I hadn’t slept well.
Not last night, the one before, or any in recent memory.
In search of a solution, I’d been to the doctor’s, a walk in clinic at the local Wal-Mart, a bastion of Hippocrates ingloriously shoehorned in besides the crooked arrays of shopping carts. The doctor there, after ascertaining that I was not suffering from depression, or suicidal in any way, told me I was fine and that I should try exercising more. I wondered when a sales pitch for a newly rolled-back treadmill was going to be presented to me, but when none came, I dejectedly got up from the crisp paper on the examining table, crinkling noisily under my backside, and prepared to leave.
Doctor hesitated, and shoved a coarse piece of paper into my hand, which contained some scrawled dictum, wetly inked in sweeping, handwritten bezier curves. “Here,” they said, adjusting their glasses as they spoke. “Get a blood test just in case.”
Not even a prescription for antibiotics? What a disappointment; I’d really have preferred something to shove into my mouth in pill form, even if they were just placebos.
I remember when successfully completed visits to the doctor resulted in handouts of Chupa-Chups, little packets of jam or honey, or, as my ninth year alive dawned, carrot sticks. It was as though the diminishing value of the reward was a forewarning for just how awesome adulthood was going to be, but it could have also been that the general practitioner – from a time when family doctors were readily available in Vancouver – just grew progressively older as I did, and increasingly cheapskate. The last time I saw her was after falling face-first onto pavement and bloodying up a bunch of stuff. This was during an era when Titanic could be rented on three videocassettes. Rented! On VHS! 1995!
Back to the present, though.
The blood test that Dr. Wal had prescribed was to take place in another building. Downtown I went, to a creaky old brick office building that resembled an overgrown brownstone, the kind of building that immediately overwhelms you with the scent of time immemorial, the tang of old plaster, a whiff of polished terrazzo. Step into the Otis elevator (and they’re always Otis) and inhale; the smell is the same as a faded, olive-green Smith-Corona mechanical typewriter, or inside the decommissioned hull of the RMS Queen Mary. It’s a greasy, lubricated odor of midcentury grandeur and ingenuity, a throwback to a time when the term well-oiled stood for something more literal than an analogy.
I let myself into the lab office on the seventh floor, waited among a forest of Banting and Pfizer posters, and eventually got my blood taken by a pleasant older lab tech who spoke in soft endearing tones, kind of like the Oracle from the Matrix. She did her deed, pricked a needled into the crook of my arm, extracted some red stuff into a little vial, which then went into a series of Matryoshka-like ziplock baggies, one after another, and told me I was free to go.
“If there’s something really wrong with me, how long will it take to find out?” I asked of her.
She patted me on the back and assured me I would know soon, but that I would probably be just fine, like the rest of them, and then asked whether or not I knew my way out.
I stepped into the elevator, a little dizzy from the experience, and uneasy, both in mind and stomach. The floor gave way as Otis descended on greasy tracks, and for a fleeting second, I was weightless, suspended.