Tag Archives: patient

“Paging: Doctor Love to Emergency!”

“I have a 2 o’clock,” I said in the tiny waiting room in which I had never done any waiting before, even though this dental office and I were this close:  //.

No more than six meters in length, that thing was large enough to fit in just a couple of chairs, and a tall fan that was now rotating on its axis next to my thigh, like a head of a kind giant gently blowing at a field full of dandelion heads.  A white cheesecloth pouch was suspended from a pink ribbon from the top of it, with what looked like slices of dehydrated papaya inside.

“Must be for the smell,” I thought and suddenly became aware that there was indeed an inexplicable aroma in the room.  It reminded me…  What did it remind me of?  Nothing that I had encountered before, that’s for sure.

“Yes!  You do!” the receptionist greeted me with so much glee I had to quickly scan my memory for her name.  “You do have a 2 o’clock!”

She was Vietnamese, just like the two doctors and the three nurses on staff, all of whose names I did know.  But this creature — I hadn’t met her yet.  She had to be new, but all too well cast for this place.  By now, she was smiling at me, full force.  No, not smiling:  grinning.  Dr. Josephine and nurse Lisa where now standing in the back of her, grinning at me as well, as if I were here to take their office Christmas card photo.

Had I been standing in a typical American doctor’s office, I would immediately feel weirded out or somehow guilty.

“Shit!  Had I missed a payment, or something?” I would find myself tripping out.  It’s a Soviet thing still swimming in my blood, amidst the platelets, like a strange disease.  Only a few of us possess it, but I can always recognize the symptoms of it, in others:  This immediate access to one’s guilty conscience and the consequential fear of punishment.  I hate it!

But I wasn’t in a typical office.  The tiny women kept grinning at me, and once I was buzzed in, all three followed me to the dental chair, with my name on it. Well, okay:  It didn’t really bear my name, but considering this joint and I were this // close, it might as well have had.  Because again, it’s a Soviet thing, with me:  My mouth is an exhibition of horrific dental work from the old country that took me nearly a decade to correct.  Yep:  My shit’s all fucked up.  I hate it!

And now, it takes a continuous upkeep, which I had done at half a dozen of dental offices all over the country; often leaving behind lengthy records and baffled dentists.  And it always makes me think that if ever my body had to be identified by my teeth, my docs would be able to do so over the phone:

“Oh yeah!  Her shit’s all fucked up,” they would tell my mortician.

And then I bet, they’d call each other up and have a conference.

(What?  Too morbid?  Well, it’s a Soviet thing.)

By now I had climbed into the chair with my name on it and stared up at nurse Lisa — a tiny brunette with permanently smiling eyes — who was getting me hooked up with some mouthwash and a bib.  Dr. Josephine was pulling up a chair on the other side of me.

“What happened?” she said.

“Oh, you know,” I shrugged.  “I lost another crown.”

With her tiny fingers better suitable for a child’s hand, Dr. Josephine was already examining the Crown of the Hour.  I had yanked that thing out of my mouth while sitting in traffic on 3rd Street the other night, after completing an hour of my weekly weight training.  By then, it had been bugging me for a couple of weeks, coming loose and irritating my gums; and performing food storage stints under it, better suitable for the old country.  That night, feeling all mighty and pumped up on testosterone, I finally lost my patience; grabbed a metallic nail file out of my purse, and flipped that thing up and out.

“You could break your windshield that way,” Dr. Josephine said.

She’s a quick one.  They all are:  These tiny creatures that always surprise me with their gentleness and quiet footsteps, but also with their ability to mutter dry jokes while shooting me with anesthesia.  Oh, yes.  There had been plenty of spit takes committed by me in this chair, with my name on it; all quite embarrassing due to my mouth’s temporary paralyses.  But it’s okay. I am certain my tales of drooling laughter and intoxicated whimpers are quite safe around here.

Dr. Josephine began to work her magic:  testing the crown against the gap between my molars, filing it down, then testing it again.  She would do about nearly ten repetitions of that, patiently and so gently that had it not been for the dental mirror with which she moved my lips, I would never know her hands were in my mouth.  But when the crown finally snapped into it place, I swung my feet to one side and said:

“Okay, all done, good to see you, thank you very much, bye!”

She and nurse Lisa began to laugh, again in that quiet fashion of the joint, and I remembered how readily they always responded to my humor.

“Oh.  That’s why they were grinning upon my arrival,” I thought, and wiggled myself back into the chair:  They had adored me.  For years, by now.

While waiting for the cement to dry, I listened to Dr. Josephine’s recollection about her colleague’s experience with some of my fellow ex-patriots.  With my mouth full of cotton and a sour flavor I had learned to know so well, I had to put my comedic routine to rest; shut up and listen.

Back in the decade of my birth year, she had gone to a conference; and at a lecture by her mentor she heard a story of other Soviet immigrants he had worked on.  In waves, these fragile old ladies with a mouth full of crowns would arrive throughout the 70s.

“Was their shit all fucked up?” I mumbled through my teeth.  I couldn’t help it.

“No,” Dr. Josephine said chuckling simultaneously with nurse Lisa who by now reached over to my chin and wiped off some drool.  (Lovely!)  “Perfect mouths.  But what he would find under those crowns…” she lingered.

Yep.  Some fucked up shit, eh?

“Diamonds,” Dr. Josephine said.

Despite her clear instruction to bite down, my jaw dropped.  Nurse Lisa’s gloved hand gently redirected it to its place.

“Yeah,” Dr. Josephine continued.  “Tiny diamonds.  I guess that was the only way to smuggle them out of the old country.”

“Done!” I muttered through my teeth again.  “We’re taking all of my shit out — NOW!”

The tiny women chuckled again — my angels, my godsends.  And it wouldn’t be the first time I would remember the adoration with which they had always treated me.  But then, I would forget it again.

Because it must be a Soviet thing:  This poor memory of someone who’s had her shit all fucked up; but who was recovering — slowly but stubbornly! — with her dry sense of humor and her unfailing kindness in tow.

“Didn’t You Know I Was Waiting on You?”

Waiting rooms:  They are like fishing ponds where most amateurs lack the patience to get the goods.

But I know!  I know, now, how to wait for long enough to pull out a story or two.  Didn’t used to know.  Before, I would join the others in their absentminded flipping through tattered magazines, often donated by some overzealous patient; other times — and in more expensive offices — subscribed to, by the M.D. himself.  And in any office offering free consultations, I would be stuck with a three-fold brochure.  I mean:  Somebody, wake me when they call my name.  I’ll be waiting.

In my immigrant life, I’ve had to do a lot of it:  Waiting.  Waiting for someone’s approval, which would theoretically make me feel better, in the end; except that I would be so exhausted — from the legwork, from not knowing any shortcuts, and from all that fucking waiting! — that I would feel calm, instead.  And grateful:  to be outside, among the rest of the living — no longer among the waiting; freed from the bolted down chairs and the white lights, and all that waiting to hear my name.

From some offices, I would leave with a referral to someone else’s; and with a sense of nagging anxiety, I would want to procrastinate at following through; because there would certainly be more fucking waiting:  Waiting for a number, waiting for a signature, waiting for a stamp; for an opinion, a verdict, an approval.  Waiting for to be considered legal for work, legit for travel.  Waiting for a “Go-Ahead, You’re-Good-Enough — For-Now.”  Waiting.

(I think another immigrant has written a novel called Waiting.  I hated that thing:  Couldn’t wait to finish it.)

These days, I’ve gotten much better at it.  Perhaps, it’s because after years of waiting for the waiting to cease, I’ve realized, it’s a part of life.  Maybe, it’s not a part of everybody’s life — but it is definitely a part of mine.

So, I think, maybe, I’ve surrendered to it.  Finally.  And maybe, despite my chronic impatience toward the crawl of clock hands, I have accepted that when the only activity is to wait — time is, suddenly, in my hands.  And maybe, after finding a dream for which I am best suited, I’ve been made privy to an insight that every event and every person could be a part of it — a particle of a story, waiting to be told.  So, I am not really waiting these days:  but waiting it out.  Like a female sniper.  A fisherwoman.  A crocodile hunter.  You get the point.

In one such waiting room, I found myself the other day, watching a couple of medical assistants entertain each other out of boredom.  Assistant No. 1 appeared to be joyless, and when I had checked-in with her at the counter, she seemed immune to any of my forced niceness or my feigned interest in her occupation:

“Busy day for you today, eh?”

(I am usually a charmer with people in her position:  Sure, she is someone not expected to grant me the sought service; but she could fuck my shit up so seriously, it would cost me more waiting.  No joke!)

“Fill this out,” she said, slipping half a page under her window, “and take a seat!”  (‘Scuse me, Nurse Ratched!  ‘Scuse me — for existing.)

Assistant No. 2 — was more to my liking:  A flamboyant, disarmingly chubby young man, he was quite good at making sarcastic remarks at the expense of whatever patient’s file was being pulled up on his outdated computer screen.  Occasionally, he would demand the attention from Assistant No. 1:

“Now!  Would you look — at this?!”

Assistant No. 1 would smile, but her commentary would be so eviscerating, I would make a mental note to stay out of her way, for the rest of the day.  Or, for the rest of my life, really.  But Assistant No. 2 would appear tickled to no end.  Perhaps, like the rest of us, he was sick of waiting out his life next to people like his joyless colleague; so, he chose to do it with some humor and a thicker skin.

I carried on pretending that my self-purchased issue of Vogue was so captivating, it had to be possess the secret to my own life on its pages.  But truth be told, I can’t read, while waiting:  I’m too distracted by humanity.  I would rather be writing down some obscure thoughts into a journal, but that always attracts attention.  And I would get carried away too, writing fast enough to set my pen on fire; and wouldn’t notice some nosy creature, looming at least a foot above me while deciphering my scribbles over my shoulder.  So:  Vogue it is, in waiting rooms.  While waiting.

After twenty minutes, the waiting finally got interesting:  Assistant No. 1 decided to come out with the tale of her failed love story.  It seemed she had been waiting to vent — waiting to be asked about her horrid mood, about her suffering.  And once the floodgates opened, every soul in the waiting room was made aware of her grief.

Off she went:

“He was, like, ‘I’m just not ready’.  So, I was, like:  ‘Forget YOU!’”

“NO!” Assistant No. 2 chimed in, perhaps, a bit too empathetically, while staring ahead at his screen.  “Men!  So typical!”

That sliver of empathy was enough for Assistant No. 1 to carry on:  “I mean:  Good luck to him!  I’m so over it,” she said and swung her chair back to face the counter.

“Good for you!”  Seemingly, Assistant No. 2 was all about it.  But he did linger for a minute, then said:

“But, um…  Did you really love him?”

Ooh.  Interesting.  Certainly more interesting than my very captivating issue of Vogue.  I looked up:  Assistant No. 1 looked contorted:

“Ugh!” she exhaled and swung that chair around, again.  “Whatever do you mean?!”

“I mean:  Don’t you hate it how, in the end, you find yourself in love with some better version of the person than he actually is?” said Assistant No. 2, stumping Assistant No. 1 — and the rest of us, listening in.  “In the end, you just want to say, ‘But don’t you know how much better I’ve imagined you?  Can’t you just change to match my fantasy?  I’m willing to wait.’”

“Well, then!” I thought, “That — was worth the wait.”

And having waited out for long enough to get the story, I started setting my pen on fire against the pages of Vogue, while waiting to hear my name.