In the Waiting Room

Today I went to see the skin doctor – the one who says that I must apply sun block twice a day, even if I don’t leave the house – really! – because the tropical sun is so strong that it comes in through the windows and ricochets off the floors, walls and ceiling and attacks you, if you are as pale as I am. I never follow his advice, because I'm absent-minded, and it seems so extreme, and it's greasy, like applying a layer of sweat to one's face. But then every couple of years I get nervous and rush off to see him. He's a specialist in emergency dermatology, which I never knew existed, but which includes things like toxic shock, and extreme allergic reactions. He does leprosy too, for which I assume I will never consult him. I have confidence in his ability to read the text of my skin. My notes from the doctor’s office:
In the crowded waiting room, resignation or sulking, people quiet for the most part, stirred up to a surge of impatience, hope, irritation when a patient comes out of the inner office. We all lean forward, some rise and walk toward the office door; one is chosen, the rest mutter. In a minute someone will walk over to the secretary's desk to remonstrate, quietly or angrily. My appointment was at 1:00. Now it's 3:10.

After the second hour I went to the lobby for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake, which has left me twitchy and irritable. The people next in line are standing at the inner door, almost touching it to ensure that no one gets in ahead of them. When will I be called?

When I had seen the doctor two years earlier, he had looked fit and cheerful; now he seemed collapsed in his chair. He told me, when I was finally called in at 4:00, that he hadn't yet had lunch, and that he was swamped every day with walk-in patients who camped out from early morning, refusing to leave until they had seen him. He said that he wasn't well. I wondered vaguely whether he had a cold, or a touch of flu; he said it was much more serious than that, but that he wouldn't go into the details. I said that he shouldn't kill himself with work in this way. He said, "I'm halfway there already," and smiled. "Besides, this is what I do, this is what I’m married to. And that’s how the cookie crumbles." I echoed, "Yes, that’s how it crumbles," and we both laughed – for no reason except human contact.

On the positive side, I was able to read a sizeable chunk of Hannah Hinchman’s A Trail Through Leaves, which included this encouraging quotation from Kabir: "You have slept for millions and millions of years. Why not wake up this morning?"

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