Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dirty Looks are Still Better Than Dirty Needles

This morning, on my day off (and the one day I get to sleep in, I might add), I had to be at school at 9 a.m. to go with a group to get a blood test for my hopefully future residency card (which may or may not take another year to get; the bureaucracy here is not what anyone would call prompt).

I staggered out of bed at 8:10 a.m. and wandered out the door by 8:40 a.m. I caught a taxi in no time. Little did I know it was the only shy taxi driver in Amman who actually goes the speed limit. I rushed up to the school at 9:07 a.m., worried that they had left without me. There, I found my school friend and another guy waiting around and unsure about what was going on. The usual. I shouldn't have worried.

After another ten or fifteen minutes of phone calls and waiting around, we finally found the bus driver who had been coerced into driving us all to the Health Center.

We hopped off the bus and followed our enthusiastic and fortunately Arabic-speaking (but not English-speaking... that caused some problems) bus driver to the clinic, a massive building with roughly fifty guys milling around in various semblances of lines. My friend and I, both in tank tops, quickly became the star attraction in the area. We crossed our arms and looked apprehensively at the huge line of men stretching beyond the building.

Happily, it was not the line for the blood test. Our bus driver finished negotiating with our passports and herded us up some stairs to a tiny room.

Let me pause for a moment. In America when I have to get blood drawn, they take you into a specially prepared metal room with a nice chair you can lie back in. The nurse comes in, calms you down a little bit (well, at least for me they calm me down. I heartily dislike needles and my blood being anywhere but in my body), shows you all of the cleaned and packaged equipment she will use and eventually blood will be gently removed from your arm, usually with a comforting story or some other distraction.

This room looked more like a classroom than a doctor's office. There were two desks set up across from a row of dingy waiting-room chairs. The woman taking the blood had an array of supplies set up on the desk in front of her and was in civilian clothes. Filled blood tubes sat stickily to the side of the desk. It was not exactly the comforting environment I had in mind. I had also been warned that these government clinics don't even change their gloves between customers.

The three of us huddled in the corner in trepidation, cracking nervous jokes and trying not to think about the general lack of sterility in the place we were soon going to stabbed. Much too soon, I heard them call, "Christine!" Whew, I thought. A few minute reprieve. But no, they were all staring at us. And my friends' names are Maya and Paul. So that could only mean... "Christine Marie!" Crap.

"It's Gretchen," I snapped nervously. Eminent pain makes me testy. I approached the desk. She had the needle ready. "Can you change your gloves?" I asked, in what I thought was a polite, albeit tension-filled voice. She glared at me as if this was completely unreasonable but pulled on some new gloves. "And that's a new needle, right?" Gritting her teeth, she threw away the needle in front of her (which in all likelihood she had taken out of a new package while I was hiding in the corner) and pulled out a new needle still in its package so I could see it. It's extremely possible I was acting like a total snot at this point, but I can live with perceived snottiness. I can not, however, live with contracting hepatitis. And in my defense, I'm a huge baby when it comes to shots.

She dabbed a minuscule (what, like there's a shortage?) dab of rubbing alcohol on my arm (thank goodness. That eensy trickle will make all the difference to decontamination), and I stared across the room at Maya, who was dancing for my enjoyment. Then it was done, and I was handed a shred of cotton, which took roughly ten seconds to soak with blood. I shakily staggered back to the corner and mopped the blood off my arm.

Afterward, we were back outside waiting for the last member of our group, who showed up later, to finish her test. My fellow blood testers thanked me for demanding a change of gloves because the nurse used the same gloves with them. At least they can only catch what I've got (a cold?). But when my last friend came downstairs, she said she had NOT been snotty enough to ask for new gloves. And the nurse had been talking on a cell phone seconds before sticking a needle in my friend's arm. Does anyone else realize how many germs are on a cell phone?

In the nurse's defense, it hadn't hurt that much really. Residency, here I come! Hopefully remaining hepatitis free.

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