Friday, September 12, 2014

Desperately Seeking a Specimen



Years ago, when you returned from a third-world posting, the government would generally agree to let you undergo a tropical medical examination. This was to make sure you weren’t harbouring anything sinister in your system; that you presented no danger to your friends, family or the public at large; and probably so you couldn’t sue anyone when, twenty years later, you discovered something unfortunate hiding in your liver. 



We’d been living in Lagos, Nigeria for three years. Our daughters, Elizabeth and Katherine, were tiny and vulnerable; we’d had amoebas a number of times (something caused by a microscopic creature that leaves you feeling as though you’d had a bicycle pump applied to your intestines); and John and I had travelled all over the country under dubious hygienic conditions.  We therefore thought it wise to take advantage of this entitlement and the government’s generosity.



At the time, the Toronto General Hospital was the only place in Eastern Canada able to run these tests.  Appointments were generally arranged for the morning, presumably because patients were more likely to produce the required specimens at that time of day.  



We arrived for our appointment at 8 a.m.  The waiting room -- essentially a long narrow hall with wooden chairs arranged in a row on the left, and two doors leading to the all-important toilets on the right – was already full.  There were only two unoccupied seats and John and I each took one, perching a small daughter apiece on our laps.  Within an instant of sitting down we heard our names booming out the length of the hall.



“MR. SCHRAM!  MRS. SCHRAM!  COME HERE FOR YOUR VESSELS!”   



Nonplussed and with considerable embarrassment, we headed in the direction of the voice.  There, at the end of the long hall, behind a desk, sat a grim looking nurse, an array of what looked like Chinese restaurant take-out boxes arranged before her.



“TAKE ONE OF THESE VESSELS EACH AND GIVE ME A URINE SPECIMEN,” she announced to everyone in the room, her voice echoing off the walls.  Thirty pairs of eyes seemed to follow us as we made our way back to our seats.



No problem.  The girls and I walked through the door marked “Ladies”, did as we were told, and walked out again triumphantly, lids on our little boxes.  We handed in our specimens and sat down again. 


Then we waited.   And we waited.  And we waited, as John sat quietly with his own lidless box on his lap.  Five minutes passed.  Ten minutes.  The box stayed put.  We were prepared to sit there all day if need be, but clearly the nurse wasn’t.



“MR. SCHRAM!  MR. SCHRAM!  IF YOU CAN’T GIVE ME A SPECIMEN, I’M GOING TO HAVE TO SEND YOU TO THE COKE MACHINE!” she bellowed, accusingly. 



Heads turned.  John’s ears went pink.  A sense of failure seemed to surround him.  And another five minutes passed.



“ALRIGHT, MR. SCHRAM!  THAT’S LONG ENOUGH.  YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO GO TO THE COKE MACHINE NOW!”



John got up, walked miserably the length of the hall, past the nurse who seemed to be smirking, and off to the soft drinks machine.  He returned a few minutes later, presumably better prepared for the task.



In some seven minutes the Coke had worked its magic and John too was able to produce a small, lidded container for the insufferable nurse.  Even Elizabeth and Katherine looked relieved.



Next the crucial stool specimen.  Don’t ask me how, but the girls and I were somehow –inexplicably -- able to produce something on demand.   Once again, within moments, we emerged from the ladies’ room victoriously, our boxes sealed.   You could see the pride in our steps as we marched towards the desk and plunked our boxes down.



But John was neither so fortunate, nor so glib, and again we sat there, expectantly and supportively, together.  Once again long minutes passed.  And then the inevitable reproach:



“MR. SCHRAM!  MR. SCHRAM!  IF YOU CAN’T PRODUCE SOMETHING FOR ME IN THE NEXT FIVE MINUTES, I’M GOING TO HAVE TO GIVE YOU A SUPPOSITORY AND A RUBBER GLOVE!”



Now if there’s anything that’s going to produce constriction of sphincters in a patient it’s this ultimate and public humiliation.  Unable to endure another, John submitted immediately and, like a schoolboy going for a failed test paper, he approached the gorgon in starchy white, wordlessly took the two items she seemed to be waving about, and with his box and lid, entered the Gents’.  The waiting room seemed to go silent.  An air of expectation hung heavily.



Let me just say that he eventually appeared looking mortified, furious, but noticeably pleased.  The girls and I waited for the round of applause we were sure would follow. With something of a swagger, John carried his contribution to the desk, set it down resolutely, and strode out of the room.  In fact, he strode right out of the hospital.   

When I eventually managed to catch up with him, he turned and snapped, “Alena, you and I eat together, drink together, and travel together.  Whatever I’ve got, you’ve probably got too.  So next time we need one of these things, YOU go alone and bring me back all the same medicine!”  And, of course, we’ve never been back.


Coming soon:  "The Opinionated Old Cow:  Ruminations from the Field".  It will be published in paperback the end of October and available simultaneously as an eBook from Amazon.


AN EPHRONESQUE OBSERVATION OF LIFE:  FROM THE PERILS OF FACEBOOK, THE ANNOYING TENDENCIES OF HUSBANDS WHO CO-SHOP, AND THE DEFECTIVE REARING OF GRANDCHILDREN, TO SPORTS CARS FOR THE MENOPAUSAL, BRAS THAT WINCH, AND CHIN HAIRS WITH MINDS OF THEIR OWN.

TO PURCHASE A PAPERBACK IN KINGSTON, VISIT NOVEL IDEA;
AND IN OTTAWA, TRY BOOKS ON BEECHWOOD ($20 + TAX);  
OTHERWISE ORDER FROM WWW.COWDYHOUSE.COM
ALSO AVAILABLE AS AN EBOOK FROM THE USUAL SOURCES.

 

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