Where Everybody Knows Your Name
My local clinic isn’t actually local.
Boasting neighbors like IKEA and the Midwest tourist trap that is the Mall of America, my clinic is a 20-minute drive — one way. I could take the moderately more scenic route if I didn’t have a penchant for running late, but I am, to no one’s surprise, my father’s daughter.
It doesn’t matter how “early” I get ready — between my caregiver’s daughters and the accident waiting to happen that is my accessible van, I’m pretty much always late. The interstate is, unfortunately, the fastest route from point A to point B.
Despite always being late, my clinic welcomes me anyway. Sometimes I’m followed by my caregiver and her daughters, while other times I’m on my own. On very rare occasions, I’ll drag my dad with me. (I like to watch him squirm while my podiatrist shoves toothpicks in my toes.)
The staff sees hundreds of people every day, but an impressive number of them know my name. If it’s not the allergy nurse, it’s one of the receptionists; if it’s not one of the receptionists, it’s one of the lab techs who helped me verify my virginity a few years back.
Once, in the midst of anaphylaxis, the paramedics carried me through the waiting room on a stretcher. One of the receptionists waved at me as I passed. Weeks later, that same receptionist told me how glad she was to see me. “We were all so worried!”
I’m not so sentimental as to call the clinic my “home away from home.” It’s still a medical facility, with germs and needles and the looming fear of a terminal diagnosis. But I do feel a kind of fondness for the place.
The elevator that lurches between floors.
The nook in the waiting room by the lab. In the Before Times, I would camp out there, with a book on my phone and my feet propped up on a chair.
The glasses store, with designs that may or may not make me drool.
Years ago, when I first started getting allergy shots, I was at the clinic once or twice a week. After getting a shot in each arm, I had to stick around for 30 minutes in case of anaphylaxis. The waiting room thus became an old haunt. Sometimes I read, sometimes I studied. Most times I observed, watching the people, the pace, the clock tick on the nearby wall.
The holidays are my favorite. There’s something cozy about people-watching during the holidays, with Christmas music jangling in the background.
The reception desk is, of course, taller than me. Most things are. But the receptionists see me anyway, their faces lighting up. Instead of the normal check-in — Any fever? Any travel outside the U.S.? Any known exposure to COVID-19? — they ask if anything has changed since my last visit. My answer is always no. I can’t reach over the desk to grab the freshly printed sheet of sticky labels, so they walk all the way around the desk to place them on my lap. There’s no fuss, no awkward fumbling.
They just … help.
I am, of course, privileged. I have health insurance. I have transportation, albeit unreliable at times. I have access to medical professionals who respect me and my condition, even if they know nothing about SMA.
Positive healthcare experiences are uncommon. I wish they weren’t (almost as much as I wish my friend Sherry could obtain the lifesaving treatment she so desperately needs). But the truth is that satisfaction is rare.
Still, I am grateful. I love my clinic with all its imperfections — the haunted elevator, the glitchy door plates, the overworked air conditioner. I even love the long wait times when trying to schedule an appointment. How lucky am I that people choose to schedule medical appointments for a living? I would be dead if it weren’t for them.
My clinic isn’t my home away from home (that would be this very specific bookstore in Vermont). But it’s somewhere I feel safe. And that’s saying something, given the medical trauma that follows me around like a stray cat.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.