The Seamy Underbelly

I repeat, The Seamy Underbelly. That’s the first description that popped into my head with regard to the general atmosphere of the doctor’s office I walked into recently. Against my better judgement, I stayed. Simply put, it was an appointment I had to keep due to an unfortunate work-related injury. I assumed the scheduler would be interested in getting people healthy and back to work. I can only imagine they weren’t aware of the conditions.

It’s partly my fault – I ignored every instinct urging me to flee. The red flags were whipping wildly like the scarves on runners in Pamplona after the bulls have been released.

I disregarded the hastily scrawled, handwritten sign on the door indicating there were no narcotic pain medications on site. I trudged my way across the tacky (in both appearance and viscosity) carpet to sign in at the front desk. I barely flickered an eyelash as the disheveled receptionist emerged from the cavernous landscape of patient files perched precariously on every flat surface. I checked in, filled out the new patient paperwork, took advantage of the economy-sized bottle of hand sanitizer on the counter, and prepared myself for the wait.

I settled into a chair in the waiting room, and ran my fingers over the jagged edges of fresh graffiti gouged into the wood. I scanned the outdated magazines that were lounging listlessly on the veneer-shedding credenza. I glanced at the three other patients in the waiting room. I checked email, sent out a few witty text messages & played some Trivia Crack.

At 15 minutes past my appointment time, I was a bit irritated, but patients were being called back for treatment at a pretty reasonable pace. The staff members were bustling to and fro, files in hand, smiling pleasantly. New patients were checking in, finding their seats, and settling in. I noticed that several people went to the counter, then left shortly after, prescription bottles in hand.

At 30 minutes past my appointment time, I was fast approaching annoyed. The pace of patients being called back slowed. The staff members seemed to be bustling aimlessly. New patients were still checking in. Prescription bottles were flying out. I eavesdropped on a boring conversation between two drug reps waiting to see the doctor.

At 45 minutes past my appointment time, I was thoroughly disgruntled. The pace of patients being called back came to a screeching halt. The staff huddled around containers of Chinese food the drug reps had ordered for them. New patients were still checking in. The drug reps were engaged in a lively discussion on the mechanics of bone drills. It was then I noticed that the second-hand on the clock was jumping, but not advancing.

At 47 minutes past my appointment time, one of the drug reps approached the receptionist to ask when the doctor would be available.  She explained that he was ‘flying solo’, but would be with them soon. There were no longer any seats available in the waiting room. It was then I realized I had not seen a single patient leave the treatment area to check out. I surfed social media for a few minutes, then heard the receptionist beckon the drug reps to the office area.

At 49 minutes past my appointment time, I approached the receptionist to ask when I would be seen.  She took a look at the pile of files, located mine, and indicated there were 3 patients ahead of me. I simmered with hostility.  I returned to my seat to discover half of it had been claimed by another patient. There were no other seats available, so I wedged myself in, buoyed by the hope I would be called back soon. I glared at the clock, and its jumping second-hand. I watched as the queue for painkillers snaked out the door.

At one hour past my appointment time, it became clear that the situation had gone from bad to worse. Patients were still streaming in, the drug reps were still schmoozing the sole doctor, the second-hand was still jumping, the staff members were sluggishly recovering from lunch, and I couldn’t get in contact with the person who had set up the appointment for me. As I looked around, I realized I was overdressed in my jeans and t-shirt. The woman next to me (with curlers in her hair and slippers on her feet) mentioned that it wasn’t out of the ordinary to wait up to 3 hours to see the doctor. She waggled her eyebrows, shook her prescription bottle, and confided that the payout makes it worthwhile.

At one hour and 15 minutes past my appointment time, the drug reps left. The second-hand jumped. My seatmate wiggled, thumped her cane against my knee, and gained even more real estate on my side of the chair. I watched as an unpleasantly-Rubenesque woman (sporting low-rise yoga pants strained to the limits of their elasticity) shimmied to the ladies room, revealing a flash of butt cleavage and a tramp stamp. I accidentally made eye contact with a man admiring her progress (clutching a Mountain Dew bottle in his nicotine-stained fingers), and was rewarded with a leering, toothless grin. I tuned out the screeching siblings fighting for their turn on a video game, and realized their mother likely wouldn’t intercede until blood was shed. As I inhaled the miasma of desperation, resignation, greed, and egg rolls, I couldn’t help but think ‘these are not my people’.

At one and a half hours past my appointment time, I was finally given the green light to leave by the appointment-maker. I gathered my things, pried myself out of the chair, slogged across the sticky carpet and pushed my way through the crowd jockeying for position to claim my vacated half-seat.

At one hour and 45 minutes past my appointment time, I finally reached the door. I pushed it open and stumbled out, breaking up the circle of staff members smoking their post-meal cigarettes. Elated at my freedom, I took one last peek over my shoulder and caught a final glimpse of the jumping second-hand…



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