Thursday, June 14, 2018


For several years I've been wanting a new doctor.  The Valier clinic turns out to be an extension of the Marias Care Center where I worked for a few months.  It has recently been through hard times -- not much to do with medicine.  More politics and economics, which are the same thing.  Finally some of the docs took their fates in their hands and started a new clinic in Great Falls.  I followed my clinic doc down there, but it was a little too far away.  When I worked at the Care Center, I was essentially relief for Mary Maxwell, a dedicated and intelligent trained technician -- rather over-qualified for the ward clerk job.  I never really came up to her standard.  I asked her for the name of her doctor:  Lance Stewart.  He was among those who went to Great Falls and one can't move from one doc to another in the same clinic anyway.

It was too far to go, esp in winter.  Yesterday my regular doc, a motherly and competent woman, had her assistant, an equally competent young man, call me up to see where I went so they knew what to do about prescriptions.  He told me that though Dr. Stewart had joined the clinic in Great Falls, he also had begun to keep hours in Conrad, much closer.  Right away I called for an appointment there.  Today I met him for the first time.

The receptionist always asks why you want to see the doc.  It's so they can figure out what block of time to allow in their schedule book ( I needed an hour) but it's also a violation of the privacy between patient and doctor.  I often say, half-seriously, that the next time a receptionist in a small room full of locals with big ears asks me why I want to see the doctor, I will say loudly,  "My gonorrhea has come back, and I think I have syphillis as well.  Beyond that I might be pregnant."  The Conrad receptionist has a big warm laugh.  Luckily, the only other person in the waiting room was a young Hutterite man in the regulation garb with fashionable stubble instead of the usual beard.  Rather than boots, he wore shoes and brilliantly yellow socks.  He pretended he didn't hear.

The doctor was both dignified and focused, but laughed when I told him this joke and others along these lines, because going to the doctor scares me witless every time.  At least he was male.  I don't know why everyone insists that women patients go to women doctors -- well, I do know, but it doesn't work for me.  The Ph.D. princess made me very angry with her New Age la-de-da.  When I resisted the most recent queen bee at clinic we were soon into a power game in which she expected certain answers and I didn't want to tell her.  For instance, she came here from a big city where she had worked in a women's clinic and brought along her intake questionnaire.  One question was "how many sex partners have you had?"   I wanted to know what qualifies as sex. 

One female doc deliberately (I swear) gave me a painful pelvic and when I complained said it was all my fault for having a senile vagina.  I joked that it must be like Margaret Mead having to have her cervix sewn shut during her single pregnancy so it wouldn't go slack and drop the baby out, a condition they called "incompetent cervix."  Mead snapped back, "Nothing about me is incompetent."  (Lucky the baby didn't fall out -- it was Mary Catharine Bateson.  We are the same age.  Nothing about either of us is senile.)

The way the world is going, as a country we seem to have simply abandoned the Rule of Law.  Don't worry about who's taking care of the care-taker's daughter while the care-taker's taking care, because she's on her own now.  As am I.  But if I had an informed, competent doctor who liked me and would look out for me, I would be much reassured.  Esp. if they were younger, so they wouldn't retire.

Dr. Stewart wanted to know if there were more than one doc who thought I had early congestive heart failure -- there was not.  No one ever questioned the idea before.  When I complained about belly ache, he simply scheduled an x-ray to take a look.  I went over the hospital and though it was lunchtime, the technician came and got me right away.  She was very young and beautiful with a blonde braid the size of a wrist down to her waist.  When I admired her, she said she was Norwegian.  I said she looked like the heroine of one of those mythic Scandinavian mystery series from  She laughed because she knew that.

The blood draw (these days one must always have a blood draw) was painless, only a tiny bit of fuss.  The phlebotomist had a tattoo on her inside wrist.  It was a jagged line -- a heart beat on an ICU screen, with a rose in the middle.  She explained that earlier she had had some troubles and recovered.  The tattoo was a reminder that life goes on.  

My oxygen level was in the nineties.  I had been told in the past that it was in the eighties, which I thought was a bad thing.  I seem to be changing in some ways.  Blood pressure was not extraordinary.  The strange condition of my right leg -- scratched and pricked -- was explained by kittens trying to climb to my bosom where it's soft and warm.  But my swelling left leg is more of a problem. 

The X-ray intaker, the second one today, was a girl just learning plus a Swedish grandmother who was the teacher.  The girl had a row of what seemed to be three diamond earrings up the edge of her ear; the bottom one was a tiny green starfish, which sort of suggested a marijuana leaf.  She was a pretty girl with a clear, attentive face.  She's beginning a degree in criminology in Bozeman.

The worst thing was how little I had anticipated what I was supposed to provide.  My insurance card turned out to be for drugs only, not x-rays.  The intake girl asked what race I was (she was filling in a previously determined questionnaire in the computer) and I said I was no race, that there was no such thing as race.  She merely nodded and put that in, clearly approving my answer.  I didn't have my inheritor/next of kin's address and phone number.  I didn't take along a copy of my Living Will.  I joked about "Do not resuscitate" orders but the coach said it wasn't really necessary for an x-ray.

When I was filling up the time before the appointment -- I always get places way too early -- I had a latte at Folklore across the street, a friendly but barebones place that serves excellent coffee  -- with an elegant little flourish of pattern on top.  Conrad is not what it used to be.  But all elegance, even the most vital, is necessarily transient.  While it lasts, it wonderful.

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