The room is non-descript, strangely familiar ---in the way most medical waiting rooms are the same: the hum of fluorescent lighting, the idle chatter of the staff, the requisite magazines. I approach the desk with trepidation, consciously trying to mask my nervousness, which probably only makes me appear even more nervous.
The sliding glass door opens.
“Yes?” the medical attendant asks, whose eyes are fixed downward
“My name is Paul Carroll. I have an appt today, ummm, I think, like, 9:30”.
“Yes, I have you down..”, she responds looking up , “please have a seat”.
I dutifully take a seat in the furthest corner of the waiting room. I pick up a magazine and then promptly put it down. Even in my anxiety, I have enough self-awareness to know that I will not be able to focus on even the shortest of articles.
I wait no more than 5 minutes, before a medical attendant opens the side door of the waiting room, pokes her head from behind the door, and announces “Mr. Carroll?” to no one in particular.
I meet her eyes, smile and dutifully follow her down a narrow hallway lined with doors on either side. The rooms must be small, since the doors are so close together. There are pockets of muted conversations everywhere -you can hear them from behind each door as you walk down the corridor.
I am brought to the last room on the right. She opens the door and escorts me in. With her hand protected by a plastic glove, she gives me a plastic cup that is sealed and provides me the instructions.
“Once you’ve procured a sample, please tightly place the cap on and place this in the sliding door. Close the door and then come back to the front desk”. She motions to a silver sliding door to the left of a sink, about 12 x 18. She slides open the door and then closes it. Behind the sliding door is a box-like cubby, with another sliding door on the far wall of the cubby. Presumably, this demonstration is a part of the instructions.
“Thank you” is all I can manage to respond. I don’t know what else to say…….
When she shuts the door, I scan the room. “Procure a sample” – the choice of language is so deliberate, so fascinating in its subtlety. The room is surprisingly small and decidedly un-private. The sounds of conversations in the hallways and the adjoining rooms permeate into the room. I can hear small talk, occasional giggles, objections to the rain this morning– it’s a barnyard of muted voices.
With a sigh, I decide I need to get down to business. My eye catches a stack of magazines on the coffee table. The bottom right corners of the covers are torn off, protecting the identity of the owner. I pick one up and then put it down. There is history to these magazines, and I want no part of it.
The act, typically so natural, so instinctual to men, is impossible. There are too many distractors and the stakes are simply too high. My heart begins to race. I do not have the mental focus to screen out everything. It’s akin to trying to meditate at an airport terminal. My attempts to quiet my mind are futile. This is more work than I thought it would be.
After 25 minutes, there is success, albeit limited success. I immediately move into a mechanical mode, securing the top on the cup and placing it in the cubby. “What else did she tell me to do” I thought to myself. In no less than 5 seconds, I hear the adjoining door open and the sample is snatched from the cubby. The sound of the sliding metal startles me. “Oh my God” I think to myself, “They were waiting for me. How long were they waiting for me?” I gather myself quickly from the room, depart into the hallway, and place the mask on my face that nothing out of the ordinary occurred in that room. No nothing out of the ordinary……
At the front desk, I await my next set of instructions. I am shifty, looking around at nothing in particular – the clock on the wall, the HIPAA compliance poster on the glass. I feel an odd sense of guilt, though I’m not sure why.