beware the patients!

beware the patients 08.26.14

If there is a Bizarro Earth occupying a parallel dimension, the one place I want to visit while there is a doctor’s office. Only in this twisted alternate reality will I ever experience something approaching satisfaction after pulling my car into a medical complex.

*   *   *

Last Saturday, Max and Caroline had an appointment with the same doctor. Jackson had a separate visit scheduled two days later. None of them had ever seen this physician before, but he was, multiple friends had assured us, “the best!”

The morning of the appointment, Cara directed me to a purple folder with paperwork for each of the kids that we needed to fill out before going to the office. She told me, “I printed them from the website. They were very clear that we need to bring this with us before coming in.”

I looked at the stack of papers and immediately cracked open my laptop. I knew that Cara had prematurely printed out the blank forms, failing to recognize that we could fill them out electronically, saving both us and The Best’s staff valuable time.

I navigated to the website and accessed the forms. I stared at the screen in disappointment. I was staring at pictures of preprinted forms. The only thing you could do with them was print and fill them out by hand. I went back to the purple folder and started writing.

I arrived at the office with all three kids – I figured maybe I could get them to see Jackson at the same time to avoid a separate trip two days later – at exactly the scheduled appointment time of 1 PM. The waiting area, big enough to hold upwards of 25 patients was nearly empty: just a middle-aged man with two kids too young to be seeing this specialist and a woman waiting for her husband to come back out from his patient room. I walked to the front desk where a 60-ish woman with an unsmiling face ignored me for 15 seconds before saying, without looking up, “Sign in.”

I stood for half a second with the 12 pages of information that they had told us to bring on pain of death and contemplated the heavily made-up and garishly lipsticked visage aggressively ignoring me. I signed in and then moved directly in front of Ms. Sunshine to give her the paperwork and make a request.

I waited another 15 second for her to acknowledge my existence in the largely empty environment.

“Yes?” she said, annoyed that someone wanted to speak with her.

“I have the paperwork for the kids here,” I said, handing her Max’s and Caroline’s. She brusquely pulled them from my hand and started to turn away towards her computer.

“I also have my other son’s information here,” I continued. “He has an appointment on Monday and -” She cut me off.

“You hold onto that. I don’t want to get confused if his appointment isn’t today.”

Dismissing the thought that receiving forms the practice requires every patient to fill out shouldn’t ever be confusing – especially since they existed for no other reason than to be physically placed in a patient’s folder – I gamely continued: “Well actually, I was wondering if perhaps he could be seen today to avoid another -” She cut me off again, shaking her head vigorously, exasperated with my stupidity.

“No, we don’t have any time. We close early today.”

I backed away from the reception desk like a camper who has unexpectedly stumbled across the path of a bear. I returned to the kids. Jackson asked, “Will they see me?”

“She’s a total drone,” I replied, not concealing my anger. “We’ll try to make more headway with the doctor.”

Half an hour after the scheduled appointment time, a nurse escorted us to the patient room. This brief illusion of forward progress quickly dissipated as we sat for another 15 minutes.

When The Best finally entered the room, I stood up to shake his hand and introduce myself. He barely glanced at me as he picked up the kids’ newly created files, looked at Caroline and asked, “Ok, so why are you here?”

As I retracted my half-extended arm I realized that he had no intention of telling us his name,  or otherwise engaging in any interaction that would prevent him from exiting the room as quickly as possible. The appointments went by in a blur. The only thing I remember about The Best is that he wore a blue-faced Breitling watch that stared at me with about as much emotion and empathy as its owner. If I witnessed The Best mugging someone in broad daylight and tried to describe him to a sketch artist, I could describe the watch better than I could his height, weight, or face.

By 12:55 I was standing back at the reception desk, Ms. Sunshine gone, staring at a much nicer staffer responsible for scheduling follow-up appointments. I numbly made the necessary arrangements, wondering, “Why would I ever come back here?” as I did so.

“You’re all set,” she said, smiling at me.

“Wait, don’t I have to give you a copay or something?” I asked.

She looked up, startled. “What do you mean? Did the woman at the front desk [Ms. Sunshine] collect any money from you before you went in? If she didn’t, then I don’t think you owe anything.”

“Um. ok,” I replied. “I just don’t want to skip out without making any payments I owe you.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” she said, smiling broadly. “If you owe us anything, we’ll track you down.”

“I’m sure that’s true,” I answered, feeling like this was the only certainty in life as I started walking out the front door.

“Oh!” she shouted after me. “Can you please make sure to push the black door completely shut behind you when you leave?” Before I could answer she reconsidered. “Actually, no, you can leave it. One of our people is coming back – she’ll need to get in.”

Freed from the responsibility of protecting Ms. Sunshine and The Best from an unexpected attack from the outside world, I left.

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