Bus Pass


Our Daily Correspondent

L0052260 A stethoscope representing an advertisement for safe sex

I was anxious about the doctor’s appointment. Not because I thought there was anything much wrong with me, but because I knew they’d want to do “blood work” as part of the “workup,” and that the moment they brought out that thing they use to tie you off, and I saw the vials, my vision would blur, my extremities would tingle, and I’d faint like a neurasthenic fool.

Pull yourself together, I thought. That was the old you. Now you’re a grown-up woman of the world who’s not ruled by her neuroses. To prove it, I added a silk scarf to my ensemble; I draped it in a fashion I’d recently noticed on a hypersophisticated, unneurotic mannequin.

I ran into a neighbor at the bus stop. “What happened?” she asked, and I looked at her blankly. “Did you break your arm?” she said, indicating my scarf. “You’re wearing a sling.”

On the bus, I stuffed the scarf in my bag.

Things were going well. Insurance information had been proffered. Forms had been filled out. “You didn’t note your grandfather’s cause of death,” said the nurse.

“Uh, suicide,” I said. “Kind of. I thought it didn’t really count towards my medical history. I mean, I guess it is, but just not the … visible kind.”

“I’ll just write ‘deceased,’ ” she said.

In the examination room, I experimented with the ties of my gown for a more flattering neckline. I perused the People I’d brought from the waiting area. I asked the nurse about the care of her rings; I asked the doctor about the prevalence of gluten intolerance. Tests were taken. Nodes were palpated, blood pressure measured. I could do this.

“It may well be an iron deficiency,” said the doctor, “but I’d like to rule out Lyme and blood-sugar imbalances. Just some basic labs.”

“Of course,” I said. “Sounds like a plan.”

“Don’t worry,” the nurse said, “I’m very good at this.”

“I’m sure you are!” I said.

Twenty minutes later, I lay on the table in a dead faint. They had had to abandon the blood drawing. I lay there for a while to get my bearings and sipped some apple juice.

“It happens,” they told me. But I could see they’d lost any respect they had for me as an adult. I hoped the nurse didn’t take it personally; she’d been very deft.

I was still pale and shaky when I boarded the bus back home, and felt no compunction about taking a seat. The bus began to fill as we moved west; kids were getting out of school. Soon, every seat was taken. There are two signs one sees in the front section of city buses. The first says, WON’T YOU GIVE YOUR SEAT TO THE ELDERLY OR DISABLED? But then under it, THESE SEATS ARE RESERVED FOR THE ELDERLY AND DISABLED. Sort of a good-cop/bad-cop dynamic.

Then a guy got on. He was in his thirties; he looked able-bodied enough. He was wearing a Rangers jacket. He planted himself in front of an elderly woman with a cane who was in the reserved section. “Can I have your seat? I’m disabled,” he said baldly. Then he said it to a man with crutches and a child of maybe two. All refused him, save the baby, who ignored him completely.

He moved back, to the regular seating area.

“Can I have your seat? I’m disabled,” he said to me.

For a wild moment, I fingered the scarf in my bag and debated slipping it over my arm.

Instead, I muttered, “Fine,” and stood in that shaky, jointed part of the bus by a bunch of uniformed schoolkids.

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.