Misadventures in Medicine Part 1 (of 3)

Throughout life, especially dry foods have been difficult for me to swallow. I drink large portions of water when I eat and often can be seen taking large gulps to push food down. The difficulty varies drastically based on numerous variables I haven’t entirely figured out. It was only within the last few years that I realized this was abnormal and that perhaps I should get some medical assistance.

I moved to Los Angeles seven years ago. I was depressed and broke and it took a few years to get my life and finances in order. It also meant a few years with no medical coverage. I am a generally healthy person and have been lucky enough to avoid doctor’s offices and hospitals for most of life. Thus, when my employer offered me health care a few years ago, I didn’t spend much time thinking over my choices. I chose a doctor near the office and was happy to have medical options again.

I was approaching thirty and had not seen a doctor in several years—not since my food poisoning fiasco in the early part of the decade. A physical seemed like a good idea. Thus, began my relationship with my third-world doctor’s office. Not quite downtown, but nearly, is an inner-city area near MacArthur Park called Westlake. It is a low-income area known for gang violence and drug dealings. MacArthur Park was the location of the infamous May Day Melee in 2007. My previous experiences with the location were daily bus transfers during my bus-riding years where I was often lucky enough to meet people suffering from varying degrees of psychosis. This has little bearing on the doctor’s office other than to reinforce the setting: a run-down urban area that is relatively ignored by those that needn’t frequent it.

The doctor’s office was tiny—wedged between two other tiny offices (one a market and the other a dry cleaner I believe). The door opened onto a carpeted wheelchair ramp, yet the waiting room was so small the declining section working as a ramp offset the levelness of the entire room. The few chairs placed along the wall were nearly teetering on the edge of the decline. The carpet was a patchwork of stains, the walls decorated only in nails and chipping paint. An old window unit blared above the door. A small window and a door separated this miniscule waiting room from the rest of the office: two tiny rooms, a desk, and a small area for bloodwork. There was also a staircase above the chair used for bloodletting that I imagine lead to an upstairs apartment. The unit masquerading as a doctor’s office was clearly meant to be used as a small bookstore or cafe. My apartment is probably larger than the entire office. I would end up visiting this office several times and never did I see another male patient. The waiting room was always full of pregnant women or mothers with young children. It was obvious from the beginning that the office’s expertise would lie there.

I approached the window to announce my appointment and make my copay. I was informed that the office only accepted cash and was ushered across the street to a small grocer where I could use an ATM. I met the doctor, who was very personable and underwent the examination. Everyone at the facility was friendly and competent and although I felt like I was in a run-down free clinic or planned parenthood center, I shrugged it off. I don’t visit the doctor often. I would regret that decision early this year when my swallowing problems intensified.

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