Today was doctor appointment day. Pediatrician checkups for Wonderboy and Rilla (including vaccinations for both, which made me smile in connection to the comment thread on yesterday’s post), and then Wonderboy’s annual cardiology checkup to monitor a narrow valve.
9:30. I drop the older girls off at Chez Lickona, where warm-hearted friends have offered the entertainments of their pool, their five children, and a pile of origami paper as an alternative to hanging around in waiting rooms all day. My girls are immensely grateful, and that’s before any of us knows just how much waiting-room-hanging-around there is going to be.
9:55. We arrive at the pediatrician’s office a few minutes early; I’m so proud. Both appointments go well (although Rilla, who is highly offended by needles, would beg to differ).
10:50. Since I have a little time to spare before we need to head to the next appointment, I swing by Target to pick up some deeply discounted moss roses I’ve had my eye on.
11:20. We run by home to park the posies in the shade, and I grab some lunch for the little ones. I decide against grabbing any lunch for myself, a decision I will come to regret.
11:45. Back on the road. We’re going to be early for our 12:45 check-in time at the Children’s Hospital, but experience has taught me to allow lots of cushion room in the schedule. Last time the boy had an appt here (that time it was neurology), we got stuck behind an accident on the freeway and—despite my panicked phone call to say WE ARE ON OUR WAY, ALMOST THERE!!!!—arrived twenty minutes late for our appointment to discover the doctor had given our slot to the next patient and then moved a meeting to that patient’s time slot, so: "Sorry, you’ll have to reschedule."
12:10. We arrive at the hospital and actually find parking on the first pass through the garage. We are somewhat less successful at finding the cardiology suite on our first pass through the hospital. It’s a large medical complex with four or five buildings. Two of them, according to the giant map out front, contain rooms devoted to cardiology. I decide to try "Cardiology Clinic" first, as opposed to "Cardiology Offices."
12:20. I realize I was kidding myself about the likelihood of finding either one.
12:25. No, wait, here it is! And I guessed right about needing the Clinic, not the Offices. I sign Wonderboy in.
12:32. We are taken to another room for the check-in paperwork. I am impressed by the cheerfulness and efficiency of the receptionist. This office runs like a machine. However, I’m surprised by the news that Wonderboy is being sent to Radiology for a chest X-ray before we see the cardiologist. I had expected some tests after the cardio consult—an EKG, an echo—but no one had mentioned anything about an X-ray.
12:44. We are sent back to the waiting room, but only for a few minutes. A nurse takes us across the hall for the EKG. Then she sends us to Radiology for the chest film and says to check back in at Cardiology Reception when we’re finished.
1:20. We do just that. Wonderboy was great in X-ray, and Rilla never even asked to get down from the sling. The cardiology receptionist says to have a seat, the doctor will be with us shortly. I know perfectly well that "shortly" is hospital code for "sometime this century," yet everything has happened so efficiently so far that I actually allow myself to believe shortly might mean "shortly."
1:21. Rilla slips out of the sling, ready to roam a little. Wonderboy supervises as she flirts with other patients and explores the corners of the room. She steals another baby’s hat. Wonderboy rats her out. Everyone laughs.
1:33. Ha ha, it’s not so funny the third time. Or maybe I would think it was funnier if I hadn’t skipped lunch. Wonderboy, too, is finding the waiting room less entertaining than it once was.
1:40. Rilla, searching for new ways to delight her admiring public, plants herself behind the door where she is certain to be smushed when the next person walks in. I retrieve her some seven or eight times. She is not amused. I stick her back in the sling. Wonderboy begs to go hoooome.
2:05. One of us is lying on the floor, sobbing. No, not I—I’m not that far gone yet.
2:10. I ask the receptionist how much longer she thinks the wait will be. "Well," she says brightly, "your appointment time wasn’t until 2:00."
"No," I say. "We were told to be here at 12:45."
"That was for check-in. And you had the chest film. Your scheduled doctor time is 2 p.m."
I sputter. "I wish I’d known that! We’ve been sitting here for 45 minutes. I could have taken them to the cafeteria or something." (Translation: I could have been eating pudding. I adore hospital cafeteria butterscotch pudding, and I don’t care who knows it.)
Receptionist: "Well, you know, you did check in early."
Me: "Right, but if I’d known we couldn’t see the doctor until 2, we wouldn’t have sat here all this time."
Receptionist: "If we tell people their doctor times, they come late, and it backs us up. But you came early; that’s why you’ve waited so long."
Me: "But if I’d known—never mind. Anyway, it’s 2:15 now."
She glances at the clock and furrows her brow. "Hmm. Well, go back and wait until 2:30, and if they still haven’t called you, let me know."
2:25. Wonderboy is quietly moaning. Rilla, in the sling, has collapsed into a sweaty, snoozing lump on my chest. I am thinking about eating her.
2:29 and 59 seconds. A nurse calls Wonderboy’s name. The receptionist beams at me: I’m someone else’s problem now. The nurse takes us across the hall to a small suite containing three exam rooms and a door marked HOSPITAL PERSONNEL ONLY. She settles us in one of the exam rooms and takes Wonderboy’s vitals. The doctor, she tells us airily as she departs, will be in any minute.
2:35. Not this minute.
2:39. Nor this one.
2:42. I am eyeing the Purell dispenser, wondering if that stuff is edible. Don’t they say little kids can get drunk from licking it? I pass the time by speculating about dosages. Wonderboy, meanwhile, has given up hope of ever seeing his sisters again and is now writing out his last will and testament on the back of an immunization brochure.
2:49. I notice that Rilla is wearing someone’s watch around her thigh.
2:55. I open the door and peer into the deserted suite. The other two exam rooms are empty. The PERSONNEL ONLY door is closed, and a steady, murmuring voice can be heard from inside. The nurse bustles through, and I stop her and ask how much longer.
She glances at the PERSONNEL ONLY door. "Any minute."
"It’s almost three," I say. "Our scheduled appointment time was 2:00." I stare pointedly at the other, empty exam rooms.
"The doctor is just dictating notes," the nurse says, somewhat reluctantly. "She’ll be in as soon as she finishes."
"We’ve been waiting for an hour," I say, but she has already darted away, leaving me alone with my hunger, my slumbering infant, and my weeping, despairing son. Through the door, the murmuring continues.
3:00. I am still standing there, staring at that door.
3:01. It opens! The doctor emerges! She enters our room!
3:11. She leaves!
During our ten fabulous minutes together, she has taken a complete and thorough family history and listened to Wonderboy’s heart. Of course, she tells me, he’ll need an echocardiogram before she can make a real assessment. "Can we do that today?" I ask, even though we’re already past the time I told the Lickonas I’d pick up the girls. They’re wonderful people; they’ll understand.
"Oh, no," says the doctor, visibly surprised, as if I’d asked for a table in a swank restaurant without a reservation. "You’ll have to make an appointment and come back."
She whisks away, presumably to dictate our notes in the special room. Patient’s mother has air of quiet desperation symptomatic of lunatic fantasies involving billing medical professionals for time wasted. Patient was cooperative but depressed, as indicated by his repeated requests (via sign language) for me to sign his will as a witness. Patient’s 15-month-old sister is adorable but displays tendencies toward kleptomania. Refer entire family to psych.
If Time Is Money, My Exchange Rate is Too Low
The Speech Banana
Speech Therapy Games
The Wait and the Wonder
Resources for Learning American Sign Language (ASL)