Because I suppose "Urgent Care" is catchier than "Urgent Couldn't Care Less"

I'm sorry if I keep whining about my illness here, but there's not much else going on and, honestly, I haven't been this sick in years. So much so that as of yesterday afternoon, my chest was tight and heavy and I was laboring to get a deep breath. Chris decided it was time to get me checked out and since my doctor's office was closed we headed for the Urgent Care center less than a mile away. Even if I had been feeling well, it would have been a ridiculous experience. As it was, I felt like bottom, so I was initially relieved that there were only three other people in the waiting room -- and was encouraged, even, by the fact that my name was called within 15 minutes of arrival. I was ushered into a back room, vitals checked, told to change into a gown and then I sat and waited. And waited. And waited.

For an hour and a half.

I understand that there may well have been people there with emergent needs that needed attention more promptly than me, but after an hour and a half of sitting under the flourescent lights, gown flapping open at the back, head aching, lungs hacking, I was sure I was being forgotten.

Just as I was about to throw my clothes back on and ditch the whole thing, a doctor came scurrying in and my patience was rewarded with perhaps a total of three minutes of his rushed attention. He came in with a checklist, asked me a few rapid-fire questions. His manner was so hurried, the way he moved his pen across the papers in front of him, checking this and that. Then there was a quick check in the ears, a glance down my throat. He moved his stethoscope across my back and asked me to breath repeatedly, in such quick succession, I couldn't physically fill my lungs fast enough to follow his orders.

We all know this manner. You enter a store during a busy time and the sales associate is so rushed you feel brushed off and dismissed. Or you arrive at a restaurant before closing time and the staff can't wait to feed you and get you the hell out of there and go home. It's a disconcerting feeling and even moreso when you're not well.

Out came the prescription pad and the doctor started scribbling -- throwing a med at each of my symptoms. An antibiotic, a decongestant, a cough medicine. I had to interrupt him to explain that I was worried about my dis-ease at breathing.

"Are you worried about pneumonia?" he asked, briskly. (He was Indian and while I mean to offend no one, his accent was quite deep and he spoke so fast and my ears were so clogged I had difficulty following him.) "Do you think you might have it?"

Now, I'm a smart woman but I don't actually have a medical degree. I sort of thought that was his job to figure out. "No," I stammered. "I don't know. I just wondered..."

"Do you want a chest X-ray?" he asked.

What kind of question is that? Who wants a chest X-ray? I stammered some more and shrugged. I think I shook my head. He was already scribbling on the pad again. "This is an inhaler," he said. "Two puffs at a time. Two puffs."

"What is it for...?"

He was already heading for the door. "I'll do a chest x-ray," he announced, on his way out. "For pneumonia or walking pneumonia."

Something happens to girls when they are feeling very poorly and very tired. It may happen to men too, but I cannot speak from experience. We cry. We don't want to. We just feel little and sad and sick and the tears bubble up. I was fighting this, feeling rushed and confused, and my voice was cracking as I asked him. "Well, why? Do you think it might be pneumonia?"

He shook his head. "No, but we'll just check." He started to leave.

"What do you think it is, then?" I asked, just wanting a name for my crappiness. He told me it was probably sinusitis and that he'd be back in a bit.

Ten minutes later, my chest X-ray taken, I was fighting back tears and perched on the edge of the exam table again. The doctor came back in. He told me the X-rays looked fine to him, that it was probably just sinusitis and that I should take the slew of prescriptions, get them filled and see my doctor the next day.

Why on earth would I see my own doctor the next day if I came to the Urgent Care center that day? Especially considering our medical insurance doesn't cover doctor's visits. We were paying $160 out of pocket for the Urgent Care partly because it would be cheaper than my doctor's out of pocket fee. I didn't want to pay BOTH.

I got out of there just over two hours after I went in, with a fistful of prescriptions and a diagnosis and I was barely in the car before I burst into tears. My poor husband didn't know what to do with me. Yes, I had a diagnosis -- one I wasn't sure I had complete confidence in, given how little time I was given to explain myself to the doctor. I had a ton of prescriptions, which matched various symptoms, but which I wasn't sure I needed. (An inhaler? Really? I turned down the cough medicine with codeine because frankly the codeine was sounding WAY too appealing to me at the time.)

It was, all in all, a really dehumanizing experience. I didn't feel like I got any personal level of attention, just that I was a set of symptoms the doctor couldn't wait to treat-and-street (learned that one from ER) by scribbling out a bunch of prescriptions. Sure, now I know I have sinusitis. The symptoms all make sense, but I left there feeling distinctly un-cared for. What if I had been much sicker? Would my treatment have been any better? Would I have felt listened to? Would something potentially important have been overlooked in the interest of speed?

And, really, if the doctor spent that little time with all the patients, what the HELL was he doing for the bulk of the two hours I was there?

I'm not breaking news here with my story of how screwed up the healthcare system is. Today, I'm oddly saddened by the whole thing. I'm grateful for the fact that I have the money to pay for my visit; for a lot of people choosing to seek out healthcare can cause them real financial distress. So I'm one of the lucky ones.

Yes, I'm feeling a little better today. I'm on Cipro, so if you were thinking of sending me anthrax in the mail, I'm guessing now's a good time. I'm taking the decongestant, but passing on the inhaler, which just seems a bit...odd to me. I'm breathing better today anyway, if not about the state of the urgent care facility then at least about the fact that I don't have to go there again.