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Tom Blake

By Tom Blake

“Why am I here?” I thought to myself on Dec. 1 as I entered the Mission Medical Plaza on Crown Valley Parkway. With the pandemic kicking up its ugly heels again, aren’t people supposed to be staying home?

And the last place people should be voluntarily visiting is a medical facility. I’m here voluntarily to have my blood drawn for my six-month routine health exam.

Due to the pandemic, I skipped my June 2020 visit. My doctor recently texted me, saying I was six months past due and encouraged me to come in to see how my body was holding up.

I figured by arriving before 7 a.m., I’d be one of the first persons in line. Not so; there were eight people wearing masks who had already signed in, sitting in socially distanced chairs waiting to be summoned to the front desk to sign paperwork. I’m guessing the average age was 65-plus.

I entered my name on the clipboard and took the last available chair.

One man was wearing a USC face mask. Another man approached him, and they started talking about college football. The USC guy said, “I’m here because I played football for 25 years; my knees are screwed up.”

The other man said he had played football as well, but I couldn’t hear where.

A few minutes later, I said to the USC guy, “I had a buddy who played for SC. You probably have heard of him.”

Lynn Swann holds the Victoria Station award and the USC MVP trophy at the USC Awards Banquet in 1973. Photo: Courtesy of USC Sports Info

Then he was called into the blood-drawing room.

“What was his name?” he asked as he walked away.  

“Lynn Swann,” I said. He gave me a thumbs-up.

I got to know Swann in 1973, when I worked at the Victoria Station restaurant chain. Our company presented him with a college football player-of-the-year award.

Swann was selected in the first round of the 1974 NFL draft. I had dinner with him that night.

He was an All-American at USC, earned four Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was MVP of the 1976 Super Bowl, and later became the athletic director of USC.

Another guy was wearing an “Ohio State” sweatshirt, and a woman was wearing a UCLA sweatshirt.

When people are summoned to the front desk to sign paperwork, they are asked two questions.

“Are you fasting today?” is the first. Everyone says yes.

And then the second question: “What is your date of birth?”

When answering, some people lower their voices, hoping no one in the waiting room will learn their age.

I respond by giving my date of birth, and then add, in a whisper with a wink, “But don’t tell anyone.”

My name was called by the guy who would be drawing my blood. I recognized him from 12 months before. I doubt if he remembered me, as he had probably drawn blood from more than 2,000 people since then. He was wearing a mask, face shield and gloves. The room was spotless.

He worked quickly; I stood up to leave. He handed me an orange biohazard bag. He said, “Take this home, read the instructions and return it to the lab.”

And then he emphatically added, “When you return the bag, ensure it’s sealed! Do not hand it to the people behind the desk. They don’t appreciate being handed a bag of poop. They will show you where the drop-box is.”

I walked through the waiting room, hiding the bag he had given me.

As I walked to the car, I thought about the workers in the medical field who every day are putting their lives at risk so the rest of us can try to stay healthy. Front-liners and first-responders are amazing human beings. I had seen a bunch of them in that medical building that morning and thanked them. They seemed to appreciate that.

And I also thought that the drawing station was a good place to get out and chat up some new people and socialize, albeit a quick in-and-out.

I was happy to be returning home—even with the bag in hand—to finally get a cup of hot coffee and a bit of breakfast.

Tom Blake is a retired Dana Point business owner and resident who has authored books on middle-aged dating. See his website at findingloveafter50.com. To comment: tompblake@gmail.com.

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