It was the fourth day in a row Joe had woken up with a sore throat, and the first day he had woken up with a fever. The assistant on his phone automatically made him an appointment when the fever kicked in during the night. His watch vibrated, displaying a reminder for the doctors visit that was only two hours away. Any other time he could just do a virtual visit like everyone else, but once a fever set in his insurance required he make a physical trip to the doctor. An automated email had been sent by the doctor’s office to Joe’s boss to let him know he wouldn’t be at work today. It wasn’t as invasive as the free insurance he had as a student, which would keep and send records of his health to the government health offices. His boss knowing he was sick wasn’t nearly as bad as some intern at the health department selling his STD history to a corporate partner and thus making half the ads on his phone for embarrassing creams and pills for almost two years.
Joe rolled out of bed, the back of his throat was so swollen and his mouth so dry he could hardly swallow. The sun was still not quite out. He turned on a lamp and stumbled over to the bathroom to get ready. It would take him at least an hour to get to the doctors office mentioned in the message. He quickly showered, brushed his teeth, and got dressed in some more comfortable jeans and sweater as opposed to his normal work slacks and button down shirt. Joe pulled an old red hoodie from his dresser and laced up his boots. The vibrations on his watch told him someone was trying to get his attention but he knew it would just be his boss telling him to let him know if he was coming into work after the appointment or not. He thought about making a cup of coffee or eating something but after checking the time he figured it was best to just get something after the appointment was over.
He turned his car on from the kitchen so the heater could warm up. The notifications on his phone were relatively constant so he gave up and checked them. It was, in fact, his boss telling him that he really needed some sort of reports sent to him by the end of the day if he was feeling up to it after he saw the doctor. Joe remembered that he was supposed to send in the report data the day before but fell asleep on the couch after eating dinner. He responded with a canned option to let him know it would get done that day. After he got back from the doctor. After he had breakfast. And after he actually compiled the reports in the first place. The cold air outside cooled his throat as he went down the stairs to his car. His fever cut the chill for the most part but sitting down in his warm car made him want to curl up in the seat and take a nap.
Joe took his time driving to the doctors office. Since it was past rush hour it didn’t take nearly as long as it typically did, leaving him time to sit in the parking garage nearby and check his work email on his phone. His buddy had sent him a funny pic, and his boss sent him another check-in about work but had sympathetically flavored by including a link to some holistic website that gave tips on how to cure a sore throat naturally by putting river stones in your mouth or some other nonsense. He checked a few games on his phone and updated his status online as “At the doctor’s office.” followed by a sad face emoji.
He walked down the sidewalk to the entrance of the purple painted building. The clinic was attached to a large hospital and a lab where elderly people were coming in and out of that morning for blood work and 6am appointments. Joe entered the lobby of the building and checked the screens on the wall for what floor his doctor was on. He had been once before but this office liked to hop floors once a year. Luckily it hadn’t moved from the last time he came in and he headed to the steel elevators at the back of the room. Hospital elevators seemed much slower than ones in offices or hotels, at least he felt they were. He got in and pressed the button for the sixth floor and waited for the doors to close. There was never music in a hospital elevator, what music could you possibly want to hear while at the doctors office? He thought. The elevator paused at the fourth floor to let a doctor in. Joe assumed she was a doctor, considering the hospital-issued mint green surgical scrubs and hair tied up in a matching cap. She was also wearing hilariously expensive Nike cross trainers, something a busy doctor would be able to not only afford but actually need. She answered a call on her phone, and got off on the fifth floor, where the maternity ward was. He knew this because the poster on the wall when the doors opened had a framed photo of a mother in full makeup with a new baby taken in impossibly soft lighting.
The bell chimed at the 6th floor and the doors opened. Joe walked out into the carpeted hallway and headed down the long corridor. Another notification rang on his phone, this time telling him he had fifteen minutes to get to his appointment. He signed, and turned his phone to silent. The office number was 402, he checked each doorway tag to make sure even though he knew which one he was supposed to go to was at the very end of the hall. He pushed the glass doors open and walked across the false wooden flooring to the lady at the counter.
“Yes, can I help you?” She said, not even looking up from what she was doing on the computer at her station.
“I’ve got an appointment at 8:30?”
The woman, eyes still glued to the screen she was frantically trying to input chart data onto, handed him a tablet and asked him to take a seat.
Joe thanked her and walked over to one of the plastic red seats bolted to the floor. It looked more like a retro futurist bus stop than a waiting room. There were several elderly patients waiting, reading the magazines from the wooden side tables. A mother with two kids was trying to wrangle a little boy with a runny nose. Someone’s husband was asleep in a chair in the corner, clearly too early in the morning for him to be taking someone to an appointment. He sat down and looked over the tablet, he filled in his name and birthday and hit send. A full page of medical history and current symptoms showed up for him to verify. He hit send again and double checked his insurance information. The final button instructed him to return the tablet to the front desk. He got up and left the tablet on the counter. The woman at the front took it and placed it into a charging station, still hammering away stats into her computer.
There was an old TV mounted to the corner wall that was playing a local news stations morning show. The presenters were dressed like they were going to a dinner date at 8am, and were entirely too energetic for anyone at this time of day. Anything one of them brought up was simply amazing to the other as though they never heard of holiday baking before in their lives. A local chef was on showing the two how to make Christmas cookies. The volume was plenty loud, but the TV still had subtitles turned on, because anyone who was this hard of hearing would totally be able to read tiny white letters flashing on the screen at a million miles an hour. Joe rubbed his throat, the dry air in the building was causing it to feel dry and itchy.
A nurse opened the door to the waiting room and called out his name. Joe followed the nurse down the short hallway, got his weight and temperature checked, and entered the small exam room. The nurse then proceeded to ask him what was wrong. Joe told her about the sore throat, and his watch caught the fever and made him come in. The nurse laughed, saying the automated “watch doctors” were keeping their office busy all the time now.
“The doctor will be in shortly.” Was the last thing he heard for nearly twenty minutes. Joe could hear someone talking in the exam room next to him for a long while. He sat on a long exam table that was covered in thin tissue paper that crinkled loudly as he shifted around. The walls were covered in old posters with anatomical drawings of the workings of the inner ear, the colon, and several government posters promoting healthy eating of vegetables and drinking more water. There were anti-smoking posters that showed an elderly woman smoking with the words “Cessation products work at any age.” followed by an image of nicotine gum and an vape pen. There were youth posters reminding teens to get std immunizations and such. The typical doctor’s office stuff
Finally there was tiny knock on the door. An older thin gentleman entered the room, and apologized for the wait. He asked how Joe was doing, knowing full well he was sick, as it was common courtesy. The doctor held a tablet that he was skimming through, asking him some basic questions about his medical history to verify he was talking to the right “Joe”. He pulled out some instruments and checked his ears, and throat. “Ah yep there’s our problem right there.” He said, looking in Joe’s mouth. “Let me do a little test here but I think I know what I’m looking at.” He said, walking over to the little counter by the wall, grabbing a swab kit and unwrapping a tiny white paper tipped stick. “Alright, you’re going to feel a little tickling in the back of the throat but it should only take a second.” He said, and tapped the back of Joe’s throat with the paper. Joe’s throat was so sore he couldn’t really feel the paper touch him. The doctor took the paper stick and placed it into a grey plastic device. “Takes about thirty seconds, but I’m fairly sure…” He said as a little green light lit up on the device. The tablet he was holding lit up with the results. “Yep, you have strep. I’m sending you a set of antibiotics and a fever kit.” He said tapping away at the tablet, “You still live at 903 Inwood apartments?”
Joe nodded and the doctor sent his medications to his building. “They should be there by the time you get back.” he said, and asked Joe if he had any other questions for him. Joe said no, and thanked the doctor before he hopped out to the next exam room. Before Joe could hop down from the exam table the doctor lightly tapped on the door again. “We just got these lozenge samples in this morning, have a few, should help with the pain till the meds kick in.” Joe thanked him again and took the little paper bag of throat drops. He left the office and went back out through the waiting room. Joe checked his watch, the whole ordeal took only twenty minutes but seemed like an hour. The guy was still asleep over in the corner.
The drive home seemed quicker than the drive to the doctors office. Joe was going to order some soup to be delivered to his apartment but none of the restaurants were open just yet for lunch. For a moment he thought he would quit his job to start a breakfast soup delivery company for sick people, but gave up and pulled into a coffee drive thru for a drink and a kolache. Anything warm was going to help and he had to eat something before taking antibiotics. Joe pulled into his parking spot at his apartments and walked down to the main office. The notification for his prescription delivery came way before he arrived which meant they left it in the lobby for him. He went inside the office where the door guy was helping a guy with some faulty keys. There was a wall of lockers for secure deliveries that could be opened with your apartment key. “Hey Joe, it’s in 7b. You just missed it.”