I hate supermarkets—those bright fluorescently lit mega-stores where you seem to walk for miles, filling your cart as you go while constantly rearranging the contents to avoid flattening of the perishable fruits and bread. There was a time ten years ago when the presence of three rapidly growing teenagers mandated the use of two carts for each shopping experience, not to mention an assistant, usually my daughter, since one cart could not hold enough food for a few days, let alone a week. And forget Costco—who knew that I needed a five gallon jug of ketchup with a matching jug of mustard, ten bargain DVD’s and oh, look at the deal on those sheets! Whoever said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions was describing me shopping at Costco, no doubt about it.
So now that the kids are grown and mostly gone, I do my shopping at the corner grocery store—a place I pass every day on my way home from work. It’s the kind of place that has homemade macaroni and cheese at the deli counter, and fresh stuffed cabbage, and garlic mashed red potatoes with the skins blended in and plenty of butter and salt and cream. The owners employ their own butchers, and since we are a house of hungry carnivores, the men behind the meat counter are my special friends. I’ve been going there so long that all of the employees know my name, and most of them can recite my kids and dogs names as well. So it’s only natural that when they have a medical problem, they come to me–in the grocery store. I guess you could say more accurately that I go to them. I’ve diagnosed allergies, ulcers, psoriasis and migraines, and on a few occasions, a cancer.
Last Thursday night, my favorite butcher—the one who calls me (and all of his other female clients) “Princess” and gives me the $5.99 hamburger meat for $2.99 when he’s out of the cheap stuff—comes up to me as I am waiting at the deli counter. He says to me, “Look at this!” while pointing to his jaw. I see a large abrasion on his chin, dark with dried blood. I say, “What happened to you?” He says, “I got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and I must have fainted, because I woke up at 5 am with my head on the floor and my jaw is killing me and I came to work but it’s gotten worse all day and now I can’t swallow.” My eyes widen with alarm as the girl behind the counter goes, “Tell her about the ear—TELL HER ABOUT THE EAR!” I say, “What about the ear?” He says, “Well, when I woke up there was blood coming out of it.” I said to him, “You need to go to the emergency room, TONIGHT! You could have a skull fracture. You need some X-rays and a CAT scan right away.” I don’t say what I am really thinking, which is that this same man had lung cancer a couple of years ago, and I am worried not only about the possibility of a fracture, but also about the possibility that a brain metastasis caused him to have a seizure and black out, hitting his head and face. He seems reluctant—he wants me to tell him that he is fine so that he can go home and self-medicate with beer and tequila shots.
I realize I must do something fast or I will lose him. I say, “Let me call it in.” He says, “What do you mean?” I say, “If I call the emergency room doctor and tell them you are coming, they will take you right in. You won’t have to wait”. He says, “Well, okay, but I have to finish my shift. I get off at 8.” It’s 7:30 pm. I go out to my car and dial the hospital and ask to be connected to the ER. When they pick up, I say, “This is Dr. Fielding calling in one of my patients.” I tell the ER doc, “I have a patient with a history of lung cancer here, who experienced a syncopal episode early this morning and now has a mandibular abrasion, swelling on the right side of his face and blood coming out of his ear. I am worried about a fracture but also about whether he may have brain metastases that caused him to have a seizure. He needs skull films and a CAT scan ASAP. He will be at the ER by 8:30 pm.” The ER doctor says to me, “Where is the patient now?” I say, “In the grocery store, with me.” He says, “What?” I say, “In the grocery store. He is my butcher.” Silence on the other end of the phone, and then, “Tell me you’re kidding.” I summon up my best authoritative voice, and reply, “I am not kidding. We are in the grocery store and I am calling this in NOW. Call me after the CAT scan.” He says, “Yes ma’am!”
As it turns out, the butcher has a fractured jaw. No brain metastases—it could have been a lot worse. He will be fine. And I am now the Madonna of the Meat Counter. I hope I at least get some free dog bones out of this!