Everyone’s coming home from work, speeding up when the light turns yellow instead of slowing down. I’m on my way back, too, carefully gliding through the cars stopped or going.
From a block away I can see them already. Rambling around outside, smoking, carrying plastic bags from the bodega across the street. I lean my bike against a metal pole, take my U-lock and hug it to my bike frame to lock it.
I walk through the front door into a short hallway. I open the door on my left that takes me into the waiting room. Every time I come here there are anywhere from five to twenty five people sitting in the chairs, waiting to be called. Everyone is a person of color. They’re on their phones mostly, but sometimes someone will be reading a book or talking to someone nearby. The people in cheap, paper coats behind the window don’t look at me as I sign in at the front desk.
Depending on how many people are poor that day, or if rent’s due, I will get called from anytime between five minutes and a half an hour. A woman with a strong eastern European accent calls a name out to the crowd. It sounds like no name, perhaps the name of a river in Moldova that is now dried up. She scans the room, looks down at the photo taped to the folder, then looks up at me. “You,” she says. “Room B.”
She buzzes the door to the back room open for me. The handle is still vibrating as I grab it and walk to a closet-sized examination room. An Asian man is there, in the little box separating us from the other two identical rooms. He glances up. “Let me see your veins.” I place my hands on the counter, palms up, and he looks at the bends in my arms. He jabs a blue-ish area on my arm but doesn’t say anything. He scribbles something on the sheet attached to his clipboard.
He signals for me to step up on the scale in front of me. He writes the three digit number in a little box on his paper. I’ve gained one pound since thursday.
He makes checks down the long list of questions he’s supposed to ask me, such as if i’d had sex with a male anytime before 1975 or if i’d ever visited any country in central Africa.
He pricks my finger, collects the blood with a thin tube, and checks my blood pressure.
“You’re good,” he says, which is my cue to leave and walk down a hallway where there are people leaning against the walls, waiting to get their phones charged on the only two-plug outlet available.
I get to another door and hope someone on the other side sees me and lets me in so I don’t have to pound on the wall for someone to buzz me in. An old lady with a sweatshirt that says CHICAGO CUBS ~~ WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS 100 YEAR ANNIVERSARY 2004 is kind enough to open the door for me. I thank her and sit opposite her in the new room. This waiting room is smaller. Several people are playing music from their phone next to me so that all I hear is a mixture of beats in different time signatures and scattered melodic voices over cheap speakers.
I sit, and sit, and sit. People come and go. The Chicago Cubs lady leaves and a woman with neon red hair extensions takes her chair, not looking up from her her phone.
Someone calls out my name and a frowning white man in a paper coat ushers me into the big room where it all happens. There are six TV’s, three on each end of the large room. Laz-E-Boy chairs (but more medical looking) line the walls and also form a path for me and the doctor to walk through, sometimes brushing up against the feet of the people in the chairs. The room is filled with people reclining in these chairs, a machine nearby, pumping blood from the red cord going into their vein. The machines whir, clicks, clacks, and drips blood into a plastic container hanging nearby. Football is on TV and sometimes men in the seats cheer at the TV simultaneously. Everyone else is on their phone.
The doctor ushers me to an empty chair and I slide in. The same eastern european woman from before comes over and starts to hook me up to the machine. She doesn’t count down before sticking me with the needle in my arm, and it hurts. My fingers go numb, the sensation slowly moving up my arm. The woman loosens the tourniquet on my upper arm before it gets worse. I watch as my blood slips easily through the tube and into the machine. It clicks, clacks, and then I get the worst sensation during the whole process, which is repeated many, many times. The feeling of the blood being pushed back into my vein. Sometimes it feels like blood is being poured over my skin in the area I was jabbed, other times it feels like a fat man trying to fit into an inner tube–the blood has a hard time getting back in, even though it lost its plasma.
I sit there for an hour, feeling sorry for myself. My lips start to get numb, and I try to get someone’s attention before its too late. The numbness in my arm comes back, and it’s traveling up my arm but doesn’t stop at the tourniquet this time. My head feels heavy. Someone in the seat next to me glances at me and ushers a nurse over. In broken english, she asks “are you okay?” but all I do is stare at her. My brain doesn’t know how to respond.
She calls for a different nurse and pushes some buttons on the machine. It clicks, clacks, and stops. She unceremoniously takes the needle out of my arm, pressing a piece of cloth over top.
After a couple more minutes she asks me again and I say “yes” but feel sadder than when I walked in two hours ago.
“Don’t worry–you get your money,” she says as she holds my arm as I stand up. I walk over to the asian man who’s sitting at a different desk now.
“Initial here.” He taps the tip of a pen next to a box that says “30” and as I walk the hallway back outside I pull down my sleeve over the massive bandaid that’s preventing further bleeding.
The countdown begins now. I’ve got roughly thirty-five minutes to bike home before my body will get weak and force me to crumble to the floor wherever I am. Most of the time it’s in my bed, but sometimes I’m in line at the corner store, or worse, still riding my bike home.
For me, this is something I do to pay the last bit of rent I owe. I know that if I couldn’t pay the full amount this month, my landlord will be patient with me. I could stop going if I needed to, for whatever reason. But for many people, they have to keep going. They have incidents like this every week, and they have to keep going. And I think that’s wrong.