So, last week I went to the doctor and to paint you a picture, I’m standing there at this open-air front desk with absolutely no privacy in a waiting room as crowded as a 1980s U2 concert when the receptionist boisterously (read, loudly) asks me, “Why are you here?”
“What, like existentially you mean? Let me just whip out my copy of Jean-Paul Sartre for a moment: um … Nausea? Um … well, you see, I’m feeling the nausea of existence, of existing, I’m feeling an unbearable lightness of being in my upper abdomen … No, that’s right. I remember now, even if you, dear receptionist, do not. I have a kidney stone. Yes. A kidney stone. Happy now, all you people listening in from the waiting room?”
At this point, I feel like turning around to them and with outstretched arms, boldly asking, “Are you not entertained?” Because you just know they’re listening. And now, someone’s nodding to their partner and saying, yep, guessed it!
You see, there’s not much to do in a waiting room, and yes, everyone plays that same game you play. The game of ‘keep yourself from falling asleep while waiting 500 hours for a doctor to show up,’ officially titled “What are they in for?” It works like this: observe people in the doctor’s waiting room and ask yourself, “What are they in for?”
That tired looking young man with the hand in a kerchief who just walked in? Lost a fight with a rabid raccoon, no doubt. The young child playing with the toy tractor on the carpet? That’s an easy, and boring, one. He obviously has the plague with accompanying free-flowing mucous… which he’s now so generously sharing with everyone in the room because he doesn’t cover his mouth when he coughs (instead, choosing to aim it quite purposefully toward his waiting room neighbors) and the same hand he uses to wipe at his nose also touches every surface within a 10 foot radius. The elderly woman clutching her right knee while staring stoically at the opposite wall? Well, you’d think arthritis, but no, trampoline injury. Oh, you thought you were the only one who plays this game? Nope.
Sadly, in most medical offices, the staff take the fun out of this harmless entertainment by announcing to all and sundry exactly why a patient is there in the first place before the peanut gallery even has a chance to guess. Or else, they force the patient to divulge such information with little empathy for any embarrassment such an admission might cause.
“What was that? Can you repeat that, sir?”
“I SAID, I CAN’T PEE STANDING ON MY HEAD ANYMORE!”
I’d like to offer this open letter to medical receptionists everywhere.
Dear Receptionists: please, in future, understand that I’m a very private person by nature, and no, even in this day and age when everyone seems hellbent on informing everyone else of the exact flavor of icing adorning their morning cupcake, I do not want a crowd of people to know I have a kidney stone. Or a cold. Or a case of raging foot rash. Shouldn’t you already have that information written down somewhere? In the system? I mean, you’d think that the 20-question pop quiz I was given when I made the appointment over the phone would’ve sufficed. Not to mention, we’ve had the benefit of computers for a good forty years now. We’re not living in the age of Pong anymore. We’re living in the golden age of computers and databases and cloud-synced note-taking software and I would have thought it’s pretty easy, when I tell a receptionist over the phone that I want to see the doctor about my kidney stones, to therefore just make a note of “kidney stone.” Or forget that, if that’s too hard, just write “kidney.” That’s six letters for God’s sake. And when I get to the waiting room counter, I can just sing the chorus of Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone and you can put the puzzle pieces together.
But no, they want me to announce my exact condition to the world, as if I’ve suddenly been thrust into an intervention, and admitting my problem to a circle of total strangers is the first step. Hello, my name is Wendy. I have a kidney stone. Yes, it is a problem, Yes, I admit it. But I don’t want to tell others about it. Please. Is that so hard???
If the receptionist is doing triage to see if you take precedence over the next person in line, I have to ask why? You have a set appointment. Receptionists shouldn’t be doing triage. That should be done over the phone as well. It’s called streamlining the process, people. It’s called efficiency. It’s called organization. Not the world-famous best-selling author of a dozen minimalism and organization books, Marie Kondo, organization but … no, wait, hang on. Marie Kondo would be a marvelous help here.
“Does this kidney stone give you joy?” she would ask.
And I would reply, “Why, no. No. It. Does. Not.”
And she would say, “Then it’s high time you remove it from your life.”
Either way, that’s a vital conversation. But it can be done over the phone. Not in the waiting room. I’m not Bono. I’m not a dancing monkey. I have a medical problem. And I want it fixed without the eyes of the world watching.
If you do decide to forego any sense of privacy and give the receptionist all the gory details of your predicament, be prepared to say it all again, verbatim, to the nurse who takes you back. Because, guess what? They didn’t take notes either.
Finally, you get to the doctor, a man who looks suspiciously like U2’s The Edge and he asks, while looking at nonexistent notes, “What can I help you with today?”
And having repeated the story of your ailment 200 times by now, you explain, “I’m on the edge of insanity, doctor. Even Jean-Paul Sartre could not explain my existential nausea.”
And the doctor kindly admits you to the hospital where you get locked up in a nice padded cell, feeling more nauseous than ever, with Marie Kondo shaking her head at you because you still haven’t gotten rid of your kidney stone.
But hey, in the spirit of that aforementioned intervention, at least something got admitted, and that’s the main thing.
I’d just prefer it wasn’t me.
P.S. I made the kidney stone thing up.