On Wednesday morning, I had my first OB-GYN appointment. I met Anna at the doctor’s office, in the hospital where our baby will be born. It’s less than a ten-minute drive from our house. The building is divided into two towers: the east tower, housing Seton Northwest Hospital, and the west tower, a well-manicured professional building called the Seton Northwest Health Plaza. The quickest route to the Health Plaza from the east parking lot, where I ended up in spite of Anna’s painstakingly accurate directions, is through the main entrance to the hospital. I followed hieroglyphic directions down labyrinthine corridors, past the nurses’ station, through the waiting room, to the information desk, where a befuddled octogenarian in a red smock tried to decipher my nervous query.
“The doctors. Where are the doctors…(voice trails off, confused pause, stammer)…o-o-offices?” Is that the word I want? A second red-smocked woman arrives just as I manage this semi-coherent question. She is younger, rounder, and looking at me sympathetically, as if apologizing for my having to deal with this sweet-but-incompetent lady.
“You want the Health Plaza, sir. It’s right through there.” She gestures over her shoulder at the large and obvious sign, maybe twenty feet from my face.
“Of course it is.” Thoroughly embarrassed, I duck my head and quickly walk away. I feel the older woman glaring at me, and we both know that I am the idiot of this encounter, no matter what that fat airhead thinks.
I gather myself in the elevator, hoping at least to muster the appearance of calm. I’ve dressed up for the occasion. I’m wearing slacks, a starched dress shirt, and wingtips, an outfit I usually reserve for teaching or dinners at restaurants I can’t really afford. I’m trying to look parental. We have a battery of questions for the doctor, and for some reason I’ve decided we’re more likely to get straight answers if I’m dressed like this. I suppose this reasoning is a byproduct of my deep-seated aversion to doctors. They are bearers of bad news, harbingers of ill fate, and I’ve generally found them to be smug, condescending bastards. Of course, this is a totally irrational assessment, utterly divorced from personal history. Except for that last part. But in all fairness, doctors have saved my father’s life, and my grandfather’s, many times over, and my uncle’s. The list goes on. I should be fucking grateful, but instead, I have this unshakeable feeling that someday one of them is going to lower the boom on my otherwise-blessed life. Any armchair psychoanalyst will tell you I’m projecting here, a defense mechanism triggered by the irreconcilable contradiction between my desire to live and the many bad habits that mark desires that run contrary to longevity. If I’m ever diagnosed with lung cancer or liver disease, I’ll have a goddamn doctor to blame in the glorious pre-acceptance phase of denial. And so, I’m not a big fan of doctors to begin with.
The elevator delivers me to the fourth floor, and I locate the office at the end of a winding hallway. I step into the waiting room, and a dozen sets of eyes turn on me. I am the lone man in room full of women, and I can’t help but feel like I’ve stumbled onto sacred, forbidden ground. I scan the room nervously, but there’s no sign of Anna. I file past a row of unblinking eyes that follow me to the reception window. I stand in line behind a woman whose belly appears ready to burst. She arcs her back, bracing her left arm against her outthrust hip for support. All eyes remain locked on the intruder until a door opens to my left and Anna waves me inside.
A nurse leads us into a small examination room, takes Anna’s blood pressure, and tells us the doctor will be with us in a moment. She closes the door behind her.
“You’re awfully dressed up.”
“Yeah, uh, I wasn’t sure what to wear.”
“It’s a doctor’s office.”
“I know, but…” I searched for the logic. “I want to be taken seriously.”
“I know, but don’t worry, she’s nice.” Anna likes her gynecologist. She’s known her for a while, and she trusts her. What right have I to act like there’s cause for suspicion? I am suddenly embarrassed by my apprehension, and quickly drop my adversarial posture. And of course, Anna is right. The doctor is nice. She is young, friendly, and straightforward. She answers all of our questions without the slightest hint of condescension. Talking to her, I feel slightly more at ease. My general anxiety about doctors is compounded by my concerns for Anna’s health and the health of our baby, but even this fear evaporates when I hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time. Amplified, it is a tiny, thudding jackhammer, beating deep inside her belly. And in this moment, I am certain that everything will be okay.