A Patient Message

A photograph of a plastic sculpture of a doctor holding a stethoscope up to an infant's chest as a sibling holds it up
“Doctor and the Doll” by PMillera4 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Patient Message for Dr. Epstein:

After an hour of pushing buttons and cursing at my keyboard, I figured out how to set up your patient portal. Then I read the notes from our last visit. It appears that your version of our virtual appointment and my version of our virtual appointment differ.

First, the chart says patient is a bad historian. You asked if there was illness in my family. Heart disease. Colitis. Intractable pain. My mother, may she rest in peace, spent ninety-three years complaining. If you had asked her, she’d say Yes to all of the above. If there were an Olympics for suffering, my mother would have won a gold medal.

My mother, may she rest in peace, spent ninety-three years complaining.

Patient SOB, you write. Thanks a lot, Bub. So I asked my friend Harvey the podiatrist if this was appropriate language, and he said that SOB means short of breath. Of course I was short of breath. I’ve got the UPS guy knocking at the door, a dog that needs to pee, and a casserole bubbling in the oven. Meanwhile, I’m looking up your nostrils and adjusting the camera at the same time.

Patient uncooperative, says the chart. You try eliminating coffee, sugar, and creamer in one fell swoop! Sure I’m “well nourished.” My mother survived the Holocaust with just the shirt on her back. For the rest of her life, she worshipped at the altar of cholesterol. A skinny child was an embarrassment. She’d pinch my arm and check for plumpness like you check a horse’s teeth.

Then before you know it, our visit was over. With the meter still running, you glanced at your watch. We sure racked up the Medicare mileage, didn’t we, Doc? Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching. But after fifteen minutes, what did we learn? To your utter disappointment, I was hale and hearty, my chassis as spiffy as a brand-new car. Only that didn’t cut it. The days of saying “ah” and looking down our throats are over. Instead, you order tests.

The days of saying “ah” and looking down our throats are over.

Tests? I hate tests. I can’t stand tests. So I recalibrated my internal GPS and asked a few more questions.

You cocked an ear like you were listening. A huh. A huh. A huh. It’s probably nothing serious, you said. Then you mentioned a few things we need to rule out.

Chronic crepitus. Functional dyspepsia. Habitual borborygmus. Reading your notes is like parsing ancient Greek. You mind translating that into English? Here’s a news flash, Dr. Epstein. These lists are meant to tease and torture. They’d give poor Dr. Koop a cardiac arrest.

So I asked the obvious. What happens if we put it all on the back burner? You know. Sit on things. Wait a while.

Patient refuses the ordered follow-up care, says the chart.

Admit it, Dr. Epstein. You were just as relieved as I was. Sounds like a plan, you said. I remember you twirling your pencil and grinning. Below the waist I swear that your feet were doing a touchdown dance.

And just like that, your face turned into a million pixels. A second later the nurse popped up on the screen. Now about your next appointment, she said. The doctor’s booked up for at least six months. You can either wait or find another provider.

Six months? I said.

Then I thought, the world can spin off its axis in six months. Then I thought, there could be a nuclear apocalypse. The earth could be crawling with zombies.

Six months? I said. Six months is perfect.

Miami, Florida

Marlene Olin’s short stories and essays have been published in journals such as the Massachusetts Review, Catapult, PANK, and the Baltimore Review. She is the recipient of both the 2015 Rick Demarinis Fiction Award and the 2018 So to Speak Fiction Prize. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and for inclusion in Best American Short Stories.