The health care system grabbing the country’s attention during the nineties was Health Management Organizations, or HMOs. On paper, they seemed great with their long list of primary care physicians and offices from which to choose. After years of hassle, paperwork, long waits and questionable care, I took action.
Do it. That clinic in DC, on U street, inner city and all that comes with it. Go there. Otherwise, it’s another round of crowded suburban HMOs. White, male MDs. Sterile lab coats. Masses of boomers getting pushed in, getting pushed out.
I do it. I sign up, walk in, and feel instantly relieved.
Now, I love my doctor’s office. Look at the lobby – devoid of all glossy magazines on fancy tables and annoying charts of the human digestive tract tacked to the wall. Is that a cute, cuddly kitten poster I see over there? A poster from the movie Shaft? I’m digging it, and I’m especially digging all the different people passing through in all their various levels of cleanliness.
Sure, my new primary care physician seems late, thirty minutes late to be exact, and maybe I could use one of those fluff magazines to read, but it’s okay. I’ll wait. Everything’ll be fine.
Finally, she’s here, and I like what I see. My MD is a large black woman, complete with African shawl-like thing wrapped around her shoulders.
“Hello, My-kal. Whadd can I do for you today?”
“Yes, I hope you can help. I’d like you to look into my digestive problems.”
“How old you now, My-kal?”
“Ah, you too young to be hee-ah!”
“What, thirty-five is young? It doesn’t feel that way. I jog, but feel like every mineral’s been drained from my body afterward. I lift weights and come down with stomach pains a few days later. And then there’re these abdominal aches on my left side …”
“Could be the pesky deevertiks. My-kal, have you been diagnosed with diverticulitis before?”
“See, when you get old, these little pouches form in your colon, you know where that is, right? You eat nuts? Stop eating nuts. Now. Seeds, too. All Boomers eat too much seed, and never chew.”
I’m confused by the barrage of information, then realize this is great news. Just stop eating nuts and seeds and my problems are over.
I love this doctor. I love her clinic. I love brothers and sisters. I feel so much better. I not only thank her, but stand to shake her hand.
“Oh, no, we’re not done yet. Gotta make sure it’s the deevertiks. Get infected dere, people known to lose twenty feet.”
“Twenty feet of what?”
She hands me a pamphlet entitled, “Your Digestive Tract,” and some papers.
“Here. This form for barium enema. And upper GI. Any hospital will do them. No. You go next door with Howard. Do better there. You had AIDS test? All – men – need – AIDS test! Siddown.” As she pulls out a needle and syringe, all I can think about is being protected from a barium enema.
Howard, as it turns out, is Howard University Hospital down the street. I wait in a prep room there for my upper GI when a nurse presents me with a large Styrofoam cup containing a vanilla milkshake-like substance. Mm-m-m, with just a hint of pina colada, too.
She returns with three more cups to drink. Downing the second, I tell her it tastes more like barium colada and I’m nowhere near the drunken state I want to be in. Despite my bloated condition, the x-rays of my upper GI tract reveal no abnormalities.
What was abnormal was the lower GI procedure I endured. A total stranger pumped a ton of barium in through my rear, took x-rays, then watched the barium jettison back out of me like a 747 taking off.
A week later, I review my intestinal x-rays with an MD at Howard University Hospital.
“See, right there, there are tiny, tiny deevertik pouches in your colon.”
“There. You best not eat nuts and seeds.”
Great. I’ve been Liquid Plummered for $2,000 and told to avoid watermelon and macadamia nuts yet again.
I immediately go out and gorge on three PayDay bars, the ones with 99% peanuts. Why not? Who cares now? The next HMO doctor will probably say the same things, or that he can’t do anything more for me, or that I have AIDS. Munch on.
This excerpt is from Chapter Thirteen, “Health” in my memoir, “Maybe Boomer.”