Shelia could remember when going to the doctor meant seeing a doctor.
She took a deep breath and let it out while the blood pressure cuff squeezed harder and harder on her arm. A mechanical whirr, a beep, and then the cuff relaxed, paused to take a reading, then relaxed a little more. White flourescent lights glared down from the ceiling of the windowless room. A shiny black counter crowded with plastic bins ran under a row of blue cabinets with silver handles. Faint ghost shadows of hypodermic needles, vials, plastic packages of who knows what awful things, lurked behind the frosted plastic walls.
The nurse tech glanced at the display on the machine, then ripped open the velcro clasp on the blood pressure cuff. She gave Shelia a smile. "Symptoms?"
"Fever for three days. Cough and sore throat." Shelia said, her voice rasping. She hadn't wanted to go see the doctor at all. Misery crawled over her as she sat in the barely-cushioned plastic chair. She wanted to be home in bed. But maybe the machine would say she could get some medicine, and that was worth a trip to the doctor's office.
The nurse tech's fingers flew over the keyboard on the machine. It wasn't much more than a narrow white pole with square sides, little doors running down it, a keyboard on a shelf in the middle, and a screen at the top.
"I'll need to take some samples," the nurse tech said. She pulled two cotton swabs from one of the plastic drawers stacked on the counter. "Open your mouth, please?"
Shelia tried not to gag as the nurse jammed the swab down the back of her throat, then fed it into one of the little doors on the macine. The second swab went up Shelia's nose, twisting and scraping, before going into another compartment.
With her eyes watering from the pain in her nose, Shelia blinked and watched the screen, waiting for the machine to deliver the verdict. Influenza? Some bacterial infection? Just want some medicine, want to go home.
The screen flashed red.
The nurse tech frowned and turned the screen so that Shelia couldn't see it. "I'm sorry, but you're going to need to go straight to the hospital," the nurse said in a quiet, slightly puzzled voice.
"What's the matter?" Shelia said. "What do I have?"
The nurse shook her head. "I'm going to call an ambulance. Stay right here please."
Shelia watched the nurse get two large pumps of hand sanitizer and rub them thoroughly over her hands.
"Ambulance?" Shelia said, fear chilling her worse than the fever. "I'm not that sick, I can drive myself." She leaned forward to stand up.
"Stay right there, please," the nurse said. "It will only be a few minutes."
Shelia had a sudden urge to get up and run for it, but her weary, feverish body held her heavily in the chair. The nurse hurried out of the room. Shelia reached for the machine to turn it so that she could see the screen. Her fingers only bumped it farther away at first. She reached to the floor and grabbed it by it's cord, dragged it closer, took the screen in both hands and turned it to face her.
There were only two words on the screen.