Virtual health

I visited my dermatologist last week. Or should I say we Zoomed each other? I was worried beforehand. Should I put my largest shirt on backwards and sit on the edge of a table looking at my phone while I waited to be connected with my doctor? Would I have to scan my skin, scalp included, with my smartphone?

The nurse asked whether anything had changed since I last visited the office last autumn. I spoke about some bumps around my neck, a bit of itching there and on my scalp. Did I have enough salve? I was running out. Could I get more, please? The nurse looked down, presumably at the laptop she was carrying and transmitting herself to me on, and noted that I had several never-filled prescriptions still on file at my pharmacist. She told me to wait. The doctor would be with me shortly.

It’s usually at this point that I catch up on reading all the brochures on hand. When I used to visit a general practitioner in Saugerties, the brochures’ direness could be countered with Children’s Highlites. Now I was in my office, where I am all the time. I scanned book titles to see if there was anything that might hold my attention better than Henry James, Barbara Kingsolver, or Guy de Maupassant. I was picking out a slim, back-pocket-bent Mickey Spillane when my phone spoke. It was the doctor.

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I’d chastise my father for always trying to make his doctors like him. Don’t joke, I’d say. You want to use your time to impart and glean information.

I asked the doctor if I should strip. She laughed. Used to the surrealism of the situation, she moved right along to talk about skin problems as we age, how they stay with us, how we need to keep treating them. She moved me on to a receptionist, not visible on my phone, who made an in-person appointment for next month.

It was all painless. I wasn’t wearing shoes the entire time.

I carried the Mickey Spillane a few steps and placed it on my bedside table.

My father would have loved this sort of doctoring, I thought. My mother, whose final year was spent under constant treatment, grew to love the human contact with the nurses. She hated the seeming coldness of the oncologists.

I wonder how much of our medical needs will now be met remotely, moving forward. Will this improve healthcare in remote areas? Will good health now be forced to rely on decent broadband?

I noticed something from my new general practitioner.

Blood test, it read. I wonder how they plan that one over my phone.