into the office. I also figured that if I didn’t go, this would be the one year I actually got cervical cancer. My headache meds needed to be renewed too, and it had been more than a year since the doctor had seen me, so she wasn’t going to keep renewing them indefinitely. I was also a bit spooked by the fact that 5,000 more people than normal died of non-COVID causes in New York recently because they’d avoided getting care during a pandemic. So, off to the doctor I went!
Usually, I get to the doctor’s office early because I’m compulsively punctual, but that’s a bad strategy in the era of COVID. Instead, I got to the parking lot early and sat in my car for seven minutes. I’d already completed the online check-in the night before, which took care of most of the paperwork. The doctor’s office required all visitors to wear masks, but I scored extra bonus points by wearing two masks. This visit was riskiest thing I’d voluntarily done since the beginning of the pandemic, so I was willing to cling to anything that made me feel safer, even just two extra strips of cotton.
The waiting room was—well, it was weird. There were seven chairs lining the wall of the lobby spaced six feet apart. The door to the hall was propped open, either to help airflow or remove the need for anyone to touch it. Masking tape blocked off the area in front of the check-in window. There had always been a sliding plexiglass window, but this time they only opened it a crack when they handed me forms to sign. This made me feel better when someone sneezed two minutes later. I was careful to take a pen from the “New” jar and then return it to the “Used” jar when I was done.
There was only one other person in the waiting room, and he got called back right away, which left the whole space to myself until I got called back. A masked nurse led me to an examination room and mentioned this was only their second week back, so they were still adjusting to the new routine. As we chatted, I let her know I’d been very careful to wear a mask whenever I went out. That’s when she dropped two ominous words: I haven’t.
That’s right, y’all. My nurse had been running around town without a mask on for the past few months. This is one of the top five things I never want to hear from a nurse, right up there with, “I forgot to wash my hands” or “I think that was the wrong hole.” She justified this by saying she’d been a nurse for a long time and had gotten sick before, so I guess she didn’t take this new disease that seriously, nor did she seem to care that she could have been infecting other people. I’ve seen videos of ER nurses crying as they beg people to wear masks after describing the horrors of the COVID ward, so this carefree attitude blindsided me. It felt like I’d just met a woman who was against suffrage. When I’d mentally reviewed all the potential risks before coming to this appointment, I hadn’t anticipated “lackadaisical nurse” as one of them.
I silently screamed in my head. Then I got even with her—unexpectedly—when the ear thermometer read a 100.3 degree temperature. (Spoiler: I did not actually have a 100.3 degree temperature.)
We both froze when she said the number. A feeling of dread filled the room, like I’d run over her dog right in front of her and neither of us could believe I’d been so reckless. I told the nurse my temperature that morning had been 98.6 both times I took it and I definitely would not have come in if I’d had a fever, so she got a tongue thermometer which gave a reading of 99.1. Still, in that long moment between temperature readings, I got a taste of the horror people must feel when they find out they’ve unknowingly infected people, even though I hadn’t infected anyone. I also thought it showed how sloppy they’d been not to take my temperature in the lobby. Someone who really did have a fever shouldn’t have been allowed to get that far into the office.
After that, my pulse and blood pressure were high—big surprise! Then the doctor came in and the only time I had to take off my mask was when she looked down my throat quickly. When I did, she said she didn’t always recognize people with their masks on, particularly people like me who only come in once a year, which I thought was funny. She kept her mask on at all times, and she apologized that she couldn’t give me a pillow during the pap smear because pillows are hard to disinfect.
After that was all done, I had to sit and wait five minutes for the nurse to bring the end-of-visit report, which gave me plenty of time to wonder who had been in this room during the last few hours and if any aerosolized particles from their respiratory tract were still lingering in the air. If I had to do it over again, I would have tried to get the first appointment of the day so there would have been less for my imagination to work with.
When the nurse came back, she stood in the doorway and—can you guess?—she PULLED DOWN HER MASK. Yes! The reckless nurse who’d been running around town without a mask then pulled down the one she was wearing. To be fair, I think she did this because the mask made her glasses fog up and she had to read something off the report to me. That said, she was only four feet away, so the fifteen seconds she spent talking directly at me were probably the riskiest part of the whole visit.
I then fled to my car and spritzed hand sanitizer all over my fingers twice before driving home.
I barely ate anything for the rest of the day because I was so anxious about my temperature, which according to Google is probably why my temperature was a bit high: anxiety. Stress increases your metabolism, which makes your body hotter. I’d been anxious the night before the appointment and all through the day of the appointment itself, so my body had plenty of time to heat up before that imprudent nurse stuck a thermometer in my ear. I also have problems with earwax buildup which Google says can cause inaccurate readings in those devices.
I spent the next few days concerned I might have gotten infected. Thankfully, I never showed any symptoms, so I seem to be fine. Really, the only two people who got close enough to infect me were the doctor and the nurse, and they both wore masks most of the time. And the fact that everyone was wearing masks in the building hopefully cut down on the amount of aerosolized particles in the air.
If you’re thinking about going to the doctor during this pandemic, I’d recommend you ask a lot of questions before your appointment, like:
- Is everyone in the building required to wear masks?
- Will my temperature be taken in the lobby?
- Are the chairs in the waiting room socially distanced?
- Do your nurses show reckless disregard for public health recommendations?
- How often are the rooms cleaned?
- Are staff given temperature checks before they’d allowed to start work?
Also, be prepared for something you don’t expect, like nurses who don’t like masks. I’m thankful I got this appointment out of the way and don’t have to worry about renewing my meds for another year. By then, I hope a visit to the doctor won’t be a fever-inducing brew of anxiety anymore.
maskless nurse: this is a thing that truly enrages me. I was in a pharmacy the other day picking up meds for my dad and the PHARMACIST wasn’t masked. When I asked, she said more or less the same thing as your nurse: I might as well just get it.
All-righty then. I switched dad’s med to delivery by mail.
Jennette Fulda says
@Servetus – It’s crazy, isn’t it? Do you live in a red state? I wasn’t sure if that had something to do it. I actually changed which Kroger I get my cat’s meds from because I found one that had a drive-through with a solid glass window, so the only interaction is through a drawer and the only other thing I have to touch is the credit card keypad. Then I spritz my hands with sanitizer afterwards.
Not to be one upper but….I went to get a covid test and the nurse was not wearing a mask for the entire time. America is doomed
Jennette Fulda says
@Allison – OMG, what is wrong with people?!
Hi! I’m an old reader, from way back in Pasta Queen days. I just wanted to let you know that I love it whenever a post from you pops up in my Feedly.
A couple of things about this post:
– I have to get allergy shots (thank goodness monthly now, and not twice a week like when I started). Hanging out in the allergist’s office for the required 30 minutes after my shots is THE WORST.
– I had a random headache for 3 days in a row last week, which is really unusual for me. It made me think of you, and also panic thinking it was Covid. It went away and I’m buying a new pillow to try that out, but I’m still taking my temperature every day. So much anxiety!
Jennette Fulda says
@Jennifer – Aw, thanks! I’m glad your headache went away 🙂
Sharon F says
I’m a Pasta Queen generation girl too… I can’t believe HEALTHCARE professionals are so stupid and reckless. My mammogram and colonoscopy are MONTHS overdue, and I’m not going to get either done until this sh*t is over with. I am a germaphobe, and people are making me crazy between no masks and masks under their noses. So far, only a dermatology visit done (I know the PA pretty well and she’s covered to the hilt) next is my bloodwork visit – so I’m a bit freaked out thinking about visiting Quest….
Another old reader, both in number of years reading your blog and also in age. I see my doctor every three months for monitoring a heart condition.
I live in NYC, so even if I had wanted to risk it, I could not have my March follow-up as doctors offices were closed. (There was no way I was going to an ER!) In May/June doctors started tele-appointments but I get an EKG every time, so no tele-health for me.
Finally end of July get to have an in person appointment. They did not tell me how check-in was going to be so I asked if there was any protocol. No, none; except that I should wait in my car. (That’s the protocol, you dummy! I wanted to scream but held my peace.)
So on the day of my appointment I call from the parking lot, am told to bring id and insurance card. Then when I walk into the building the front desk person walks out to take my cards but will not let me into the waiting room. She leaves me in a narrow hallway with several other elderly patients. We were all wearing masks but there was no way to distance. If we had been let into the waiting room distancing would have been easily done. I waited for 45 minutes getting more and more anxious. Finally, rang the bell, got my cards back and left without seeing the doctor. Swore I would never go back. When I got back home I realized I needed refills on all my prescriptions but was too embarassed to call back. Luckily, when I told my pharmacy, they called and got a one-month refill.
My meds cannot be delivered because I get Ambien, which is a scheduled drug and my son was away on vacation. Called a cab and the driver gave me grief because he did not want to wear a mask. He did put a mask on but tried to keep his nose out, which I was not having. (He kept whining I can’t breath, I wear glasses while I, 40 yrs older and glass wearer have no problem with my homemade 5-layer mask) I told him it was the law and also I did not want to die alone in a hospital. His response? It’s just a cold! That’s when I lost it. A NYC resident telling me covid 19 is just a cold!! Then the denier last argument: we gotta die of something anyway. Yep, dude, but I choose not to die because you are an idiot.
Next time I will make sure that specify that I don’t want a covid denier as a driver when I book my ride.
I found myself a new doctor and am happy to report that they went above and beyond the state requirements to make patients safe.
Probably all for naught because people are getting out of control. I think they won’t rest until we are back to hundreds of people dying per day from the virus.
Honestly, I wish people would leave reviews stating how certain medical staff and mds are treating this. It’s crazy.
I’m thankful that I live in a state that masks are mandated. It takes any guess work out of the whole should you wear a mask or not arguments. I would’ve complained about the nurse to the doctor. Honestly, even if she is running all over town without a mask, she should not say that to all the patients.
Rebecca - SoCal says
Scary stuff. The problem I have is getting an appointment! In late January, I called for my annual check-up. They gave me an April date. Well, that didn’t happen. I got a televisit in July, but went to the same medical center for a blood draw. I had to make an appointment for that! (Happened much quicker). They had a one-way entrance set up, with someone asking questions a) before the parking garage, b) in the parking garage, and c) at the entrance (auxiliary entrance closed). No temperature taking, but I think they asked. The rest was pretty normal, except everyone had masks, and I think I saw one other patient, until the time I left. I still need the Pap smear, so we made an appointment (in July) for October. *le sigh* I wonder how this attempt will go.
And thank you for the information about ear wax and temperature. My brother says our family doctor used to call us “the wax family.”
Send a letter/email directly to your doctor and report her.
Call the board of health in your city and report her.
If your doctor’s office is linked to a larger medical network, like a hospital, call and report her there too.
I have been getting caught up and ahead on all my medical and dental appts because I too think fall/winter are going to be bad.
I do not sit down in waiting rooms.
I touch almost nothing.
I Use sanitizer also. I change clothes and shower when I get home.
So far I have not had any issues. Procedures have been very good at all offices. My temperature has been taken at door everywhere. Everyone has on proper masks.
If I run into an unsafe medical office – I will simply walk out the door. And I will change doctors over it. (A nurse who acts like that is not going to properly clean anything. And her family and friends are probably not safe either.)
I use curbside almost exclusively. If employees do not have their mask on properly there, I file complaint in writing via store survey or email. I have seen changes because of these complaints. I have had managers call me.
I do not use Facilities/stores with unsafe practices, even curbside.
I realize she took you by surprise. If it happens to you somewhere again, say – Please put your mask on properly. Keep saying it and keep getting louder. You can’t confront other patients or customers. But I think you can request staff be safe.
Absolutely right! I do this too — I speak up, I report and I leave if I feel unsafe. It does make a difference.
Natalie Maddalena says
Australia has been touched lightly so-far (although we are starting to get a second wave worse than the first one, and the state next to mine has gone back into lockdown) and wearing masks is not common. Last week I noticed around one in twenty people at my grocery store wearing one, and this week (when I started wearing one) it was up to about one in four. I’m a casual worker out of a job since the pandemic started and I don’t go anywhere except shopping, but my husband does take public transport to work so has a possibility to pick it up.
I had my delayed colonoscopy a month ago, and the distancing and hygiene all seemed very good at the hospital.
I had some cold and flu symptoms last week, so I went to a drive-through testing centre. I felt rather foolish when I realised I had not thought to bring a mask – I had never yet worn one at that point, although I had bought some just in case – but the nurse handed me one straight away and told me how to use it. It didn’t bother me at all to wear it and at first I was wondering how people could make a fuss about wearing it, but it is winter here and I noticed how warm it kept my face which was rather nice but I can see how that could be horrible in summer. Hot and humid. Anyway, I was cleared the following day, not Covid19, but I have worn a mask during my limited excursions since.
The person in my family who seems least concerned about staying safe – he goes to restaurants, hugs family members whether they like it or not, never wears a mask etc – is my father in law who is in his 70s and has cancer. High risk. Crazy.
Omg, what you describe is exactly what happens every I go to the bank or some enclosed space to finish some task. Once last month I had to spend 15 minutes inside a bank with the air conditioner running and the whole time a bunch of people were inside – all wearing masks – but pulling it down when speaking to clients – the whole point of wearing the mask is lost right there – my husband was out in the car waiting for me and finally when my patience ran out, I walked out. My husband a surgeon was so angry with me for waiting inside for 15 minutes. The next few days I was so tense that I might have caught an infection. The other day I had to finish 10-15 chores and was going from one place to another – everywhere there was hand sanitizer and mask wearing people but every time I touched a door handle or walked into a store I was literally hearing the mantra – I am spreading it – I am spreading it . I came home and literally scrubbed everything I brought home – the plastic folders, the pens, the books, the car, every door knob – LOL and spent the next two days worrying about it.