Friday, April 15, 2016

The Walk-In Clinic Dilemma

Any parent of a young child has been in this situation. It is the weekend. Your child is unwell and their symptoms are vacillating between wait-until-Monday-manageable and emergency-room-alarming. Your options are grim:

1.      Administer copious amounts of children’s Tylenol, vow to ride it out until you can get to the pediatrician and spent the rest of the day or evening worrying that you have made the wrong decision because against all odds they have Scarlett Fever.

2.      Take them to a walk-in clinic only to be informed that “it is viral, pay at the front-desk” and spend the rest of the day or evening worrying that you made the wrong decision because you have needlessly exposed your child’s compromised immune system to a buffet of far more serious communicable diseases.

On a particular Sunday a few weeks ago, I decided to take option 2. Our son was vomiting, running a 103 degree fever, and acting lethargic. So, fancying myself wiser than the average bear, I decided to get right at the walk-in clinic within 18 minutes of it opening its doors. The place was already swamped. I had to take a number and wait 20 minutes just for the privilege of signing in. Meanwhile, I positioned my son and his vomit bucket as far away from the other patients as possible (the one nearest to us looked like a female Unabomber and may have already passed away).

As a final insult, the staff had chosen to loudly broadcast The Food Network on both televisions in the waiting area. This struck me as an odd choice given the likelihood of nausea amongst their patrons. Everyone knows that waiting room etiquette dictates TV Land, The Gameshow Network, or The Weather Channel. I was not even the patient, but another hour of watching Bobby Flay make gumbo and I was going to make use of the sick-bag.

They also had a “children’s area” which consisted of an alcove, one rocking chair, and a dilapidated bead table that still bore the name of the pharmaceutical company that donated it. Despite this, my son kept asking to go to the toy area and I told him that he had to wait until the child that sounded like he had consumption was called back.

Eventually, the coast was clear and I reluctantly relocated our operation to the children’s corner. We were there about 10 minutes when a young girl approached us and inquired as to the purpose of the bucket. I responded that it was just in case my son needed to repeat any of his digestive pyrotechnics from earlier. She then peered into the bucket and asked why it was empty if he had already “thrown up.” I responded that I hadn’t brought his earlier vomit with me. She found the strange enough to ask why I had left it at home. Mercifully her mother interrupted this line of questioning and I was spared further inquiries about the puke-pail.

Once an hour had passed, we were called back for the standard strep / flu test combo. Sadly, they still did not have an available exam room so we were directed back into the waiting area until such a time that a space had become available. In the brief time that we were gone, several more patients had arrived and Bobby Flay had moved on to dessert.

Finally, we were taken to an exam room where we languished for another twenty minutes. My son kept asking the purpose of the retractable stirrups and I think I spouted off some vague analogy about the car-lift that our mechanic uses. The doctor came in and was friendly, but informed me that “it is viral, just wait it out and make sure he drinks plenty of fluids.” I asked them to bill my insurance.
Two and a half hours later we left with a sucker, an ambiguous diagnosis, and exposure to every communicable disease in a three-county radius.

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