So as Mary Ramirez, a teacher at Blanche Charles and ER program coordinator, guided Imperial Valley Press Staff Photographer Cuauhtemoc Beltran and me toward the "ER," I walked with an air of confidence in anticipation of my future milestone.
We soon approached the "front desk," and immediately I began to marvel at the students' nice little setup. They had a secretary, clipboards, GATE Medical Center sign-in sheets, pens — they had thought of everything. So I admired the arrangement for several seconds longer, until, naturally, I felt it was time to move on and inspect the ER.
Beltran had the intimidating Nikon 8008s camera in hand, so without a second glance, emergency personnel let him take a peek inside the triage area. Thinking my small spiral notebook and microcassette recorder were enough to warrant this kind of deference as well, I began to follow Beltran's lead.
But the young lady at the front desk, Alya Hurich, 9, stopped me in my tracks.
"Excuse me. Yes, you. You'll have to fill out this sign-in sheet before you enter."
Chuckling slightly, I began explaining to her my reason for being there.
"You see, I'm here to write a story." Then — thinking this remark would be the clincher — I added, "I'm from the newspaper." I said it with a friendly grin and nod of the head, too. I then awaited her return nod of approval with the poise of a teenage wannabe journalist.
Not impressed, she made me fill out the sheet.
When I was through jotting down emergency contact information and such, Miss Hurich handed over a pink card and instructed me to step inside the triage area.
As I was about to mosey over to the opposite end of the room so I could overlook the scene and get a general idea of what was happening, a young staffer summoned me to her desk. Apparently, nurse Mayra Castro, 9, needed to examine me.
Thinking this was another cute mix-up, I explained to Miss Castro that I wasn't a patient.
"I'm from the newspaper," I said, not forgetting to flash that smile.
"Well," she replied, "if you filled out the sign-in sheet, then that means you're a patient. Now, I'll need you to sit down in this chair."
Since I didn't want to be labeled as "difficult," I complied with the girl's request.
"What are your symptoms?" she asked.
I looked at my card and quickly scanned the directions: Act out your symptoms and answer the questions the way a patient would under these circumstances. Do not diagnose your problem. Let Voyagers do that.
"So what are your symptoms?" she asked again.
I panicked: "I have a peptic ulcer."
Realizing my foolish error, I muttered a semi-loud "doh!" (Actually, it was another word, to my horror, and I apologized for that slip quickly thereafter.) That was strike one.
However, refusing to go down in this person's mind as a total loser, I promptly recovered and described to her my symptoms as written on the pink card.
I complained of severe abdominal pain, fainting spells and disturbing bloody vomit. All the while my nurse listened intently and scribbled information onto her clipboard.
Given that I had my little notebook and pen with me, I figured, "Hey, now seems like a good time to start my reporting. Go get 'em, tiger." I sneaked in a question as she scribbled away.
Strangely, my nurse continued to go about her business as if I'd remained silent. She probably didn't hear me too well, with the commotion and all.
I laughed it off and repeated the question.
This time I succeeded in getting a response, although it wasn't quite what I was aiming for. Mayra, looking kind of annoyed that I was interrupting her systematic process, raised an eyebrow and then placed a thermometer in my mouth, under the tongue. She did it partly to shut me up, but largely just to take my temperature like a good nurse.
And that was strike two: a 9-year-old shot down my questions.
Later on, however, Mayra explained why she had to shun my earlier attempts at questioning her: "I had to do my job there, and I could get distracted only when I'm done with my job. So if the teacher tells me, ‘you first have to do this before you do that,' then I have to listen."
That didn't help me at the time, though.