On Thursday I went to the doctor’s office for my pre-employment physical, which is always an unnecessarily unnerving experience.

I walked in and immediately noticed several large model dinosaur skeletons to my left. And I mean large; they were roughly two-thirds the size of real dinosaur skeletons. The stegosaurus and the triceratops were the most interesting because they were close enough and low enough that I could get a really good look at their jaws, horns, and spikes. If that triceratops skeleton had come to life, it probably could’ve eaten me in a bite, bite and a half. It probably would have, too, because I kept poking it and sticking my hand in its mouth.

After gazing upon some of the smaller, spiked dinosaur skulls mounted on the walls, I looked around the waiting room. It did not look much nicer or cleaner than a dormitory commons area. But then, most dormitory commons areas don’t have replica dinosaur skeletons in them, do they? (Neither do most health clinics, but let that slide.) This worried me, because aren’t health clinics supposed to look healthy and sanitary? Or at least be able to fake it?

I signed in and waited. When you’re already paranoid about being disqualified from your job for having some bizarre communicable disease, or being told that a mark on your arm is melanoma, or that the blotch or your chest x-ray is a tumor, or how many times you’re going to be pricked by needles, waiting doesn’t help. Waiting with nothing worth reading helps even less; the magazines are all health-related and do nothing to get your mind off the anxiety at hand.

Finally a nurse came to the door, and told me it was my time.

She told me to stand against the wall. I asked if I should take my shoes off; she said no—which struck me as odd. Turns out that with my shoes on, I’m five foot ten, which is what she put on the chart. The joy of finally seeing 5’10” marked next to my height was quickly dissipated by the thought that if she was going to be imprecise about this, where else would she do a slipshod job?

She told me to fill a cup. I asked for some water. She said it wasn’t drug test. I replied that that had no bearing on the fact that I needed water, or she’d be waiting a while for the sample. She chose to wait a while. I was flabbergasted—a nurse taking a urine sample actually refused to give the patient any water.

Eventually she had her sample, dipped in the strip, and fed it into the urinalysis-a-tron. She started reading off the results to me, as if the technobabble she was spouting had any meaning to me. I must’ve had “that” look on my face, because she asked, “Would you like me to repeat it?”

I said, “Don’t bother, it’s all gobbledygook.”

She worked on the machine a little more, printed out an analysis, or receipt, or something, and as she washed up, she asked, “What’s gollybegoo?” as if it were some scientific term.

I replied, “Gobbledygook. All that stuff you were reading went right over my head. As long as you don’t say I’m diabetic, I’m happy.” I hate needles, and I have a cousin who has an insulin pump, which I would definitely hate even worse. Happily, there was nothing wrong with me that the urinalysis could detect.

On to the tuberculosis test. I can handle those tiny needles… nowadays. When I was ten, I had a lump on the back of my neck, and they ran several tests to identify it in hopes of avoiding surgery (it turned out to be harmless). The first test was similar to a TB test. The doctor could tell that I was scared of the needle, and said it would be okay because this was the smallest hypodermic needle on Earth. I calmed down for a moment, but when that patch of skin bubbled up, I freaked out. Anyhow, each TB test takes me back to those good old days.

After the nurse administered the shot, she put the bandage on and, if I remember correctly, said, “Don’t blah blah blah blah blah or else we won’t be able to read it and we’ll have to do another one. You need to have it checked on Saturday.”

On to the exam room. Thankfully, the exam was uneventful. The doctor pronounced my name correctly the first time, asked about some of the “yes” responses on the initial questionnaire, lectured me about my blood pressure, and we talked about Chicago, where she had attended college. She filled out my physical form, and all I needed to complete my pre-employment paperwork was a check in the “negative” box under “Tuberculin Skin Test Results.”

Later that day, I took the bandage off, which was excruciating and left welts. There was dried blood all over the bandage, and dried blood and minor bruising at the point of injection. I didn’t remember that happening the last time I had a TB test–but careful thought revealed that I didn’t remember anything about the last time I had a TB test, which was five years ago. I didn’t know what a normal test looked like, and neither did anyone else I asked. (I could have called the clinic, but that would have been too easy.) I was worried.

Perhaps the blood and bruising were normal, or merely signified a botched injection. Maybe I’d inadvertently done one of the “blahs” that Nurse Slipshod had told me not to do. Or maybe Nurse Slipshod herself screwed up the injection. A botched injection would simply mean more inconvenience: more money out of my pocket, more time before I could turn in all my paperwork to the county and, of course, another hole in my arm.

But what if it weren’t normal and the injection hadn’t been screwed up? That would mean a positive result. And then a chest x-ray. And then a sputum culture. And then, “You have tuberculosis. Sorry, DCPS can’t hire you.”

Just great. Dead at twenty-nine from the consumption. I could see people reading my obituary: “Tuberculosis? Isn’t that what Doc Holliday had in that movie?”

And I wouldn’t be there to say, “Yes, and he had it in real life, too.”

Minimal internet research suggested that a few flecks of dried blood did not mean I had tuberculosis. My arm looked nothing like pictures of positive test results. Naturally, I was still nervous right up until the nurse looked at my arm yesterday and checked “negative” on the physical form. Good thing, too; how embarrassing would it have been to have moved a thousand miles, gotten my old job back, helped out with orientation and then suddenly getting fired after unwittingly infecting dozens if not hundreds of coworkers, students and their families?

Happily, I have no known communicable diseases, I’m an inch taller on paper, and my blood pressure isn’t quite high enough to require medication. Here’s to the new school year.

Response to “Gobbledygook.”

  1. Doctor Hmnahmna Says:
    July 31st, 2006 at 6:30 PM

I will have to defend Nurse Slipshod on one point: it has become standard practice to not allow patients to take water prior to giving a urine sample – the excess water can dilute the urine and affect results.