Those Questions

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, pondering the many and various ways doctors offices and other places deal with asking those omnipresent Covid questions. You know the ones. They want to know if you’ve had any symptoms, specifically a new cough. They want to know if you’ve had contact with anyone with symptoms. Or with someone who actually tested positive for Covid-19. Have you traveled out of the country—like that makes much difference anymore! But what interests me, when I stop and think about it, are the differences in the ways this “new normal” routine is handled.

before Covid protocols

At my chiropractor’s office, once he reopened after several months of not seeing patients, there was a big sign outside asking anyone who wanted to come in to phone from the parking lot first. Once you got the okay, you could go into the foyer, masked of course, and have your temperature taken while you used hand sanitizer and answered those questions. Only then were you allowed into the waiting room. Sign in has always been done on a mounted tablet, but now there are two jars for those special pens so that no one has to touch one someone else might already have tainted with Covid cooties. There are see-through barriers up, of course, between patients and staff, even though everyone is masked. [Take barriers and masking as givens for all the places mentioned in this post.] In the waiting room, instead of a dozen chairs, there are now only three, widely separated, and no magazines on the rack to pass the time. (I seriously miss my periodic dose of People). In the treatment room, belongings go in a fresh plastic bin for every patient. Six foot distances are clearly marked, as is the way out, through a back door, so that patients don’t have to return to the waiting room. Things have loosened up a bit since the early days. You no longer have the routine stop in the foyer, but all the other precautions are still in place.

On my last visit to my dentist’s office, I was handed a clipboard and a pen to fill in a full page of Covid questions. That was it. Is it surprising that I was a bit nervous that my mask had to be off in order to have my teeth cleaned?

At the place I go for physical therapy (yes, I’m still recovering from carpal tunnel surgery—I waited too long to have it because I didn’t want to travel to Portland during 2020), they have consolidated the dreaded questions into slips of paper in a stack as you enter. You pick a pen from the clean pen container, answer five questions “No” and take it to the receptionist, who then comes around and takes your temperature. She hands back the slip to take to your therapist.

For anything at our local hospital complex, a receptionist asks the questions (no temperature check, at least not the last time I was there) before directing you to the appropriate department. When I had my surgery at Scarborough Surgery Center (the next town over from Portland), the questions were asked again and my husband and I were required to wear surgical masks rather than cloth ones. The “greeter” started to ask if we’d had Covid tests, but the receptionist told him we didn’t need to meet that requirement for hand surgery. My husband was allowed to wait in the waiting room, fully masked, but only because we had come from as far away as we had (a druve of about an hour and a half).

I’m not sure what all this means. I just find it interesting how safety routines are evolving and the role words play in them. I mean, if one of your answers was “yes” you wouldn’t be there in the first place, would you? What about you, dear readers? Any noteworthy experiences with the way a doctor’s office or other business is handling Covid protocols?

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published several children’s books and three works of nonfiction. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her newest books are Murder, She Edited (the fourth book in the contemporary “Deadly Edits” series, written as Kaitlyn) and, as Kathy, I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries. She maintains websites at and A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen, now available in e-book format.

This entry was posted in Kaitlyn's Posts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Those Questions

  1. Andy Sagan says:

    I’ve been the medical director of a number of medical practices, and when things like this happen we just try to do the best we can. It was the same for the Ebola scare, the same for the first go-round with H1N1. Suddenly the ocean around you is boiling, nobody knows exactly what to do. We’ll get guidelines from state and local public health officials, who get guidance from the CDC, but there are gaps between official guidelines, creating policy and procedure, and implementation of protocols. So while there’s good direction coming from “above,” every practice has to implement as best they see fit, and some will do better than others. I would think the discrepancies between facilities would be confusing or annoying to patients!

    What I find interesting is how we, as individuals, will adapt into some new normal once the risk has lessened. I’ve become so tuned-in to germ avoidance, it’s hard to imagine simply going back to the way things were. I mean, am I really going to walk through O’Hare airport without a mask in the future? It’s been remarkably nice not being sick for over a year, and I kind of like the little lean into anonymity that the mask provides. (It reminds me of being on a silent retreat, just a little.) Anyway, I’m not sure how it will be, but I really doubt I’ll ever return to my version of pre-pandemic normal. I think I’ll be masking in doctor’s offices and grocery stores for a long time.

Leave a Reply