Five Things Longhaulers Hate To Hear: Number 4!



Hi. My name is John, and I’m a COVID Longhauler.

It takes a lot to get me outwardly, visibly angry. This is not to say that I don’t have a temper or that things don’t piss me off. They do. I’m just fantastic at turning those emotions inward to avoid unnecessary confrontations and to not be a Karen.

I am learning that being a Longhauler chips away at this superpower.

Ever since my decision to stop sitting back and suffering without seeking help for Longhaul COVID, I have become well acquainted with all things medical. Had I only known, I would have kept all my registration badges, all my “screened” stickers, even all the bandages used to stem the flow of blood after a draw. (Ew, John. You’re gross.)

When I show up for whatever the latest appointment is, I make a point of being friendly with whomever I see. These are people on the front lines. They’re in the medical profession. They’re the helpers. And thankfully, my kindness has without exception been returned with matching politeness.

Until yesterday.

John’s Magical Medical Mystery Tour made a stop at a sleep doctor yesterday. I have had times of poor sleep for decades. At different points I have had:

  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Trouble staying asleep
  • Times of waking up at ungodly early hours
  • Sleep talking
  • Times of acting out physically in my dreams
  • Sleep paralysis

There’s more, but you get the idea. Sleep and John aren’t friends. And poor sleep while you’re dealing with Longhaul COVID is an emerging potentially deadly combination.

Here’s a great little thing about being a Longhauler: You can be crushed by complete exhaustion … and still have insomnia! COVID is the gift that keeps on giving, so while many people are left with an overwhelming need to sleep, when it comes time to, ya know, actually sleep, it just doesn’t happen. For me, I have been having huge troubles staying asleep past 4 a.m. If I reach 5 a.m., it’s unicorns and bacon. (Side note: A unicorn that delivers bacon would be a much-appreciated thing.)

Anywho, I arrived at the clinic on time, answered the screening questions at the door, had my temperature taken, got my “screened” sticker (this one was blue!), was told my mask wasn’t good enough and that I had to wear a surgical mask (that was a new one, but sure, cool, whatevs) and was then told to go around the corner to registration.

There, I met someone I’ll call Rique, because, well, that’s her name and she should be ashamed of how she acted and what a poor representation she was of the sleep center.

I sat down and gave my now-typical friendly “Hello!” and was met with, “What’s your name?”

Okaaaaay fine. We’ll skip the pleasantries.

I told her my name, because this is something I actually could remember at that moment. One by one, she rattled off questions in a manner that a generous person would best be able to describe us “rude.”

Then we got to my the question of my primary care physician. Now, I get the fact that “Brian Smith” is a common name. I get the fact that, in the St. Louis area alone, there is more than one Dr. Brian Smith. I would, however, put forward the fact that the commonness of his name is not my fault.

Rique, apparently, thought otherwise.

“Do you know his middle initial?”

Having already put forward the fact that the commonness of my primary care physician’s name is not my fault, I would now like to put forward that no one knows his or her doctor’s middle initial. No one. Anywhere. Ever.

“No, I don’t, but he works out of Lake Saint Louis,” I said, still, at this point, friendly.

“That doesn’t help me,” Rique responded.

At that moment, I became this:

But I managed to keep it under control.

“Okaaaaay,” says I. “I can look up his exact address.”

“Do you know his middle initial? Is it Brian M. Smith or Brian R. Smith or Brian D. Smith?”

Somehow, we were back on the middle initial thing, which surprised me because I thought I was quite clear the first time that I didn’t know my primary care physician’s middle initial.

Deep breath. I’ve got this.

“No, I am not aware of my primary care physician’s middle initial.”

“Then I’m not going to be able to let him know about anything that happens here,” she said.

Now, I recognized then and recognize now that this was a statement, not a question. But at that moment, I felt a need to respond, and I did so with a question of my own.

“Do you know your primary care physician’s middle initial?”

Success! For the first time since I sat down, Rique made actual, good-customer-service, there’s-another-human-being-sitting-in-front-of-me eye contact! Woo freaking hoo!

Except Rique wasn’t happy.

Of course, neither was I. So I continued.

“Do you happen to know the middle initial of any of the doctors who work, say, right here?”

At which point, and I’m not making this up, Rique said… wait for it…. wait for it….

“Do you, sir, know your primary care physician’s middle initial or not?”

I. Lost. My. Shit.

Nicely.

“We should just proceed to the next question,” I said in a flat voice that hid the fact that I was internally wishing a pox upon her. (I have since recanted my wish.)

Rique finished the horrible task of doing her job without looking up again, and when she thrust my driver’s license and insurance card back beneath the plexiglass that kept both COVID and me away from her, I walked back into the waiting room.

Now, the good news: The rest of the staff of the sleep center was freaking amazing. A-Maz-Ing.

But….

Thing No. 4 on our list of Five Things Longhaulers Hate to Hear (and Five Things We’d Rather Hear Instead):

No. 4: Anyone’s rudeness

Seriously, folks. These are stressful times for everyone. Even Rique. My recognition of this fact is the only reason I haven’t enrolled in a terrorist school to figure out how to blow up her car. Rique could have been having a bad day. Rique could be having a bad life. Rique could be a Longhauler herself. Rique could have been dropped on her head as a child. I get it. Life is hard. Sometimes we act inappropriately. That’s a truth.

Here’s another truth: For now, just… don’t.

You see, for as much grace as I am willing to give Rique and other people who say stupid things and do stupid things, now is the time to rise above all that crap. Now is the time to say you’re sorry when you realize you’ve been wrong… maybe even say you’re sorry for the first time in your life if you’re one of those people who somehow think you have never wronged anyone ever. Now is the time to Just. Be. Nice. People are going through some really heavy stuff, and when you take out your bad day or bad life or head injury on other people, it’s time to stop what you’re doing and fix it.

Which is what I had hoped Rique had realized when she approached the desk while I was checking out following my amazing appointment with the sleep doctor. We made eye contact as she neared, and I figured she was going to say she was sorry. I am an extremely gracious person to those who apologize for bad behavior, so I was prepared to say, “Hey, Rique. We’re good. I get it. Times are tough. I wish you the best.”

No.

“Where’d you say your primary care physician was from?”

Now, on one level, this was progress. Rique had finally accepted my lack of knowledge about Dr. Brian Smith from Lake Saint Louis’s middle name. She had not, however, remembered that I had told her where he was from and offered to look up his exact address for her, something she could have done herself when I initially told her that my Dr. Brian Smith worked out of Lake Saint Louis. That’s OK. I forget things too. A lot of things, recently.

“Lake. Saint. Louis,” I replied.

OK cool. This was where Rique was going to, at minimum, act civilly, thank me for the answer, maybe, dare to dream, apologize. Right?

Wrong.

Like a few other proud fools I know have done, Rique simply turned her back and walked away.

Five Things Longhaulers Would Rather Hear Instead, No. 4: “Hi there!”

No one who enters a sleep clinic for an appointment is in a good place. People don’t wake up and say, “I’ve got nothing to do today, so hows about I head to the sleep clinic and talk with Rique?” In addition, Longhaulers aren’t rare to sleep clinics anymore. How do I know this? Because Dr. Sleep told me she’s seen “dozens” recently. That means Rique has encountered other Longhaulers, and my hope is that she was perhaps just a little kinder to them than she was to me.

Being in a job where you have to interact with the public can be difficult. I know. I was a newspaper reporter/editor for two decades, and a lot of people I dealt with didn’t particularly want to be talking to the media. But ya know what can make a difference in how you and your entire operation is perceived? “Hi there!”

I don’t care if you’re running a business that has been defrauding its customers for 50 years or if you’re the first person a new patient sees when they come in for a sleep clinic appointment. Set the freaking tone. Be nice. It’s not hard. It would take less than five seconds for Rique to have started with, “Hi there! Welcome to XXXX sleep clinic. Let’s get you registered.”

Then, perhaps, maybe, just maybe, her stupid insistence that I should know my primary care physician’s middle initial would have been mildly annoying instead of mind-jarringly irritating.

So to Rique, hey, friend: We’re all good. I hope they find a way to help the head injury.

To her employers: Um, you might want to have a chat with her and offer some remedial training in basic human decency.

And to my fellow Longhaulers: Hang in there. We’re dealing with a lot, and if we’re seeking help we’re talking with a lot of different medical folks. They’re trying. Sometimes they fail. And when they do, well, it’s OK to be angry. It’s OK to be so pissed off that you have all these symptoms and you have to deal with the Riques of the world.

Feel it. Own it. Be real about it.

Then be thankful that there are so many good people out there and that, of those who do act inappropriately or hurtful, just about all of them will eventually apologize if given the chance.

And those who won’t? Well, that’s their narcissism and not your problem.

Get well, Longhaulers.


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