My Sample

The doctor, a plastic visor shielding the two surgical masks secured to her face, pecked at the keyboard in front of her. The gloves over her fingers helped her typing about as much as the mud boots on her feet helped her dancing.

I explained that I’d already taken a COVID home test. The results, much like my attitude, were negative. Sure, some of my symptoms, such as headaches and fatigue, overlapped with those associated with COVID. As best I could tell, anything indicated the presence of COVID.

Eventually, they sent me outside to the COVID section, where three rows of rickety chairs sat under a temporary canopy. I’d been out there a few times already that day, as had several others in my situation. No one was happy. The mood soured further once we realized that the doctor and nurse working with us had locked the door and gone to lunch. Pura vida.

An hour and a half later they unlocked the door. My fellow afflicted and I took our turns going back in to receive medication dispensed in small paper bags. I also received a high-speed explanation of the call I’d receive in a few days regarding my COVID results. My paper bag had several things in it, including a single pill in a foil wrapper, and a small, white plastic container with a red, screw-top lid. I asked what they were for. As best as my Spanish and I could tell, the pill killed intestinal parasites.

I neglected to tell you, gentle reader, that my primary symptom, and the reason for my visit to the clinic, was diarrhea. A lot of diarrhea.

Diarrhea was my constant companion for about six days (minus the two where I’d taken enough Imodium® — ok, the generic equivalent — to clog up an elephant, though that only seemed to make the diarrhea that much unhappier when it remerged). I downed another couple of Imodium® tablets a few hours before my visit to the clinic, hoping to avoid a visit to the public bathroom at the public clinic (not because of what it would do to me, but vice versa).

“Got it,” I said post explanation. “I take the pill just in case I don’t have COVID — but do have intestinal parasites, whatever those are.”

The nurse and her many masks nodded. “And the cup?”

“When they call you to give your COVID results, if the results are negative, you’ll use the cup to bring us a sample,” she stated calmly.

“A sample of my…?”

“Poop. If you don’t have COVID we need to examine it to see what is going on.”

“Ah…ok. There’s just one thing.”

“Yes,” she asked, losing what little interest she had in this exchange.

“My samples haven’t been, well, solid.”

“Then you’ll have to use a ladle.” To be fair, she said “cucharón.” I didn’t know that word, but it was close enough to the word for spoon – cuchara – that I still got the gruesome visual.

“Ok. Thank you?”

A few days later I got the dreaded call. As I suspected, I did not have COVID. I did, however, have a date with the container. And a ladle.

Flashing forward through quite a bit of shame, the next morning I returned to the clinic. My sample was, thankfully, in the opaque plastic container with the red lid. I wrote my name in the space provided on the outside – just in case someone tried to steal it. Not sold on the strength of the lid, I put the sealed container in a zip lock freezer bag. The image of walking into the clinic with the sample container clearly visible through the zip lock bag inspired me to go with a Russian doll scheme (so I put the zip lock bag in a bright red, not-see-through-bag I recently received at the hardware store).

I arrived at reception, and noticed that the entire waiting area was full of people. All these people were coughing and sneezing. Clearly, they all had COVID.

“I’m here to drop off my sample.” For added effect I held up my bag from the hardware store and pointed in the direction of the lab, which I knew to be in the next room.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No. I thought I could just drop it off.”

“No. Please give me your name. You’ll have to wait to see a nurse, and then see the doctor.”

My stomach rumbled and a cramp passed through my lower GI tract. I hadn’t taken Imodium® that morning. I thought this was going to be a drive-by. There was no way I was going to be able to avoid a hate crime in the public bathroom.

“I really don’t feel very good.”

“I’m sorry, you have to wait to see the nurse.”

Feeling worse by the second, I found one of the last seats available in the waiting area. I put my sample bag between my feet, and tried to think about slow moving things, like concrete, or waiting to see a doctor. The gentlemen sitting across from me coughed into his elbow and looked at my bag with curiosity. I wanted to be friendly and explain that I didn’t have wrenches in there, or anything fun, but I didn’t want to end up talking about my sample, so I just broke eye-contact and waited for my name to be called.

Forty-five minutes later my name was called. My sample in hand, I trudged back to the nurse’s office. Wearing full protective gear, she dove into the same conversation I’d had a few days before. She wanted my vitals, and then it seemed certain we were going to talk about COVID. I explained that I’d already done that, and that I was only here to drop-off my sample. For effect, I pulled the zip lock bag out so she could clearly see what I was talking about.

My stomach, and my entire torso, rumbled as she shook her head.

No, she was going to take my vitals and then I’d have to wait with everyone else to see the doctor (note the singular).

“I really don’t feel good, and if I try to hold it in, I may end up throwing up.” This was true. I’d experienced a few rounds of this over the last few days.

She ignored me and checked my blood pressure.

A few minutes later, my sample and I returned to the waiting room. In the brief amount of time I’d been with the nurse the crowd had nearly doubled. There were no longer any seats. People were lined up all the way to the door.

I ruled out sitting on the floor and leaned against the wall. Sweating slightly, I clutched my sample to my chest as a general sense of nausea washed over me. The longer I stood, the worse I felt. Soon I was crouching, which is not easy with my crap right knee.

An internal debate ensued. In the entire time I’d been here, perhaps three people had seen the doctor. My last visit, just a few days before, had gone four-and-a-half-hours – though to be fair some of that time I’d been locked outside while they had lunch. My stomach decided the debate was over and I had my worst cramp yet. I called it.

Back at the receptionist’s desk, I attempted to explain my plight without sweating on her. I even – discreetly – pulled the zip lock bag out and showed how I had written my name on the sample. Surely, I could just leave this with the lab? It wasn’t like the doctor was going to open it up on the spot and take a look.

The verdict: no.

I nearly vomited on her, not because I wanted to but because my body had decided it was time to go. With my hand covering my mouth, I nodded at the receptionist, gathered my sample, and slunk towards the front door. With only a moment’s hesitation, I slid my sample bag into a nearby garbage can. Yes, that gave me pause but I had packed it very securely, hadn’t I? And wasn’t that the same place it would go if I took it home?

My stomach reminded me of my situation as I lurched through the door. I made it to the far side of the street and managed to find some privacy — the space between two parked cars — before my stomach released its contents. It was loud and, as it turns out, not that private as one of the two cars had someone inside it.

My sense of pride long gone, I staggered over to my Bongo, found some chewing gum I’d stashed inside and forgotten about, and drove over to the nearby pharmacy. I gave the pharmacist an abbreviated version of my story. He asked me how it smelled (“it” being my sample).

“Like death mixed with rotting fish.”

“You have giardia. It’s parasites.”

“But they gave me a pill for that?”

“You said they only gave you one pill. You need to take a five-day course, and there are two different kinds of parasites.” He searched behind him and produced a small box. “You take one a day for five days. It kills both kinds.”

“Where did I get parasites?” A reasonable question, and one I should have asked while at the clinic.

“That’s a good question, but it’s not that uncommon here. Oh, I should warn you, the medicine will make you feel just as bad as you already do for the entire five days.

As it turned out, he was right on all fronts. On one hand, I want to go back and thank him. On the other, I’m not sure I want him to remember me as the guy who threw up on the street right after leaving my sample in the garbage can in the clinic. So, instead, I’ll just tell all of you.

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