The Leper Look

When I rescheduled the doctor’s appointment this past Friday, I made it very clear to the person on the phone that I had traveled abroad in the last 14 days. I made sure to lay that out in case that was an issue.

They rescheduled me for 09:30am the next Monday morning … no fuss, no concerns, no further questions.

Traffic was essentially non-existent this morning on the way from home to the doctor’s office, 15 miles away. I made it from my front door to the medical complex in about 15-19 minutes, with no slow-downs on Highway 75… which is normally a parking lot on a Monday at 08:45am.

I arrived in the doctor’s office a little after 09:00. I dutifully sanitized my hands, as the sign on the table in front of the door asked. I announced myself at the front desk, to a desk attendant wearing a surgical face mask [*]. They handed me a clipboard with some forms to fill out. I took a seat across the waiting room, keeping my distance from a more senior person also waiting in the room. There was no sense in exposing anyone to a potential risk.

The questions on the first page were quite standard for this era.

Do I have a fever? No.

Am I taking fever-reducing medications? No.

Do I have respiratory infection symptoms? No.

My heart sank when I read the next one.

Have you traveled internationally in the past two weeks? Yes. I returned from Switzerland 11 days ago.

I returned the form to the desk attendant and pointed out my answer proactively. “Is that going to be a show-stopper?” I asked.

They shot me the look. You know the one. The leper look.

“Yes,” they said.

I got the same look all humans give another human when they think the person is acting irresponsibly… like being out in public and rubbing up against things while harboring open leprosy lesions on the skin. That look.

I decided a calm tongue lashing was in order. I pointed out that when I rescheduled the appointment, I made it clear to the person on the phone I had traveled. No red flags were raised on Friday. I explained that while I understood that things are changing quickly, they could have made this matter clear before I drove the 15 miles for the appointment. After all, they texted me last night to confirm this appointment but mentioned none of these constraints in that text.

In fact, to be blunt, if they were going to include international travel as a concern then they should have barred me from this appointment simply because I live in the U.S. Community transmission started weeks ago, silently at first (because no one was testing for infection) and then loudly as infected people became ill, then seriously ill, then started dying. Community transmission has begun in nearly every state in the Union, and Texas is not special. In fact, the Northern Suburbs, where I have a home, contains at least two cities with established cases (and who knows how many are carrying it without proper widespread testing?). The virus has never cared about national origins or boundaries, and barring someone from a medical appointment based on international travel might have made some sense a month ago, but not since community transmission began in the U.S.

This is a confusing time. I wish somebody would just have the courage to say: “Everything is canceled. Stay home.” Especially medical offices.

[*] Surgical face masks are useless against viral respiratory infection; their job is to keep your nasal and oral fluids from escaping, but not to prevent microscopic particulates from getting into your respiratory system. It’s plausible the attendant was wearing it to protect us from them; but in the 10 minutes I was in the office, they didn’t cough or sneeze once. Source: “5 Myths About Coronavirus”. The Washington Post. March 16, 2020. Written by Saad B. Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health and a professor at the Yale University schools of medicine and public health.

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