SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
March 18, 2007

Waiting for Dr. Godot

 

Every once in awhile, I’m reminded of just how spot-on Samuel Beckett was about damn near everything.

     I walked over to the doctor’s office for what would be my third visit across three Mondays. The first visit had been a three and a half hour ordeal, which ended with the doctor upping the dosage of my blood pressure medication, then telling me to come back in a week. The second visit only involved getting my blood pressure checked to see if the new dosage was having any effect. My blood pressure hadn’t changed a whit, so he upped the dosage again, and told me to come back in a week. This third visit, like the second, theoretically involved a quick in-and-out blood pressure check.

     The waiting room, much to my relief, was almost empty. That office is never empty. For some reason I took it as a good sign.

     When I told the woman behind the desk why I was there, she told me I could just go on to the back, find the nurse I was supposed to see, and be done with it.

     “Okay, thanks,” I said, even though I’d never been told anything like that in this office before. I walked down the hall and around the corner. A group of nurses was clustered there, visiting and giggling. I stood a few yards away and waited patiently to be noticed.

     “Oh,” one of them said, “you can just go sign in and have a seat out there.”

     “Okay,” I said, before retracing my steps back to the waiting room, where I signed in, found a seat, and waited.

     I was sitting in the same chair I always choose, because it was located directly beneath the television. I can understand the reasoning behind putting televisions in waiting rooms, but it’s always bugged me. The drone of voices, the endless commercials. I much prefer the uncomfortable, idle chatter between the other waiting patients. You get to hear their stories, their complaints, their ailments without any responsibility. Once you’re called—or they’re called—that’s the end of it. But all that comes to an end once someone turns the television on. Voices fall silent (except to comment on what’s being broadcast), the eyes glaze over, the mouths slip open.

     This time, quite by accident, I found myself sitting next to a row of elderly women. For some reason, they had all been drawn together by some gravitational force to a row of four seats in the corner, leaving all the other seats empty. All four were silent, all four were flipping through magazines. Their backs were to the windows, and they gave no indication that they knew each other.

     The television—and this is inevitable in a doctor’s office—was showing a soap opera which involved doctors behaving badly while treating patients who were near death.

     I stared at the floor and tried not to listen. Half an hour passed.

     Then a special news report interrupted the doctor show. It was live coverage of the funeral of nine children and one adult who had died in a recent fire. News helicopters were apparently buzzing the funeral procession in order to get a good shot, while reporters recounted the tragedy.

     “Mmmmmmmmmm,” one of the old woman said.

     “Mmmmmmmmmm,” another one replied.

     I’m not sure what they were trying to communicate. It could’ve been pity, or it could’ve been annoyance at the interruption. I didn’t want to ask, so I continued staring at the floor.

     Another half hour passed.

     Finally a nurse I’d never seen before came out and called out something that seemed to approximate my name. I followed her down the hallway, leaving the four strange women behind me.

     She pointed to an examination room, and I sat on the table.

     She asked me what my blood pressure was the week before, and I told her. She wrapped the cuff around my arm, pumped it up, and began releasing the air. Turns out it was even higher this time, which didn’t seem to make much sense, given that I was taking twice as many pills as I had been two weeks earlier.

     She jotted the number down in my file, then told me to have a seat in the hallway.

     I sat in a chair next to a desk piled with paperwork.

     “Don’t bother with these,” another nurse said, gesturing to a stack of files. “Those are mine.”

     “Okay,” I said.

     The same group of nurses I encountered earlier were once again clustered next to me, visiting. One was complaining about wrist pain, and how none of the doctors would look at it. Another was complaining about lunch breaks. A third couldn’t seem to find any of the patient files she was looking for.

     At the desk next to me, another nurse was trying to create a file for a new patient. The would-be patient was on the phone, giving her all the information she was asking for. Try as she might, however, the nurse simply could not spell his last name correctly.

     Only after hanging up the phone did she admit aloud that she had no idea how to create a new patient file.

     I sat patiently, waiting for something, though I wasn’t sure what it might be. Perhaps the doctor was supposed to see me—but from what I could tell, he wasn’t around. I thought about asking someone, but they all seemed so busy and confused, I doubted they would be able to offer much help.

     I continued sitting.

     Finally the nurse who was having trouble setting up the file turned and asked me, “Are you waiting to schedule a new appointment?”

     “No,” I said. “I was just told to sit here and wait for something.”

     “Oh,” she said.

     Then a voice from down the hall said, “he was just a blood pressure check.”

     “Oh,” the nurse said. “Well I guess you can go then.”

     “Okay,” I replied. Then I stood, put my hat on, and left the office.

     On my way out, I noticed the four old women were still sitting in the corner. Nobody seemed to know or care they were there—including the four women.

     As I walked out the door, it occurred to me that my visit there that afternoon was pretty much life in a nutshell.

 

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