Exploring Illness
Time and Place

c u l t u r e s


s y m p t o m s

Fevers and Chills

An Injured Limb

Swollen Sores

Swollen Sores in the Late 20th Century United States

In the late 20th century United States, a patient with a red, pus-filled swelling on his hand might call a telephone number given to him by his HMO. The RN who answers the phone listens to his description of sore, then advises him to see an MD at the organization’s suburban clinic. Boarding SEPTA, the patient arrives at a clinic where he watches TV while sitting in a waiting room. (See the description of treatment for fever and chills in the 20th century for more on waiting rooms and the 20th century clinical experience.)

When the doctor arrives, the patient tells her about the swelling and how he has noticed it develop in the last few days. The doctor examines the hand, feeling around the edges of the swelling. The doctor asks about allergies, how the patient received the scratch that has become swollen, and when he last had a tetanus shot. Learning that he was recently vaccinated for tetanus as well as MMR, she is relieved, and diagnoses a minor bacterial infection. The patient agrees, saying that that was what he thought it was, too. The doctor writes an Rx for streptomyecin, and asks the patient to call the 800 number again if the infection gets worse. The patient leaves, swings by a CVS to get the prescription filled, and stops off at Blockbuster to get the first season of ER on DVD. He gets home in time for the NBC Nightly News, which is running a story on the GOP’s stance on HIV prevention, as well as the CDC’s response to SARS.


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