The nurse told me that the doctor would return in a few minutes to complete my examination; I knew thirty minutes would be the time of my isolation. I was naked under the white smock, and a slight chill set in after several minutes. I was tempted to plug in the portable electric heater standing in the corner of the room, but an ancient fear of touching the doctor’s equipment held me in check. There was so much to touch in the room, but each piece of stainless steel bore a vivid, yet invisible warning label, ‘do not touch, danger.’
The floor was cold beneath my bare feet, but I walked over to the white enameled scale, and I stepped on the rubber platform – much warmer. Do I dare touch the setting of brass weights? I listened for sounds in the hallway, and hearing none, I gently moved the brass marker to 175 pounds – wishful thinking. The bar didn’t budge. In order to salvage some pride, I moved the marker to 200 pounds, and the bar smashed to the bottom of the balance. Slowly I inched the marker toward the 190 mark, 189, 188, 187 ½ and achieved equilibrium at 186 pounds. The smock was a good ½ pound, but the 172 pound Cornell freshman was lost forever.
Once the initial trespass was committed, the property was mine to explore. I knew my height had not changed during the past 15 years, buy I raised the measuring bar to the six-foot level, pulled the extension over the head, and with a firmly arched back I touched the metal. Six feet tall was magical meaning, especially for those of us who actually measure five foot eleven and three quarters inches. Textbook posture can generate that extra quarter inch, and as a consequence – manhood.
The white enameled clock on the wall allowed me ten more minutes of uninterrupted adventure. Just to the right of the scale was a stainless steel bracket holding the blood pressure cuff. Above the cuff was the mercury filled tube which has given us our first visual contact with our heart, and life itself. Each movement of the mercury column reflects the vigor of our heart, our blood, our stamina, life span – everything. Only the doctor and his staff know that the initial precipitous drop of mercury is harmless – meaningless. For me, the mercury descent is pure terror. Relief comes when the column starts to beat and hold it’s own against the forces of gravity.
There was no time to put on the cuff, and I didn’t know how anyway, but I yearned to squeeze the black rubber ball dangling from the cuff. I squeezed the ball and looked to see if the cuff would inflate. Nothing happened. I squeezed again, but then realized that the shiny valve above the ball was probably closed. To turn the valve, I had to commit two hands to the forbidden property – one for the bulb and one for the valve. That was a commitment not to be made lightly. A single hand touch might be perceived as accidental. A gentle squeeze could be appreciated as innocent curiosity. A two handed grasp could only be interpreted as possession. If caught how could I suggest that I was only accidentally touching and only gently squeezing the bulb. Not even our beloved family physician could accept such a deceit. Such private monologues have tied me up in knots throughout my life, and have disallowed innumerable fantasies and lusts.
I heard a door close, and I rushed back to the examining table and assumed the exact position I held when the doctor last saw me. Fortunately my blood pressure was not being taken, or I would have registered dead, or at least dying. No one came in. The doctor must have entered the examining room next to mine because I was able to hear him say,
“Look Sylvia, if you eat more calories than you need, you will gain weight – if you eat less, you will lose weight – it’s that simple”
I smiled to myself, “What a jackass.” If there was one thing I have learned after ten years in the psychotherapy business, it was that there was nothing – absolutely nothing simple about fat. Only my doctor’s thinking was simple. Doctors are inclined to see the insurmountable as simple, or at least worth a try. If you fail, call for another appointment.
Five minutes to go before that inevitable ‘cough’ test. I believe it is a test for a rupture, or hernia, or perhaps sterility. My doctor will hold my teste, ever so gently, and ask me to cough. I will cough ever so gently. “Again please.” Why again? Did I not cough loud enough? I fear that loudness is not the criteria for success, but rather vigor. My cough has to stimulate my teste to action. I’ll be damned if I’ll cough strong enough so that my privates will smash into my doctor’s hand. “Again please, Tom.” Obediently I will cough again, and he will say fine. To me the second cough is always a replica of the first, but it works and he lets me go.
Four minutes and no time to waste. On the white enameled cabinet was a tray of instruments. Some were all stainless steel, and others had jet black handles, laced with stainless steel hooks, twists, knobs. Pincers, knives, probes, and jars of liquid and containers of band-aides and gauze. My first Gilbert Erector Set paled against such as assortment of hardware. The round black tubular instrument with a cone-shaped top fascinated me. That tool had intrigued me, when first it was first stuck in my ear. Through the hole at the top, the doctor would peer and see things. I had just forty-five seconds to go, and with complete abandonment I grabbed the instrument and peered through the peephole. I saw light. Is that what he saw when he looked into my ear and through my brain? Of course not. I know better. What he did see was a field of potatoes! During my childhood, ear wax was potatoes. “Tommy, clean those potatoes out of your ears”, my mother would command. Why potatoes? Why not! In a childhood filled with cabbage patch births, fish for brains, and milk baths, why not starch your ears!
Suddenly, the door opened, and I dropped the ear thing onto the tray. It was the nurse. She smiled and announced that the doctor was delayed but he would come in a moment. She turned and left, closing the door. She saw me, I knew it. I knew she saw me holding the ear thing. I was trembling. I had never been caught so red-handed except for behaviors of a much more personal nature. Her smile told me she saw me with the medical instrument in my non-sterile hand. I had the audacity to hold Hippocrates staff, and I had never even entered a medical school building. Would she tell the doctor? Would she tell him I was holding the ear thing? I immediately checked the scale to reassure myself that I had replaced the brass weight and the height bar. Damn it, the height bar was up and extended. I quickly ran to the scale and replaced the brass weight at the zero mark and re-positioned the height bar. I felt as if I had ransacked the entire room. Why did I do it? For once I allowed my curiosity to overcome my timidity, and I was caught. I had trespassed, and coveted my doctor’s ear thing and I was quite upset, but even more than that I had to go to the bathroom. In that frigid temperature, my bladder had finally reached critical mass. I went to the door, opened it, and met my doctor face to face. The nurse told him; even though he looked serene, actually quite friendly. I just knew he was vexed, and concerned about the sterility of the ear thing. He asked me what I wanted, and I informed him that I needed to go to the bathroom. He asked if I had given a urine sample, and I said I hadn’t. He told me to use one of the empty bottles in the bathroom for a sample of urine. I said yes and started to walk down the corridor, but I stopped and called to him.
“Doctor, I’m sorry I touched the ear thing.” He said, “I know”, and he went into an examining room and closed the door.
It took me approximately twenty minutes to fill the sample jar.