As an update to yesterday's post on my cold/fever, I woke up this morning feeling none the better for a good night's rest. So, determined to make up for yesterday's missed opportunity to see the nurse, I skipped both a shower and breakfast, threw on my greens and caught the bus to South Camp for 6 a.m. sick call. When the driver dropped me off at the old, wood-post building a few minutes later, I took my place in a line of wheezing, sneezing inmates that snaked out the door. I felt right at home.
As I slowly approached the doorway the raspy voice of the nurse became increasingly audible. Unlike a typical doctor's office, where they usher their patients into an inner sanctum to be examined behind closed doors, the prison nurse had an open-door policy. I watched from the line as she poked at hernias, gave shots of insulin, looked down throats, peered at fungus covered feet and yanked down shorts to examine privates. Her cursory exams were accompanied by loudly barked commands: wear shower shoes; if your hernia bulges, poke it back in; sit down if you feel dizzy; keep away from eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus trees? What's wrong with them, I wondered? In any event, they're all over the place.
When my turn came I walked through the door with a bit of trepidation, hoping she wouldn't have to peer anywhere private for the edification of the line behind me. Before I had even entered the room the nurse glanced up at me and grunted: "You're not getting any time off from work."
Taken aback, I nonetheless decided to press on. Although obtaining a lay-in to miss work was part of the goal, my primary concern was feeling better while not infecting half the camp in the bargain. "I really feel bad," I said. "I'm coughing and sneezing and feel hot and dizzy."
"Allergies," she barked. "It's the eucalyptus trees."
Ahh, now I got it: the eucalyptus trees were to blame for all ills. Strange that Vics Vapo-Rub contains eucalyptus. "I've never had allergies," I said. "And I've been raking and cutting grass around the eucalyptus since I got here."
With that the nurse finally seemed to notice me. She pulled out a thermometer and took my temperature. A few moments later it beeped: 101 degrees. "Hmm," she said, apparently surprised that I wasn't lying about my condition. Next she looked down my throat. "Red and swollen," she said to herself. Finally, she listened to my chest: "Congested."
The nurse jotted something on a pad of paper. Here it is, I thought to myself: the golden "lay in" that will let me take a day or two off from work until I feel better. Instead, she turned to me with a grunt and asked: "Do you have $2 on your account?"
"Yes," I answered. "But why?"
"That's the co-pay. We're done here and I'm going to deduct the charge."
To readers of this post, $2 may not sound like much. But to put it in perspective that amount is equal to almost 20% of my last month's salary of $11. So for me it's plenty: worth it if I get the lay in, otherwise decidedly not.
"Is that it?" I asked, incredulous. "You didn't tell me anything. What about work?"
"Like I said, I don't care what you say or what you're sick with. You're not getting any time off."
"But I work in the kitchen."
She looked at me with a sneer, as if my concern were stupid. "So?"
"I'm worried I'll get my germs in the food. I work with raw vegetables and make salads."
"Turn your head away from the food if you have to sneeze. It's as simple as that."
"Anything else? Will you prescribe anything? What should I do?"
"Next," she called, over my shoulder. I took the hint and walked toward the door. As I departed she called after me: "Take some Motrin, if you've got it. If not, aspirin will do. And keep away from eucalyptus trees."
I feel better already.