There is only one other woman in front of me. I take a seat in the waiting area. As I'm waiting, four Indonesian housekeepers come and sit down to my left. The receptionist shoos them out with a wave of her hand and a gruff "out there, sit there", pointing towards four chairs situated just outside the cubicle.
I'm not quite certain what qualifies me and not them for front-row tickets in the typing room, but even after seven years of profiling, I still find it hard to bear. I smile weakly at the four ladies. Only one meets my eye. She looks like she might want to smile. Instead, she turns back to her peers and they continue conversing in their foreign tongue. I simultaneously and guiltily curse and celebrate my blond hair and fair skin.
Before I have time to let my conflicting emotions and jet-lag frayed sensitivities get the best of me, I am summoned by the Lady Typing. She takes my documentation, and asks me for my passport. I tell her it is in the car, because I was told the Medical Commission only required a photocopy (which is in the stack of papers I've given her). "ID, then, do you have ID?", she asks. I hand her my National ID card. This appears to suffice. She continues typing.
"Ten Riyals", she says. I shuffle madly through my handbag... CRAP! I have only Canadian and American dollars in my wallet, as I'd stashed my Qatari Riyals in a baggie for our trip to Canada. So those Riyals are sitting useless at home in the backpack I've neglected to unpack since arriving five days ago. But I do have my bank cards.
"Do you take debit?" I ask.
I try again: "ATM card?"
"La. NO. ATM outside."
I ask her to please wait a moment, and dash around the side of the building to withdraw the requisite cash. I take out 500 QAR, because I know there will surely be other payments required along the way. I rush back, give her the ten QAR. She hands me back my forms, which have been typed up to include my name, mobile phone number, and Qatari ID number. "Halas" ("done").
(Hmmmmm. 10 QAR for about 40 characters? I type about 80 words a minute. Perhaps somebody's onto something here. I briefly re-consider my job options ...)
I'm not sure where to go next, so I head back to the security guard. I don't even need to show her the completed form. She simply nods her head toward the reception counter to her left. I feel like we're really starting to bond.
The receptionist asks me if I'm married. Apparently the letter of no objection from my husband attached to the front of my paperwork is not clear enough. I state the obvious. She then mimics a pregnant belly by tracing out an imaginary bump between her breast and her pelvis, and gives me a questioning look. I am pleased with how much my grasp of sign language has improved over the years. I assure her that I am not with child.
(It's much better than last time I was here. Back then, a veiled receptionist in dark sunglasses shouted out "Date of Last MENSTRUAL Period" in a gruff Arabic accent about four times before I finally understood what she was saying. Unfortunately, the entire reception room crowd got it all too well the first time around, as evidenced by the fits of giggles erupting around me.)
Satisfied with my responses, she picks up the handheld camera wand and without warning aims it straight at my stunned face through the glass enclosure that separates us. Dammit! I had told myself to be ready this time, but history repeats itself, and just like that fateful day seven odd years ago, the Medical Commission has captured a digital image of me that manages to repulse and amuse at the same time. She giggles and shudders shamelessly at my image staring up at her from the monitor, and asks me for 50 QAR.
I fork over the cash. "La. No. Debit only." Of course.
I hand over my debit card, she gets me to punch in my pin, hands me my receipt and papers, and turns away. She's done, and it's left to me to figure out where to go next.
I turn to my security buddy. She ever so discretely nods her head towards the hallway directly in front of her. My heart melts just a tad. Only true kindred souls would grasp the true significance of that nod.
I head down the hallway and stop at the lab reception on my left. The security guard there gruffly directs me to the X-ray room further down the hall.
I arrive at X-ray, and am told by a cleaning lady to go into the change room and disrobe. She hands me a pink dressing gown. Things have improved here as well. Last time, they simply herded about fifteen of us up outside the X-ray room while the "Bra Lady" (she had to be at least 180 years old) proceeded down the line unsnapping and magically unhinging brassieres as we stood there getting zapped by the rays emanating from the open door.
It is almost my turn. I am about to enter when I hear "Sister, where is your hairband?"
I forgot the hairband. I should know better. It's not like I've not been through this before. Last time I was here, I was forced to use a hairband that they had suspended on a string from the ceiling above the chest X-ray unit. I shuddered for months afterwards at the thought of the countless heads that band had visited before mine.
I search through my handbag in vain. But here again, things have improved. I am directed to the doorknob, upon which have been hung some clear plastic rubber bands. "Great!", I think. I grab one, and just as I am curling my fingers around my hair with one hand to tie it, I realize the rubber band is actually the top wrist-part of a white disposable surgical glove that has been cut off.
I am really trying NOT to entertain the thought that the band was previously attached to a glove covering a phlebotomist's hand. Ooops, too late. Horrid thoughts of blood-borne disease are already running madly on the little treadmill in my brain.
X-ray over, I head back to the lab to get my bloodwork done. I am led to a very pregnant phlebotomist who is just finishing up with the previous patient. She's obviously as thrilled to be here as I am. Here not much has changed. Waiting patients look in as you are asked to extend your arm over the desk. No sooner have you done so than a syringe is plunged into your arm, blood drawn, and a shout of "NEXT" signals your exit.
Back out in the waiting area, patients are asked to sit and wait until the gruff security leads you four patients at a time into the vital signs waiting area. Yippee, now ten more people get to see how much weight I've gained on vacation! On the positive side, my BP is wonderfully low.
I am then sent to the doctor's office. I walk in, utter a barely audible greeting ... the experience is starting to wear thin. She doesn't ask me to sit. She takes my file and asks me if I suffer from any illness. I answer "no". She looks at me questioningly. Like maybe I'm hiding something. She stares silently. I stare back. I wonder how long this battle of wills will last. Perhaps I should sit? She finally relents. "Do you take any medication?" Again, I answer "no". She puts my forms down on her desk, signs them and files them, then gives me a slip of paper.
"Come back in two days. We will have your results."
On the way out, I realize I don't know where I'm supposed to collect my results. I see my BFF security guard on the way out, and before I can even open my mouth to ask the question, she says to me in perfect English:
"Room 7. Come back in two days and go to room 7 to collect your results."
The spell has been broken ...
And so begins my reintegration into the ME workforce.
Call me cuckoo ...
As for me, "I blame it on the jet lag".