I coasted slowly along a line of cars parked on 98th Street behind the Crowne Plaza. A few openings appeared, wide enough for a skilled driver to insert a Honda Civic, but I was a mediocre parker. The Crowne Plaza, near Los Angeles airport, was a regular, so it would validate, but visitor parking began on the third floor of an inconvenient structure. After two blocks, I gave up, drove to the structure, plucked a ticket from the meter, and began climbing, scowling at SUVs that invariably took up two spaces. Leaving my car on the fifth floor, I descended a narrow stairwell and crossed to the main entrance, nodding at the valets. Valets at luxury hotels always held my car; the hotel doctor was classified as a VIP. Middle-class hotels were more democratic, less inclined to permit even important people in the entrance areas. A valet who knew me would make an exception but others would make a fuss if I tried.
I pressed half a dozen times, but the button remained unlit, and the elevator immobile. Another hotel had succumbed to the latest feeble security measure. While I considered retracing my steps to find a bellman, a guest entered and inserted his key card in a slot to activate the elevator.
The guest on the fourteenth floor, an Italian with a stuffy nose and sore throat, explained that, while it might be a cold, he never suffered colds, and this illness possessed several ominous features that required attention. He also recited his itinerary, with emphasis on the brutality of the plane's air conditioning, which bore responsibility for his illness. At the mention of air conditioning, I became conscious of sweat trickling down my chest and experienced a surge of affection for Arabs, the only race besides Americans that enjoys air conditioning. All other nationals considered it a health hazard, to be tolerated in an exotic country, like the food, but risky. When anyone in their group fell ill, the air conditioning stayed off, so I spent many summer days sweltering in hot hotel rooms.
"You have a common viral infection," I said. "But that doesn't mean you can't feel terrible. Staying in bed won't make it go away faster. Keep taking the Tylenol and Nyquil, and I'll give an injection of dexamethasone to help things along." The guest frowned, the only indication injections frightened him. I assumed he was hoping for antibiotic pills. Since the guest probably believed injections work more quickly, he had decided to endure one in order to get the medicine into his system as fast as possible.
Injections don't always work faster, and dexamethasone is not an antibiotic but a form of cortisone. Doctors don't usually give cortisone for a respiratory infection, but its anti-inflammatory action might shrink a patient's swollen nasal passages and clear his head. Or it might not, but it was better than a placebo shot of saline, which required a lie if the patient asked what I was giving. Giving nothing often upset the guest, especially if his English comprehension was too poor to absorb my explanation. They felt they weren't getting their money's worth or that the doctor lacked the expertise to come up with a good medicine.
There was always a good medicin!
Doctor Oppenheim has been a hotel doctor in Los Angeles for thirty years. He has made about 15,000 visits.