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Dear Reader:

It took me three trips to the health clinic before I could bear to wait long enough to get my TB test. Time wasn't my concern; it was having to watch all those sick people wait. Those lucky enough to get chairs stared blankly at the TV. The rest of us hovered over the receptionist, hoping to get called sooner. Two teenagers even tried to put their charts into the Plexiglas holder on the front of the examining room door, hoping the doctor would think they were next in line.

The waiting area was overflowing with patients--mainly sick non-English-speakers who struggled to explain their problems and understand the workers' replies. Only 40 minutes after the clinic opened, anyone who showed up without an appointment was told the maximum number of walk-ins had been reached and they would have to come back another day. But not on Monday because it would be even worse than Saturday.

I watched with admiration as the nurse calmly called in patients one by one, and as the receptionist gently turned the walk-ins away one by one. You could tell this was not an atypical day for them.

When I finally was called in for my shot, the nurse asked me why I needed a TB test anyway. I told her I was applying for a teaching job with the Chicago Public Schools. Sticking the needle under my skin, she quietly asked, "Why would you want to teach in the Chicago Public Schools?"

--Name withheld

Dear Reader:

As his groceries slide down the counter, the man ahead of me at Dominick's is asked by the bagger person, poised with his first item in hand, "Paper or plastic?" The customer is daydreaming or preoccupied and does not answer. The checkout clerk, directly in front of him, repeats, "Paper or plastic?" The man, startled awake, reaches into his jacket and blurts out, "Paper, yeah paper, I'm using cash."


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