Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Scrawled In The Empty Spaces Of The Pages Of "Brass Orchids", Pub. 197? by Roger Calkins, Bellona

Mrs Stevie had to visit the Oncology Surgeon last Friday.

Yes, once again she had to deal with the infrastructure of Long Island Jewish Hospital, including the clueless front desk and Chauncy the Fbleepkwit, and they hit the ground running by not returning her initial call made to schedule her appointment. She gave them a couple of hours, then called back. Then did it all over again, giving them a slightly shorter time to do nothing.

By the time I got home she had called them six times and still had no idea if and when they would deign to let her see the surgeon. That's the one person in this whole sad, sorry house of cards that actually does something useful for the patients who are, lets remember, all suffering from some form of malignancy in their ears, noses or throats and might actually benefit from a bit of coddling.

She got so fed up that she eventually called Doc Teaspoon, the ENT who dealt so effectively with my ear infection and who did the initial medical work-up on her tumor and who is a very effective communicator in addition to being good at what he does1, to ask him if she could she him instead.

Doc Teaspoon was kind enough to spend some time on the phone with the distressed Mrs Stevie, talking her through the reasons why she really needed to see the surgeon, but also offering to get in touch with him and alert him to the fact that his front office were not representing his best interests. It seems they were at ENT school together or something.

So the appointment somehow got made for last Friday morning, and I took the morning off and drove her to Long Island Jewish Hospital so they could begin the process of annoying the living crap out of us.

The first act started when we drove in the front gate and Mrs Stevie instructed me to turn into a small car park just before the large multi-storey one I was aiming the car at. I wrenched the wheel over and we made a hard left turn, tyres and Mrs Stevie screeching, into the short driveway next to the ENT clinic where I brought the car to a halt in front of a yellow lift-arm type barrier.

Which didn't lift.

I sat there for a few seconds, then I noticed a sign on the card-reader next to my door which said: "Press button for assistance". Winding down the window I confidently pressed it, but was perplexed to feel no movement in it at all. It seemed to be a dummy plastic casting, painted to resemble a bell-push type button, which had been glued to the card-reader as a sophisticated car-park joke. I snarled at Mrs Stevie and started to put the car into reverse so I could back out into heavy traffic driven by distracted people looking everywhere but at the road while they tried vainly to figure out where they were and where they needed to be in this nightmare of a place.

I'm not joking here. There are few signs in this benighted den and some of the ones they do have point to places that have been dug up in some sort of hospital-wide renovation project that involves demolishing random roads and stringing chain link fence at random with no regard for roads, sidewalks or large sandy pits. I tried to remember Mrs Stevie was very, very ill and therefore excused bad judgment (she clearly didn't know as much about the car parks hereabouts as she insisted she did) and began to reverse.

Which is when I noticed the old lady who had pulled in behind me.

And the person optimistically signaling her intention to join us as soon as we would stop messing about and enter the car park, and who was therefore creating a reversing issue for the old lady.

I looked frantically for a sign of some sort that indicated whether or not I was, as I suspected, trying to get into some sort of staff car park where card-entry was the only way of passing the barrier or someone I could ask, but there was only the roads, holes in the ground and the traffic. I pulled forward enough that I could get out of my car and tried again to use the call button on the card reader by hammering it with Kung-fu like jabs of my finger, then my thumb and finally my clenched fist smashing it hammer-wise while shouting morale-boosting phrases.

Definitely fake.

I walked back to the elderly lady, tapped on her window and explained I couldn't proceed. Before I could ask her if she knew whether there was a secret knock or something, she had backed her vehicle smartly into the road, narrowly missing my foot, and departed for the multi-storey car park. I keep forgetting that the elderly frewuently had prior careers as NASCAR and Demolition Derby drivers.

As I walked dejectedly back to The Fabulous Steviemobile, an Osamamobile pulled up to the exit barrier. Before the driver could depart the scene I hallooed her and asked her if this was in fact a staff-only car park. She explained that no, it was in general use but probably hadn't opened for business yet, and suggested I visit a hitherto unseen security guard post in the multi-storey car park to see what was up. I blubbered my thanks, and ran across to the booth, only to be told that someone was already coming to help and that I should go back to my car.

In due course a well-dressed Indian gentleman arrived in theater waving a key. He was quite cross.

"The car park does not open until nine o' clock!" he snapped.

I could see by my watch, synchronised to Jamaica LIRR time, that it was a couple of minutes past nine. My first instinct was to complain about the late opening, but I had a second thought that a more constructive suggestion might save the situation from deteriorating into nastiness. "Well, if there were some sort of sign to that effect..." I began in a neutral tone, smiling to show I was being helpful rather than pointing out the bleeding obvious.

"The car park does not open until nine o' clock!" he snapped again.

"And if I had been made aware of that in any way, shape or form we would not be having this discussion. However, as you can see there is no indication of when the car park opens or what to do if you've already pulled into the entranceway before that time" I said, still trying to stem my instinct to go for the jugular.

"The car park does not open until nine o' clock!" he snapped, in tones of one trying to communicate with shirt-thick morons.

At this point Mrs Stevie let loose with a stream of dockyard invective that set the headlining of the car on fire. Mr The Car Park Does Not Open Until Nine O' Clock was saved from the worst of it by the simple fact that her voice was completely gone due to the effects of her radiation therapy. I just shook my head and said "Thank you. Think of me each time you have this conversation." and drove into the now-accessible car park.

We entered the clinic and got a second pleasant surprise. Chauncy the Sbleepthead was manning the desk.

I promptly began a holding action in which I distracted Mrs Stevie from her building rage by reminiscing about our early married life, and our first few months in the company of the Stevieling, who could charm the birds out of the trees at three months. Of course, this only served to remind Mrs Stevie of the time we had all gone to Florida for a big family reunion.

We had taken everyone to Disney, and on one occasion at the MGM park I volunteered to wait outside with the three month old Stevieling while everyone else went into the Muppet Theater2. You may not know this, but July is the off-season for Florida, being so hot no-one would want to go there usually, and hence it is awash in Brazilian tourists who are used to the heat, know a cheap airline ticket when they see one and who have no concept of personal space. I generally avoid them whenever I can, and it was just bad luck that Mrs Stevie emerged from the attraction to find me surrounded by about two dozen young Brazilian women, all somewhere between the ages of 18-25 and all possessed with the sort of dress-sense that dictates the dental floss bikini as sensible Disney park wear and all in skin-to-skin contact with yours truly while they crooned over the "bella bebo" in Portuguese.

Needless to say this went down like a lead balloon, as did the accidental trip into the memory of it all while attempting to preserve morale under fire. Anyway.

During this, Chauncy wandered over and announced that we would be seen by the doctor soon. He apologised for the delay and explained that it was because of a surfeit of doctors crowding out the examination rooms. This spontaneous display of helpfulness was so shocking it completely derailed Mrs Stevie's line of attack. We just looked at each other in amazement. Clearly, someone had "had a word". He even got her surname right.

The surgeon eventually hove into view and took a butcher's at Mrs Stevie’s mouth. He blinked in surprise and said that the "primary site" appeared to be completely free of cancer. He owned to being very surprised at the rapidity of the remission and said he was impressed that she was responding to treatment so well. He confirmed that the swollen lymph gland was half the size it had been when she was referred to him (something she had not believed when I had told her, nor when two radiation oncologists had told her). I saw the weight come off her shoulders and she visibly brightened.

We were brought back to reality when we attempted to schedule a follow-up appointment though.

"What time did you want to come in? Eight thirty?" said the suspiciously helpful Chauncy.

"The car park doesn't open until nine" I parroted.

"Oh, that's right! Okay nine it is. What day? he responded.

"How about Friday?" I said. "I have meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays."

"The doctor only has Thursday hours" he replied.

Mrs Stevie made a warble of puzzlement, but I saw where this was going. "Thursday will be fine" I said, and steered Mrs Stevie for the door.

"That's absurd! she rasped in her Rod McKuen voice as I helped her into the car. "It makes no sense whatsoever!".

"I know. Don't get upset about it. The world won't end if I miss one meeting" I said.

"But they were the ones who dictated the day we came this time! It makes no sense! How can they say the Doctor only has Thursday hours when..."

"...Today's Friday" I interrupted. "Yes, I know. This whole place is some sort of demented mental equivalent of an Escher drawing. Every time you try and make sense of something here, the definition of "down" changes and the whole picture abruptly changes. Don't get upset. At least we got out of the place in under three hours this time."

"Just thank Azathoth you don't have to be admitted" I added as I gunned the engine and made a break for the exit.

  1. Judging from personal experience
  2. One of the best Disney creations ever IMHO

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