my last sisterly act

I often tell the story of how I went to have a blood test in the hospital lab and ended up hitting my head on a metal grate and going into seizure. The part I usually leave out is how I got there. That part happened over three years prior.

When I was a freshman in high school, my mother sent my sister and me to see our doctor for a wellness check – alone and by bus. At that point my sister and I were going to different schools – actually we had been for a while. As we were to get to the doctor’s office by bus, I remember we had some plan devised (using paper bus schedules) such that my sister and I would meet up on the bus, so we would make it on time.

My school was a few miles further from hers, but we had figured out when my sister needed to be at the stop to meet me. I think the plan was that I would wave to her from the back door or something. Whatever it was it worked, but we still had to transfer and almost an hour of travel ahead of us – we had to get to the other side of the San Fernando Valley.

We finally arrived at the doctor’s office, and knew the drill. If you haven’t had Kaiser insurance, let me explain. You check in at the front desk, hand over your insurance card, pay your co-pay, and then you are handed a clipboard with paperwork and told where to go.

You fill out your paperwork in a seating area that reminds me of an airport lounge. You are basically at the gate. Your doctor is over in the plane. To gain access to the plane, you place your clipboard with your filled out paperwork into the mail slot in the wall. There is something indescribable (and bone chilling) about the sound you hear as your clipboard hits the other side.

You then sit and wait until your name is finally called, trying to avoid the people coughing and sneezing – you don’t want to get sick and actually need to come back. It felt like we waited for a while, but that may have been more a feeling than reality. I think the nurse was a bit surprised to see two teenage girls there without a parent (and not “in trouble”), but she got on with it.

I don’t remember much about what happened at the doctor’s office aside from the fact that we were asked many questions that we couldn’t answer and that our records didn’t seem up to date. We were clearly frustrating the poor nurse. There really weren’t cell phones then, so we had no way of getting a hold of our mom who was out in the field to help fill in the blanks.

It was decided that we were overdue on our immunizations. We were each given a couple of booster shots and also had to take some drops under our tongues. Being the needlephobe that I am, I am sure it was not pleasant.

Then another nurse came by and rattled off a bunch of lab tests our doctor wanted done. I remember this quite clearly, as the nurse who had just finished vaccinating us made us promise that we would go to the lab, because she was going to have to fill out a lot of paperwork for all those tests.

Maybe I crossed my fingers as I promised we would, and we watched and waited for her to fill out the multiple forms in quadruplicate. Maybe I also thought that filling out paperwork was a lot less painless than getting poked and prodded.

After several minutes, the nurse finally handed us all the forms (they love their paperwork at Kaiser) and told us how to get to the lab. I walked outside (sensing freedom was just a dash across the street) with my sister and realized it was getting late. The sun was about to set. There was no question I didn’t want to go to the lab, but I also knew we had at least another hour’s travel ahead of us, and as it got later, we risked having to wait longer for our connection as well as coming across the weirdos who seemed to ride the RTD after dark.

I made the executive decision to head home. I told my sister that as long as she didn’t tell, we could just hop on the bus and skip the lab. She had had enough of the doctors for one day too, and agreed. It was probably the last time we acted like sisters. Devious, but still sisterly. She didn’t rat me out.

Skip forward three years. We had moved twice. I had changed schools. My sister had been disowned and sent to live with our grandmother on the other side of the country. But I freaked out because I misheard the butcher and wrote the wrong amount on the check, and suddenly found myself back at the doctor’s office for a hearing test. This time my mom took me.

It wasn’t even at the visit, but maybe a week or so after, when the doctor realized there were no results from all those tests he had ordered three years prior. He called my mom and told her that he didn’t have any lab work on file for me, but that she could take me to the hospital closer to us to have it done.

When she confronted me about it, I confessed. I think mostly because the paperwork was all still upstairs in my underwear drawer. I never threw it away, despite the moves and everything else that happened. Maybe I felt bad for the nurse after all, or maybe it was this final and strange connection to my sister.

I think I actually brought the forms downstairs and showed my mom. I explained how it was late and we were tired and I was worried we would get lost on the bus in the dark, having only been out that way once before. I also tried to reason that since I had remained healthy all this time (I passed the hearing test and never missed a day of school), it really didn’t seem necessary to analyze my blood. I really really didn’t want to go to get poked with a needle.

Amazingly, my mom didn’t get mad at me. She knew I didn’t like needles or doctors (our pediatrician used to make us wait in the coat closet so I wouldn’t upset the other children). And even more surprising, she said that if I was good, she would take me prom dress shopping after. Of course, that didn’t happen.

Instead, in my teenage angst, I got up too fast after multiple vials of blood were taken, bent over to get a drink of water from the fountain (at my mother’s behest), and fell the other way onto the hard floor, my head landing dead center on the heating grate. I left with a big bump on my head (and mild concussion) after a brief stint in the ER, instead of spending the day shopping with my mom.

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