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Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Remember Chicken Little?

He's the little feathered bastard who told everyone the sky was falling down. Don't you just hate fakers?

I used to be a faker, on occasion. When I knew I had a math test coming up that I hadn't studied for, or I just plain wanted to stay home, I would turn up the acting skills, surreptitiously lick my palms and hope I could slide past my mother's eagle eyes for a get-out-of-school free pass.

It rarely worked.

Even when I was legitimately sick, she would schedule the earliest possible appointment with Dr. Greene, my allergist, and he'd check me out and say, "Well, you're wheezing, so I want you to take two puffs of Ventolin, have a nebulizer treatment here, and then you'll be just fine to head off to school."

Sometimes I don't know why I loved that guy so much-- he was a real hardass. A smiling hardass, but a hardass nonetheless. Of course, bowtie-wearing intellectuals certainly realize the value of a good education, so he was rarely one to suggest staying home from school.

As many of you know, despite Dr. Greene's untimely death five years ago, I still go to my pediatric allergy and pulmonology office, and am seen by Dr. DiDario, who embodies much of Dr. Greene's personality traits. Fortunately, I don't have to worry about weaseling my way out of a day of school anymore. When I arrived for my appointment yesterday, I found a note on the office door, asking patients to use the "new entrance" down the hall. The tenant across the way had moved and my allergist's office was taking over almost the whole floor.

Change. Not my favorite pill.

So I signed in with the receptionist.

"How old are you now?" she asked.

"Uh...." I stalled, looking at all the pre-adolescents and their saggy mothers sitting in the waiting room. "Twenty-nine."

"You've been coming here a long time," she remarked.

"I have, and proudly so," I replied even though, for perhaps the first time, I was a little self-conscious about my age, perhaps because one of the droop-mothers was staring at me as if my penis was hanging out of my fly.

I sat down and pretended to read "Road & Track" while I observed the clientele around me. Next to me, there was a sixteen year old d-bag wearing a gray t-shirt and ripped jeans. He was sprawled out on the burgundy, vinyl couch fast asleep while his younger brother was inside getting an allergy shot. Over in the far corner, a fake-blonde mom was attempting to operate her new iPhone while her two sons strangled each other on the floor. I'm sure it was all in good fun. A small girl by the window was diligently picking her nose while her mother texted away on a slider phone. A ten-year-old child was mesmerized by the film playing on the wall-mounted flatscreen TV.

"Chicken Little."

When I finally went in for my appointment, Dr. DiDario did something unheard of-- he won a battle with me. For well over a decade, Dr. Greene tried to persuade me to get my tonsils removed. Every single time I'd come in for a visit, sick or well, he'd look in my mouth and say something to the effect of,

"Wow. Those things are huge and they're disgusting. I want to set you up with an ENT to have them taken out."

"No thanks," was my mother's, and later on my party line. Same with the dentist and braces. And look where that's got me. Two days ago a teenager called me "Bunnicula."

Well, ever since I started seeing Dr. DiDario, he's been pressuring me to get scratch tests to determine whether or not my allergies have changed.

"When was the last time you got skin tested?" he asked. They don't call it "scratch tests" anymore because that's "scary."

"Um... probably 1986."

He stared at me.

"Are you serious?"

"Um, yeah. I think so. Might have '87."

He flipped seemingly endless papers in my chart, and then turned the whole thing over and started right back at the beginning. He got to a page, looked up at me and smiled.


He then made the case for new scratch tests, citing that I was still having breating issues and that if my triggers have changed, we can only address them if we know what they are. It's hard when a rational man tries to reason with an irrational man, but he did it successfully, only after convincing me that my shitty insurance would pay for it.

The nurse came in to administer the tests.

"Are you nervous?" she asked.

"Well, the last time I had this done, the nurse squirted medicine into her own eye and then scratched the hell out of my back, I remember lying, face-down on the table and screaming... but I noticed that you left the door to this room open, so it can't be that bad now."

She laughed.

"No. It's much better. This test is called the Comfort 10."

Then I laughed.

But it was seriously just fine, a small amount of rubbing and tingling on my right arm in ten different places to test for ten different allergy triggers-- dust mites, cats, dogs, trees, grasses, etc.

She left the room and said that she'd be gone for about ten minutes. She left my whole chart on the exam table next to me. I couldn't resist. So much of my life was in that very thick volume. I flipped away.

First visit, October 25th, 1986. I weighed 43 pounds. Chief complaint, wheezing and coughing. Dr. Greene's improbably small chicken scrawl littered the page. I flipped further, to a typed page, something I could actually read. It was a physician's report from the Children's Seashore House at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. One morning in June of 1992, I woke up with a fever, a rash on my stomach and extreme pain in my legs, such that I could not move them without agony. I could not walk. Refusing a bedpan, I would throw myself out of bed and army-crawl to the bathroom, which was fortunately only eight or so feet away from my bedroom at the time. My parents took me to Dr. Greene, and he referred me to Dr. Balu Atraia, an Indian physician in his middle fifties whom I took great pleasure in imitating in months and years after. After my examination by Dr. Atraia, he had a private conference with my parents, and I remember suspecting that he was telling them I was faking to get attention of some kind.

At various points in my adult life, I harkened back to that moment and was filled with shame that maybe I had made it all up for some twisted psychological reason-- maybe I was really a faker. A fraud. A sham.

As I read through Dr. Atraia's note, I kept searching for the word "malingerer" which is leagalese/medical jargon for "fucking faker." I couldn't find it. I read through his findings-- I read that I was a "typically developing normal, circumcised male" and that made me feel better. I saw Dr. Greene had circled some key phrases in the report, "noticeable skin warmth on left thigh." "Acute tenderness upon forced movement." "Patient is most probably recovering from a severe viral infection and is suffering from neuralgia as a result of that illness." He recommended pool therapy, which I did, and pain medication, which I took.

"One day," Dr. Atraia said to me with his hot, foreign breath, "you will wake up and this will be gone, just as quickly as it came."

And it was.

And Chicken Little walked again.


  1. I don't think I've ever been to the same doctor more than a couple times. Sigh... it would be so nice to be able to look through all my history like that.

    Or, at least, to have a DOCTOR who was able to.

  2. Bunnicula was an awesome book series. It's a compliment.

  3. you didn't bleed when you had the skin test. i bleed like a motherfucker. i blame my white skin and red hair

  4. This post couldn't have come at a more relevant time for me.
    I've been feeling some sort of "general malaise" for almost week now.

    I went to the doctor this morning to get bloodwork.

    Now I'm just waiting for the phone call when they say "everything checks out okay," and I'm officially labeled around the office as a faker.

    I hate hate HATE when that happens. *sigh

  5. I love just saying "malaise". It's such a great word. And you can so easily affect a British accent to say it.

  6. I've missed you so! It's so nice to be back in the swing of blog reading, even if it means consorting with fakers....

  7. I've been to the doctor just once (and never been to a hospital), I think when I was about 1 year old, for my first round of inoculations.

    I think I had polio and maybe one or two others. Apparently I was a bit afraid, and he said something to the effect of 'Oh, afraid of needles? But you're a big boy!' (in a malevolent way, of course).

    And I never went back...

    And I've turned out just fine! Hopefully I will never have to visit a doctor again!


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