Afraid I might stroke out, I shepherded Juliette back into the blessed cool inside the house. I dumped the mail, then put her away in my bedroom.

Blasted crumby coverage, but what was I supposed to do? I couldn’t go uninsured, and it was 2012, so I couldn’t opt for Obama Care’s high-risk pool yet, and even if I could, there was no telling how things would shake out when the mandates were activated. If I ended up without coverage, nobody else would ever take me.

“I’ll be back later,” I called to Juliette through the door. Not that she cared. She slept all day on her pink bed stuffed with cedar chips. 

Some company. 

On the way out, I grabbed my purse and keys from their hiding place in the bread drawer. I activated the security system alarm, then headed for Dr. Patel’s. 

At least he was in-network. The antichrist would have to pay at least seventy percent.

That’s what I thought, anyway. 

Fifteen minutes later, I drove up to yet another expensive parking lot entrance at yet another medical complex in Buckhead, so weak and depressed I could hardly sit up.

Rolling down the window to take my stub, I was smacked with a flood of heat and humidity that wilted me even further. Though I snatched the parking stub the nanosecond it appeared, the wretched machine scolded me with a loud, grating buzz anyway. Blasted machines. They’d leeched the humanity out of everything.

All the parking places within a thousand feet of the building were filled, and the lot sizzled in the sun.

For some bizarre reason, the handicapped spaces were at the far side of the lot. Gasping, I pulled into one (with four joint replacements, you get a handicapped pass, and you need it), sicker than I’d ever been, and lonely to the bone.

Cursed Green Shield.

I got out of my car into the hazy heat, then trudged to the atrium lobby, arriving breathless and light-headed.  The elevators – of course – were on the far side of the atrium. Whoever designed this place must never have been sick and alone. 

When the elevator doors finally opened, I stepped inside and pressed three as a young mother with a stroller whipped in beside me.

I looked at the child in the stroller. “What a cutie.” I studied her big, black eyes and was rewarded with a deeply dimpled smile.  “What floor?” I asked her mother.

“Five, please,” her mother said with a grateful nod.

“How old is she?” I guessed nine months.

“Nine months,” the mother said proudly, bending to stroke her daughter’s fuzzy halo.

Bingo. “I have a three-year-old grandson and a ten-month-old granddaughter.”

“That’s nice,” the mother said, clearly not interested.

Embarrassed by her dismissal, I realized I was officially one of those old ladies who bothered perfect strangers in the elevator. Shoot.

At the third floor, I waved to the baby as I got off, then headed for the main corridor. But a familiar bladder sensation caused me to back up and detour to the ladies’ room. After four bladder tacks, the last of which was failing, I agreed with George Burns: “Never pass up a chance to pee.” The rest of the quote was X-rated, but I agreed with most of it, too, except the sex part. 

The last thing in the world on my mind was sex.

After finishing and washing my hands, I braved a series of hallways that seemed to be numbered at random, in search of my doctor’s office. 

The Web site had provided directions to the address, but it should have given me a map of the maze inside.  Hopelessly confused, I halted briefly, lost. 

Maybe it was a sign that I shouldn’t go to this new guy. Save my money, go back to bed and not get up.

Then I started coughing again. Breathless by the time the spell ended, I steadied myself against the wall, seeing stars.

Maybe I should go to the doctor, after all, even though he might end up bleeding me for tests and start-up fees, pun intended. If somebody didn’t help me, I was going to croak, no two ways about it. For all I’d said I wanted to die since the funeral, when it came down to it, I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t leave my son and daughter orphaned, and I loved my grandchildren to distraction. And what good would the money I had left do me if I croaked from my “psychosomatic” condition?

I decided to take the chance on Dr. Patel. So I’d end up in the poorhouse a few days sooner. At least I would have tried.

I turned down yet another hallway and discovered I’d been going in a circle.

Shoot! 

Then I spotted a sign pointing toward a snack bar and set out to get directions, mustering up the last of my energy to put on a happy face for the world one more time.

No matter what it took, I was going to find a way to get better.