Thursday, February 19, 2004


At my job, I'm entitled to take two days off a month. These are known as personal days. I generally plan ahead for a personal day (usually midweek), and then I fully enjoy the day off in a leisurely way: there is undoubtedly knitting involved, usually a coffee or a smoothie at my favourite café, maybe a matinee or a DVD rental. Doesn't that sound nice?

Yesterday was not one of those days.

Yesterday I had a frustrating, frustrating morning -- nothing particularly bad happened, but several small things in a row just drove me to the edge, and at about one o'clock I decided to make it a Personal Day in the Interests of Mental Health. I had to go to the hospital to get a prescription, which is something I've done every three months for the last two years at the same hospital. (They will only prescribe three months' worth at a time and dispense one months' worth, so I have to go to the hospital every month. But I digress.) You may remember that my wallet was stolen last month. I've had my I.D., credit card, and one bank card replaced, but I still don't have my health insurance card. Now, I have insurance, but not a card. And it's all well and good that all the doctors in Taipei speak some degree of English, but the people one has to deal with in order to see a doctor don't. So the fact that I didn't have a card was a capital-P Problem.

Without the card, they can't access my hospital history. Why do they even have computers if they have no system whereby the entry of my name or I.D. number would provide some useful information? Convinced that nothing but solitaire and mah-jongg is installed on the hospital computers, I went about finding someone who spoke English. I approached a nurse, and she eventually found a nice woman to translate. I explained that I don't have a card, blah, blah, blah ("bra, bra, bra," as they say in Taiwan -- hoo, that cracks me up every time), and it turned out that I could see the doctor if I paid upfront, and I'll get my money back if I bring in my new card within a week. OK, no problem. When I got in to see the doctor, I told him what I needed, and he prescribed enough for a week. No questions asked, since I'm Anonymous Patient Without a Card. I could've asked for methadone or Demerol or something.

I realized I didn't have enough cash to pay for the drugs, so I found a bank machine. Now, my new bank card has two PIN numbers, for some unknown reason. One is a six-digit number that I've never had to use before, and that's the one I was asked for. The piece of paper the number is printed on was at home. No problem; I could call Bill. But my cell phone battery was almost dead, so I wanted to use a pay phone. Eight pay phones, in three locations, each of them requiring a prepaid card. Not change, not a credit card. And where might one obtain such a card? Who knows?

At this point, I sort of lost it. I had the prescription in my hand, but I didn't have enough money to pay for it; I had my shiny new bank card, but I didn't have the stupid code to take money out of the stupid ATM; I knew Bill was at home and where the piece of paper with the code was, but I didn't have a stupid card to use the stupid pay phones. It doesn't happen too often, luckily, but I have moments like this sometimes. I was faced with the fact that I don't have a backup of my life. Do you know what I mean? When something happens and you realize that you're totally helpless without technology? Maybe you've worked really hard on a paper for school, and you have to hand it in in half an hour, and for some reason it won't print. Or you have all the phone numbers you need stored in your cell phone, but not written down anywhere, and the battery runs out and you can't make an important call. Anyway, it's a Bad Feeling! I felt like such a loser! And by the time I got through all this (I finally just called Bill on my cell phone, and he found the code for me before my battery died -- phew!) it was twelve-thirty, and I thought, I can't rush to the office now! So I cashed in a personal day. And it got a hell of a lot better: Bill and I went out for a yummy lunch and then to another place for yummy coffees, and the weather was beautiful, and we sat outside.

I think I felt extra anxious at the hospital because I had taken Bea to the vet on the two previous evenings. We had an appointment for seven o'clock on Monday, and when I was told at seven-twenty that my English-speaking vet wouldn't even be there till seven-thirty, I rescheduled and left. So we went back at seven-thirty Tuesday evening. (Going to the vet involves putting Bea in the box our giant rice cooker came in, carrying her down our five flights of stairs, and taking a taxi three blocks. It's not too bad.) Our vet is a nice guy, but the place creeps me out a bit. A room the size of a single-car garage houses the waiting area, a computer desk, a counter, a sink, a big scale, and the two exam tables (plus food and dog toys on display). I put Bea's box down on the one bench at the front, next to a woman holding a smallish shaggy dog. The woman and I smile at each other. I start to notice that the dog is snorting a lot. I look at it, and I swear to god, this dog only has half a nose. And it's snorting and snorfling and droplets are flying through the air and hitting my arm and Bea's box. Sorry, but it's true. (Have you ever seen The Salton Sea? Can you blame me for thinking of Vincent D'Onofrio as Pooh Bear and getting even more uncomfortable?) And because I'm polite, and frankly, because there's nowhere else for me to go while we wait, I slowly position a flap of Bea's box to protect her from the germ shower and make a mental note to disinfect my arm and wash my sweater when I get home. On Monday night when I was waiting, a small dog had its temperature taken, rectally, about a foot away from me. Where's the dignity? I must say, though, that Bea is a real champ. She doesn't freak out and cry and scramble. She sniffs and sits nicely and doesn't bat an eye when a dog barks. And I'm pleased to announce that she is now free of roundworms and ear mites! She had these, plus fleas, when we got her. I know, I didn't tell you, but only because I didn't want to detract from her beauty in your eyes. I wanted you to think "pretty!" not "wormy!" And now she's clean and free, and she's had her first kitten vaccination. We are very proud of Little Miss Bea.

Anyhoo, two evenings at the vet primed me for a bad morning at the hospital, I think. The hospital isn't much better than the vet, actually. You walk in the front door, and you're in a large, noisy open area full of sick people waiting to see a doctor, and sick people in wheelchairs being pushed by young Filipina women, and sick people coughing. It's all just right there. I have to tell you, I miss the separation that I'm used to. I know hospitals are full of sick people, but that doesn't mean I want to hang out with all of them at once. I admit it: I don't like being in close quarters with snorting animals and snorting people. Go ahead, call me precious. An old man sitting near me was staring into space, flipping his bottom denture out, and in, and out, and in. How depressing is that? I probably should've described this first, to set the context. I wasn't in a cushy well-lit hospital waiting room; I was in a sickness factory under a few strip lights waiting for a digital sign to flash my number. Magazines? Please.

Oh, and one more thing: I found out today that I won't get my new insurance card for another two weeks. The doctor gave me a week's worth of pills, which means I have to go back next week and get more without a card. Oh, I can't wait.

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