Notta and the Doctors


About That

All right, so I’ve taken a month off. So it goes. I’m dealing with it; you should, too. Let’s move forward.

Anyway, it occurred to me that I had few ideas about what to write. I thought I could rhapsodize on summer vacations, which would not be a particularly original idea for this time of year. Remind me to consider the rhapsody of hot, sunny days and blooming gardens again in a few months, should we EVER again have a winter worthy of the name.So nix that idea.

Then I remembered that summer is also the time most of us have to deal with dentists and doctors and all the appointments we put off because of inclement weather and any other excuses we could come up with during the autumn, winter and spring. Especially doctors. And that reminds me of Notta Louden.

Notta volunteers in my classes as often as she can. To say I depend on her is understating the matter, particularly when all of my students have had miracle coffee and or energy drinks, and I have a dozen almost eager faces, each at different reading and math levels, awaiting today’s adventure in GED prep.

Notta may not be someone who stands out in the proverbial crowd. She admits to being over sixty and doesn’t mind her somewhat pear-shaped body. “Whatever rolls and wrinkles I got, I earned ‘em,” she says. She dresses simply, usually in light-colored tunics and comfortable, elastic waistband pants. There’s more pepper than salt in her hair. She keeps that hair cut short to please herself.Her eyes glint warm chocolate when she’s happy and chocolate diamond hard when she is not. Her smile is wide with teeth unashamedly off-white; and they always will be, because Notta sees no point in having her teeth bleached or painted white for some trumped-up notion of beauty that won’t matter at all once she’s dead.

And her glasses. Notta keeps them on an old-lady chain with rainbow beads so she never loses them. She pushes at them every other sentence as the copper frames treat her broad nose like a playground slide. At times, when she is elbows on the table we use for class, her ample rear limiting the passing space between the side cabinets and the table’s edge, deep into explaining the mysteries of common denominators for fraction addition, the glasses slide right of and bounce of her sharp chin. At that point, Notta straightens up, resets the contrary spectacles and laughs.

My students enjoy her laughter. They respect her motherly common sense, too. The most frequent question we get from students, particularly those aged eighteen to twenty, is why they have to know mathematical operations with fractions or the area of an isosceles triangle, what an author’s purpose in nattering on and on about locusts, or the causes of the American Civil War.My response has distilled over the years to telling them this is the type the GED test asks. You want to pass and get the piece of paper, you have to know this.

Notta, however, takes the Big Picture approach. Her mother’s pet lecturing answer can take up to five minutes, including the Future few if any of my students can envision.Sometimes, all right, most times, their eyes glaze over before she finishes. Notta ends with an off-white smile. She wags her index finger and tells them, “Think about it. You’ll know I’m right.”

But we were talking about doctors.

Notta arrived one morning last week a few minutes behind her usual time. She huffed her way into one of my office chairs. “Damned doctors,” she said. I asked the question. “You remember I told you I was digging holes for dahlia bulbs, and my foot slipped off the shovel and I cut the side on the blade and they put in a couple stitches?” I remembered. “Well, today I went in to get ‘em taken out. First thing the nurse says to me – al stone-faced, this one, like it’s against her religion to smile or maybe she just had Botox – ‘Let’s hop up on the scale here.’I told her at my age I don’t hop and I’m only here to get stitches taken out.

“‘Then step up here and let’s get you weighed.’

“‘Am I going to weigh any less once you take the stitches out?’

“Not so much as a smile. ‘I hardly think so.’

“’Then I hardly think it’s worth your time or mine to get me weighed.’

“’The doctor wants to get your vitals.’ You could freeze ice cubes in her mouth by now, but her face? Nothing. And I know I won’t be seeing the doctor anyway. Stitches out is the PA’s job. So I tell her:

“’ Well, you can remind the doctor for me of that old Rolling Stones song that goes, “You can’t always get what you want.” Now which room do I go into to get these stitches out?’”

I said something to the effect that the nurses will have to learn not to mess with her from now on. Notta chuckled. “Oh, they knew I was trouble from the first day I started there.”

There are several minutes more before the students arrive, so I ask her to continue.Notta settles into the chair and pushes up her glasses. “First appointment, I spend twenty minutes filling out forms about my family medical history, my own history, my medicines, my aches, my pains.Then I let them weigh me. Why not? We all have to start somewhere. Then there’s the blood pressure, better than it was when I was working in that engineer’s office, but I suppose it could be lower. Then the strip-off and put on the gown and sit on the butcher paper on the exam table. The nurse goes to her laptop and asks me the same questions I spent 20 minutes answering so she can tappity-tap the answers into the laptop’s memory. She takes the clipboard with the forms I filled out. And I sit. For fifteen minutes, I sit sticking to the paper.”

Some patients take longer than expected, I point out. Doctors’ schedules are usually jam packed.

“I know, I know. But then why the rush to get me on the scale and my blood pressure and a regurgitation of the form questions?” She waves again, then pushes up her glasses. “Finally, the doctor comes in.Do you know Dr. T - ?” I do not. “Just as well. Some days I wish I didn’t. He was my husband’s choice and it’s my husband’s insurance, so when Rome dictates, you learn to speak Latin. Or something like that.

“Anyway, this man comes in and gives me a cold, damp handshake. Like holding hands with a fresh-caught mackerel. I won’t say he’s strange-looking, but I had this thought of a normal-proportioned man, maybe a little on the short side, who’d been put into a taffy-puller. Even his mustache hangs down and his hair got pulled al the way of the back of his crown. So he sits down with his tablet or whatever the step up from the laptop is and starts asking me the same questions that the nurse asked and the form asked.

‘Hey, I just spent 20 minutes answering those on a form and then telling it all to the nurse,’ I said.

He doesn’t look up at me. I think he might have blinked. ‘I need the information for my records,’ he says.

‘Okay,’ I say. I hop of the table – so, yes, I can hop – and go out into the hallway where the nurse is at some desk. ‘I need the clipboard,’ I tell her. ‘I may have missed something.’ She gives me that Botox look of no understanding, but gives it to me. I take it and go back to the room and give it to the doctor. ‘Here, you can take the information from there.’ He looks at me then, like I’ve got four eyes or two heads or something.

“Takes him a few more minutes to tappity-tap his keyboard full of my information and the first thing he says is, ‘Well, you need to lose weight.’

“’Tel me something new,’ I thought I was joking. His vanilla-taffy face turned a little strawberry.

“’Look, you need to lose about 50 pounds to be healthy at your age and height.’

“I started feeling a little strawberry myself. ‘According to who?’

“’Well, the AMA and state and federal health organizations –‘

“’And the insurance companies that only make money if we live and keep paying premiums and the nutrition and diet people who change their minds every other month.’

“ Well, here strawberry was turning cherry. ‘Look, Mrs. Louden, if you don’t lose the weight, we’ll be talking about heart disease. We’ll be talking about organ stress. We’ll be talking about joint damage and probably replacement surgery.’

“’And if I do lose the weight, what will we talk about then?’”

I glanced at the clock at this point, noting that students would arrive soon, so I pointed out that doctors have it pretty hard these days with the demands of insurance, high costs, ageing population with more and more ailments, and so much grief from a federal government whose answer to every problem is to cut services and give tax breaks. I noted that, even in my own experience, it did rather seem like a factory-run science lab with all the tests and measuring, “But,” I ended, “Al they really want to know what they’re dealing with.”

“I know,” Notta agreed. “It’s hard for us all when you get people with heads up their rear ends telling the rest of us how to be healthy. Oh, there’s BJ with his iPod earphones up to loud. That boy will go deaf before he’s 20.”

She stands, pats my shoulder. “I know what you’re saying and they do need to know what they’re dealing with. I only wish they would remember they’re dealing with, too.” She smiled and wagged her finger. “Think about it. You know I’m right.”

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