"Have you ever had a sinus infection before?" the woman asks me. She's taken my temperature (normal) and blood pressure (high).
"No, but I've had plenty of urinary tract infections," I tell her, feeling that it qualifies me to self-diagnose this particular nuisance.
Now I believe that they are all the same thing, all equally boring. Passages inflamed. Would you rather sit in a bathroom gasping and singing an alto groan, or would you rather look under the couch for your knee-high slippers and feel the pinch in the pain part of your brain. Face puffy, like an alcoholic whose friend's know she is an alcoholic before she does. Cheek tender, jaw throbbing. Eating Advil like it's water.
She hands me a kid-friendly chart with round faces in various state of grimace.
"How would you rank your pain right now?" she asks.
I stare at the chart and try to match my own expression with one on the laminated paper. I look at her.
"I hate this game," I tell her.
"I know, just play along," she says.
What's 10, I always wonder? Is that a gunshot would to the head? Would a 1 be sitting in this chair right now, or would they just sterilize the needle, suck it up and remove the splinter? How can a person be anything more than 5 in a world where circular saws are hungry for flesh?
"I guess I'm like a 5," I tell her.
I spot someone I know in the holding pen.
"Hey Christa," he says. "What's going on?"
"Sinus infection," I chirp, relieved that this visit is the result of something above my waist. I can't imagine how I'd have responded a few years ago when I sat in these same chairs and waited for someone with a very expensive degree to remove the tampon that had floated beyond reach.
His kids both have their own device and they're both watching their own program of beeps and squeaks and high-pitched voices. It's competing with televised Black Jack, a combination that would be really annoying if I wasn't so capable of blocking out sound and focusing on Dice with Buddies. Meanwhile, two college-aged boys have come in. One, it seems, is in line for the Emergency Room though there are no outward signs of what might be ailing him. Perhaps it's internal bleeding. The other has scored himself a guest pass. The former is nondescript. The latter is one of those lugga-lugga's. A beefy former high school football player who slops around in athletic sandals and sweat pants. A lazy lope and modern art on top of the TV stand, a pyramid of Jagarmeister bottles.
"Do college girls want to sleep with that guy?" I wonder. "Or is he a consolation prize?"
He might be part of a faceless pack squished on to a couch hollering about video game injustices. Or maybe he's the guy who scores the booze, invites the guests, greets them at the door, has a funny signature dance and cleans up their puke. Maybe he spends part of the night on his back deconstructing his roommates' relationship with his father and tossing a soccer ball into the air.
There is something very "Price is Right" about when they call my name. I clean up the small campsite I've erected, unsure of how long I'd be waiting. A book back into the backpack, phone wedged into my pocket, water bottle in my hand, sling bag over shoulder and do a sort of quick shuffle to the nurse who is holding the door. I half expect my acquaintance to applaud or at least tell me "good luck."
Finding out you have a sinus infection has little fanfare.
Symptoms, the doctor asks.
I had a cold and now it hurts all through here.
I'm swallowing most of it, I tell him.
He looks in my ear and tells me he'll be back with a 'script.
Antibiotics and Afrin.
"What's Afrin," I ask the nurse.
"Is that over the counter?" I ask and she says yes.
"But don't use it for more than three days," she warns.
"Wait, wait," I say. "Did you say this is a nasal spray?"
I make a face that resembles No. 7 on the pain scale.
"Sometimes," she says, "We have to do things we don't like in order to feel better."
Remove packaging. Prime the pump. Insert tube in nose. Inhale while depressing pump. I hate getting stuff in my nose. My shower routine is a piece of well-configured choreography that results in no water directly hitting my face. Just seeing a Neti Pot is enough to induce panic.
I prime the pump, insert it in my nose, depress and snort. It's cool and medicinal smelling. Like I just stuck a bunch of bandaids on my throat.