Category Archives: socially awkward

The time elevators had better health care than U.S. citizens

One recent morning, I arrived at the bottom of the 16-floor medical building I work in to find all four elevators were out of service. Right as my finger was about to press the “up” button, a woman’s voice, dripping with frustration and fatigue, told me the elevators were broken. Right on cue, a nearby man told me that the doors from the stairs require a key card. His heavy breathing told me this fact came right from the source. So I sat on the floor, resigned to the fact that I would be late to work. Building maintenance showed up shortly after to announce the elevators weren’t working (no shit, Sherlock), and the elevator company was on-site working as fast as they could but they didn’t know when the elevators would be restored. With an attitude of accomplishment like they had just solved world hunger, maintenance announced that a staff member would hold each door open so we may all get to our appointments. A young woman with a 3-6 month old baby asleep against her chest looked astonished that maintenance acted as if her 16 floor stair climb were a gift they gave to her. Clucks of disapproval and frustration echoed through the small crowd that had now amassed at the elevators. This irritation escalated when an elderly woman with a cane was told to climb the stairs to her appointment. “Why am I not surprised,” a disgruntled voice mumbled next to me, “It is the American health system.” My smirk of approval broke the Seattle freeze ice and we began to chat.

As it turned out, Eric* recently had a medical emergency in France requiring x-ray’s, blood tests, and an exam at an ER. Even though he wasn’t a French citizen, he was treated better than most appointments he had in the U.S. When it came time for his bill, he braced himself for the damage. The doctor, full of guilt, said she would unfortunately have to bill him $29 USD. After quite a bit of stammering and checking that he heard correctly, a relieved Eric paid his bill and left feeling bewildered.

Toward the end of Eric’s story, elevator car 3 (most creative name ever!), which had been stuck open this whole time, finally closed. I guess it collected enough flies. I’m choosing to believe the subsequent dings it uttered were saying “yum yum.” Then car 3 opened its doors and lit up its lights, signalling it was ready to resume its normal job. Perhaps this snafu had just been a lunch break? The first wave of people, myself included, were packed into the elevator like sardines. Just as my claustrophobia and elevator fear started kicking in, the doors closed. Car 3 then let out a screech like it was attempting to give birth to a baby, stopped, and after what seemed like a year, opened its doors. I shot out of the elevator, as plummeting to my death was not on the agenda.

Once I was safe on the floor of the lobby once again, I decided I should share my experience with medical care abroad with Eric. While scuba diving in Australia, I surfaced in a swarm of jellyfish and was stung at least 6 times in 30 seconds. That was the day I learned I was allergic to that kind of jellyfish venom. The total cost of my emergency treatment was $75. Eric and I agreed that universal healthcare treated people like they matter. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., the elevators were getting faster, more thorough care than humans do.

After half an hour of waiting, I decided to climb the stairs to the 8th floor, despite my hip injury and asthma. I had to stop in the middle and take my inhaler. By the time I reached the 8th floor, my hip had seized up and I was limping. But I made it! I did something hard and didn’t quit. I was there to open the office and hold down the fort until everyone else made it up. I was a hero…..until my coworker stepped off the working elevator about 10 minutes after I got to the 8th floor. In retrospect, I probably wasn’t quite hero material anyway.

 

*Name has been changed.

The time I sounded like Darth Vader

I’ve always wondered why Darth Vader sounds like he has emphysema. I realize he was burned in a fire and everything, but with the technology that was available in the world of Star Wars, I don’t understand why he sounds like a scuba diver who can’t conserve their air. After yesterday, when I went to a consult and training to use my new CPAP, I’m convinced Darth Vader must have just had sleep apnea.

My CPAP instructor, Garth*, had some surprising insight. During his college years, he worked part time at a movie theater in Portland, Oregon. This theater just happened to be playing the longest continuous run of Star Wars in North America, so he knew the movie better than the textbooks he studied while monitoring the projector. After all other US theaters had retired their Star Wars run, people began to travel from all over the country just to visit this theater. One evening, Garth noticed a middle-aged, short, slightly pudgy man trying to remain incognito in the back of the theater. Garth approached him and whispered, “You’re George Lucas, aren’t you?” “Yes,” he said, “but don’t tell anyone.” So Garth then balanced his fan boy dreams with keeping his squeaky, star-struck voice to a whisper. As it turns out, Darth Vader’s helmet acted as a respirator for his severely burned lungs. In the 1970s, the idea of a quiet respirator wasn’t really a priority. A device that could prolong life was already fascinating enough. Despite the advanced technology in Star Wars, the audience still needed to understand the severity of Darth Vader’s condition, and a noisy respirator was the best way to convey this message. Who knew that my visit to a sleep medicine clinic would yield such fascinating insight? This is what happens when the Seattle Freeze melts.

May the 4th be with you all…once the day arrives.

*name has been changed

The time pens were phallic

I have a tumultuous relationship with sleep, almost as if my body is holding a grudge. Perhaps long ago, sleep deeply offended my body and now I am involuntarily punishing it. Sleep must jump through hoops to finally find me. The sandman is stopped at the figurative gates around my fatigued fortress until every demand is met: 1) no lights, 2) no noise, 3) no wrinkled sheets, 4) no shoulder pain … 576) no hunger or thirst, 577) an absolutely empty bladder, 578) no crumbs in the bed… I think you get the idea. So when my doctor suggested visiting a sleep clinic, I decided it was worth a shot.

It’s important to note that I am not a morning person, so of course I took an early appointment before work. Apparently the noise I made when my alarm went off sounded a bit like a hippo giving birth. I was slightly more awake, though still sluggish, when my venti vanilla latte and I arrived at the sleep clinic. When I sat down in front of the woman who would be checking me in, I noticed a basket full of pens with fake flowers glued to them. Despite the fact that flower pens are about as plentiful as Starbucks stores in Seattle, the container was still labeled “pens.” Except that it wasn’t. Some cheeky asshole had added an ‘I’ in a very convenient place. Maybe it was my tired state, or maybe the sandman mixed something in with my sleeping dust, but I found this far too funny. Like burst out laughing and snort funny. Then, in a voice far louder than I intended, I blurted, “you know your pen cup says penis, right?” The poor check-in woman starred at me with wide-eyes and proceeded to turn several shades of red. With evident dread, she picked up the pen cup and peeked at the sign. She sat silently for a moment, and then in a squeaky mutter told me she would be right back. She stepped into the back and let out a bellowing laugh. I was pretty impressed that she held it together long enough to retreat into an employee area. I was called back shortly after and didn’t get a chance to say much else. On my way out after the appointment, she held up the cup with the new label she created. It said, “flower pen.” No ‘S’. Perhaps grammatically incorrect but far safer. I gave her a smirk and a thumbs up.

For the record, the sleep doc found a couple things she could treat, so hopefully I can soon lower the drawbridge and welcome sleep without so many barriers. I can just picture myself now, waiting to greet sleep with open arms. As he approaches, I get to say, “Enter Sandman!”

The time I was an 8-year-old

I envy people born on February 29th. I’m not old enough to start lying about my age in the traditional way, but my sense of humor is still in the single digits. I love poop. And farts. And making fart noises. Oh and whoopee cushions too! If I were born on February 29th, I wouldn’t be lying when I said I’ve only had 8 birthdays. I think I must be giving off some sort of smelly, brown aura, because complete strangers like to talk to me about feces. So do my friends, but they already know how well received the subject will be.

I was sitting at my work desk, not actually thinking about butt truffles, when I hear “don’t wipe back to front!” coming from the single-stall bathroom. That was followed by screams of protest and a couple thuds. While my curiosity and concern were battling for my brain’s attention, the younger of the two women emerged. She explained that her dear old mother had dementia and liked saving her dirty toilet paper. Five different soiled clumps of toilet paper had just been removed from various bodily nooks and crannies. My favorite was the armpit. I’m pretty sure that’s the most eventful thing that happened in the bathroom this entire month. That is, until the bathroom door opened again, revealing this pleasantly oblivious mom and her bare ass. Oh, and it turns out she missed a spot, which she announced to the entire waiting room. The bug-eyed, mortified, bright red daughter hastily shooed her mother back into the bathroom. There was silence…and then more yelling. And thuds. When the pair emerged, everyone had all of their clothes on. The daughter explained to the entire room, myself included, that her mother had been throwing a fit because she couldn’t keep her dirty toilet paper wad. “She just wanted a souvenir,” I said. The daughter snorted and relaxed a little bit. In that moment, we were both 8-year-olds.

The time I didn’t jaywalk

I really like it when naughty words come out of unexpected mouths. If I ever had the deafness required to own a macaw, I would teach it every swear word I know because its funny to hear that Polly wants a fucking cracker. However, There should really be a special place in hell for people who yell insults out car windows. Come to think of it, I don’t want to hear about what some pervert thinks of my ass-ets from a car window either. And no, that’s not an invitation to get out of the car!

It was an unusually sunny Seattle day, deep in the concrete jungle of First Hill, when I was the victim of this damning behavior. As I began crossing the street, I stepped approximately 3.67934 feet outside the white paint of the crosswalk. Apparently this act was so offensive to one Seattle driver that he shattered the ice on his Seattle freeze by yelling, “that’s jaywalking, you bitch!” I was tempted to throw my milkshake on the front of his car, but it was really yummy and I wanted to drink it. Instead, I did the unthinkable. I ignored him. Just flat out pretended my ears were considerably older than the rest of my body. Then I saw an elderly woman ambling towards me in the crosswalk. The indignant look she gave that squawking driver proved her ears were younger than mine were pretending to be. “Stupid fucker,” she mumbled, prompting me to giggle so hard I snorted a teeny bit of my milkshake. “Not you dear,” she assured me, and then kept walking. I wonder if she has a bird.

The time I joined another world

The tangled web of emotions that come with Dementia would put most spiders to shame. I’m terrified of spiders but not Dementia and I don’t know why. The idea of having such a debilitating and confusing disease really should scare me more than something smaller than my palm (in Seattle anyway). My years in patient care taught me how to be more comfortable with Dementia. Yes, I’ve seen a man break a toilet. I’ve seen a woman experience grief over her husband’s passing, over and over again, every time she remembered. But there is more to the disease. When the mood is right, talking with a dementia patient can be like entering another world. I’ve seen the joy on a soldiers face when he talked about seeing his wife again after the war. I’ve been instructed how to properly fold laundry by the owner of a laundromat. I’ve even chased a purple cat through a house the size of a small mall. I really did enjoy that cat. I like cats. Most important, I’ve met people where they are in their mind while keeping them safe in this world.

When an elderly couple and their son arrived at my office for an exam they seemed like any other loving family. The wife immediately complimented the flower arrangement in the lobby. Multiple times. I just figured she was in to gardening and told her I appreciated her thoughts. She then approached the holy grail known as our candy bowl. “I think I’ll have two,” she said with a mischievous smile. I told her to go for it, only to have her son interject and take the candy away. He explained that she has dementia and often forgets that she’s diabetic. Oops, my bad. I listened as she told her son more about how much she loved my flowers and how she kept meaning to get in to gardening again. Though he was aware her health wouldn’t allow this, he suggested they go buy some seeds later. I instantly liked the son as I saw the smile spread wide across her face. A few minutes after their exam started, the woman emerged and made a beeline to the bathroom. I thought nothing of it until her son peaked his head out to look for her. We found her in the bathroom scrubbing the toilet. “You don’t have to do that,” her son said in a rather amused tone, “work is over for the day.” She squeaked with child-like delight and zoomed back into the exam room with her husband. The son turned to me and said, “sometimes you just have to live in her world.” Yes indeed, good sir, you do!

The time someone else worried about elevators

Elevators and airplanes have a lot in common, mainly because they both involve cramming into tight spaces with strangers and hurling through space. Also, a malfunction with either one could mean certain death. Not that I’m being dramatic or anything. Contrary to what my rambling seems to indicate, I love elevators for saving me and my asthmatic lungs from climbing 8 flights of stairs every day. I’ve always thought of elevators as inoffensive since people can just choose not to use them. That is, until I met Mark and Steve (names have been changed).

Mark entered my office in a stressed-out state. Due to a building-wide remodel, remnants of unfinished construction assaulted the eyes with bare, bright white walls and the ears with clanging, banging, and crunching loud enough to wake the dead. Among the chaos was an elevator covered only by plywood and a “pardon our mess” sign. This seemed to be triggering for Mark. A few years back, he had purchased an office building with plans to set up his practice and rent the other offices. He just had to make it ADA compliant with a ramp and elevator. Soon after the purchase, he discovered it would take over a year before an elevator could be installed. After that, it would be at least another year before he could get the elevator inspected. Also, the elevator would cost almost as much as the building to install. He held out for two years, unable to bring in any money from his investment, before selling the building at a loss. Lets just say elevators were a real sore spot for him. Steve, who had been silently listening from his chair in the waiting room corner, shed some light on the situation. The building he owns includes two elevators freshly built and ready for inspection. Well, they were fresh 3 years ago. Now they just sit unused because of a shortage of qualified elevator inspectors. Don’t worry though; he’s on the waiting list. The two men continued exchanging stories about the maddening process of building renovations and ended up leaving together. It would seem the cure for the Seattle freeze can be found in shared suffering.