How can I describe literally the most unbelievable doctor’s appointment I have ever had? I want to draw you a picture of Alice falling down a rabbit hole into Wonderland, but instead of finding the Mad Hatter she finds a crazy, anti-communist doctor who oddly resembles Albert Einstein.
In order to finish the paperwork for my visa (which I’m beginning to think is actually just a hoax run by people with a sick fascination for watching others run through bureaucratic mazes like lab rats) I needed to get cleared by a doctor. Just a quick visit to make sure I wasn’t radiating nuclear waste or coughing up organs.
The doctor, pre-approved by the school where I’ll be working, has a home office – that is to say, his office is in the basement of a large relic of a house on top of a hill. The basement.
In the waiting room with Jerry, who was there to translate for me, I sifted through a European Fashion magazine (that’s a story in itself) and wondered which bus lines would be easiest to sneak my accordion onto. All was normal.
The nurse – also a normal seeming person – ushered us into the doctor’s office and immediately I knew I was in for a ride. Like an animal that can smell something foreign or hazardous, I arched my back and felt a sick feeling flood over me like a topless convertible in a car wash.
I kid you not, the room actually had a smell. At first I thought I was just imagining this invisible cloud of odor sensors that basically sang, “Leave while you can! This work space would not be accredited by the American Medical Association!” But as we got nearer it became very apparent that our doctor was a bit of a smoker.
At that moment, the doctor spun around and addressed me … in German. Briefly, the thought flitted over my frontal lobes that this might be Einstein re-incarnate. His fly-away, definitely-not-combed-this-morning hair was a scruffy silver and hung well over his ears and neck. Behind his spectacles his slightly cross-eyed gaze pierced mine with all the sharpness of a used pencil. While I’m sure he is in fact a qualified professional, I felt extremely uncomfortable sitting down. Jerry caught my eye and, smiling, mouthed out, “Mad Doctor?”
Yes, super mad. He took my passport and began entering information on a computer that may be the last existing proof that the ‘90s actually happened. I decided not to correct him when he spelled my name wrong but Jerry took the initiative to step in and help him out.
“She’s not Czech, her name is spelled M-A-R-Y,” Jerry explained patiently in Czech. “There’s no E.”
The little old man looked at me and asked in Czech, “You’re not Czech?”
“Ne, jsem Američanka.“
Elation rushed into his face.
“Američanka?“ he asked. Then, with huge grin, he began chanting, “U-S-A, U-S-A!”
He must have told me I had a beautiful passport eight times. Jerry translated several questions like, “Have you ever had surgery?” or “Are you left-handed?” and then the two of them began talking in Czech about something on my passport. I looked around the room.
On one wall were several plaques in Czech that I didn’t understand. Near the other wall was a set of file cabinets. Every drawer was open, papers piled high. The table by the examining table had a stack of wires and plugs lying awkwardly, homeless. An oxygen tank with a rusted exterior sat in a corner, draped with a plastic tube and mouthpiece. Silently, I prayed that the greenish tint on the plastic was not mold and that I would not in the next 20 minutes be seized with the inability to breathe properly.
Most noticeable in the room was the protruding window seat, half covered by a curtain. A very tall plant had been placed in that corner of sunlight and every single limb was plastered against the glass, its large leaves very much resembling hands. I could not help but imagine that this plant was desperately trying to escape the office through the glass.
Finally, the doctor turned his attention to me. Gruffly – and without warning – he grabbed my arm and stuffed it into a blood pressure thingy. If I may say so, those things are a little unnerving anyway. Having the psychopathic version of Bilbo Baggins administering the test was a tad more than I could handle.
I didn’t have time to decide if I should object or just continue to giggle nervously because he finished, yanked it off and made a motion for me to stand up. Walking around behind me he lifted up my shirt and stuck his cold stethoscope on my back.
Maybe Americans are just more conscious of personal space than the rest of the world, but I really felt like a warning would have been socially appropriate in this instance. Jerry stood there awkwardly reassuring me that the doctor just had to check my lungs and that I should breathe in and out very slowly.
Then I was moved to the examining table next to the suspicious pile of plugs. I stretched across it and that crazy mad doctor lifted my shirt up to my rib cage again and thumped the back of his hands on my stomach with his ear down. I’m assuming – and this is only an assumption – that he was trying to listen to my organs. What they would have told him, I have no idea.
Jerry just stood behind the crazed professional, bashfully trying to translate the incoherent mumblings of Dr. Madhouse. Next was my ankle (this all happened rather quickly – we’re talking 120 seconds, max). He pushed my jeans up and with his face (I swear) within an inch of my foot asked something in Czech.
“He wants to know if you have trouble with your veins,” Jerry said.
“No!” I said, trying not to laugh. This was serious, obviously.
Then I had to stand up and take off my shoes.
“He says you’re flat-footed, Mary,” Jerry told me. “Did you know that?”
“I’m not flat-footed,” I said, just a little exasperated.
I’m not flat-footed, guys. Someone would have told me. Right? Someone would have told me.
The doctor shook his head and scurried back to his desk where I sat down, clutching the edges of my shirt in case the examination wasn’t completely finished.
Like, personal space is something we tend to appreciate in American hospitals. If a doctor is going to stick you with a needle, he’ll spend fifteen minutes beforehand explaining exactly what he’s going to do before he comes close to touching your arm. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much like cattle in my entire life. He may as well have bobbed off my tail and sent me to the range once he finished checking the veins in my ankle. Are you kidding me, Doc?
Doc was in a great mood. He started babbling in such slurred Czech I was surprised Jerry could understand him. Whenever the doctor doubled over into a coughing fit, Jerry would translate their conversation.
“Mary, this man is interesting,” Jerry told me. “He wasn’t allowed to practice during Communism because he refused to join the Party. . . He wrote a fake medical report for an anti-communist writer so the man could get sick-income to support himself. . . He treats all political prisoners of communism for free. . . That plaque was given to him by a Czech freedom organization to recognize him for his work. . .”
The stories went on and on. This old bat was a hero. A real one. Sitting right in front of me. And I was too caught up on the diseased looking oxygen tank and the runaway-wanna-be plant by the window to notice.
Two things prickled my thoughts as we drove home. The first was the absolute disbelief that I could possibly be flat-footed.
The second is that I will never judge a book by its cover again.