I don’t like to leave work early when I am only scheduled to work for three hours, but I’ve been waiting for this appointment for months. I work from three to five and my appointment starts at five a ten-minute walk away. Another nanny offers to bridge the gap so I can get started on my walk, and it’s a good thing because my boss texts me at 5:01 saying he’ll be 10-12 minutes late to relieve me at the park. I speedwalk down streets and enter the clinic at 5:07 pm: not bad.
I check myself in on a computer in a basement lobby, the only person under 45 in a basement full of elderly Crown Heights residents. If I look like I’m lost, it registers only with a slight curiosity in the eyes of the older receptionist who helps me navigate the check-in computer. The median age is probably close to 80 if you don’t count the two receptionists who are in their 50s and 40s. They direct me to an overflow waiting room and ask why I am here today.
Lamely, I offer, “Rheumatology?”.
It’s a question because the clinic has no mention of this service on their website and two weeks ago I called several times to check, only to be redirected to a voicemailbox that dully informed me in the canned voice of the phone service provider that it was full. The office of my GP has a referrals team and they’ve made this appointment for me.
Eventually, one of my calls to the clinic was answered and I talked to a short woman who informed me that there were in fact hours for “Arthritis” on Tuesday evenings and this was the name of the doctor and she could see my appointment at 5 pm. Thank you and goodbye.
I barely had the spelling of the doctor’s name, but I was prepared for this. I cross-referenced the vague sounds from the receptionist and found a match on the printout I had of Rheumatologists in New York City who accepted my managed Medicaid.
I found her name hiding among the others on page five. This was real. After four months of trying, I was finally going to be allowed to see a rheumatologist. I didn’t have a lot of confidence that she was the doctor for me. She seemed to specialize in arthritis in elderly patients. I am 33 years old. I’ll be 34 at the end of this month, but I think it’s safe to say that I am not elderly.
Back in the overflow waiting room, I crack a new book. A real one that I can hold in my hands. I’ve decided that if I’m going to spend hours in waiting rooms every week, it won’t be scrolling through pictures of the filtered faces of people that I knew in college, as they try to score a sponsorship for cleaning products. I have to keep re-reading sections of “My Colombian War” by Silvana Paternostro because my ears are focused on listening for my name in a heavily accented voice.
“Miss Julia? You can go upstairs too. Might as well.” Both waiting rooms will be empty as I shuffle behind my elders, down a long basement hallway whose walls are lined with items that should be in storage closets. We get to the elevator at the end of the hall and I and the youngest man in the group let the others go on ahead so as not to overcrowd the ancient machine.
He’s in his early 70s perhaps, and all kindness and quiet smiles. He has a conversation with the elevator button for my benefit and we joke about the finicky machine. It’s one of those elevators that requires you to continuously mash buttons to make it work. Up, up, up, up. Two, two. Doors Closed. Doors Closed. Two. Two, two, two. Doors Closed. Two. The elevator slowly climbs from C to 1 to 2. Doors open, doors open, doors open.
I thank him for being a good driver and we step directly into the waiting room. I walk over to the receptionist who is behind plexiglass that is so thick that we hunch ourselves over to place our ears at the crack to talk.
“Do I need to check in again?”
“Sit down. I’ll call you in a minute Miss Julia.”
I sit and try to focus on my book over the sound of the local news turned loud for older ears.
She calls me over around 6:15 to fill out my paperwork since it’s my first time there. I hand her my insurance card and her face falls.
“Hold on, Miss Julia. I’ll be back in a minute”.
Don’t panic. Read your book.
Several minutes go by and another receptionist comes into view and asks me if she can help.
“Oh, arthritis? I can’t help. She’ll be back soon!” She walks away with a shoulder shrug.
At 6:30 she comes back with a piece of paper clutched in her hand and that particular look on a person’s face when they have empathy but also bad news.
“Miss Julia, I am so sorry. I don’t know why your doctor made this appointment. Dr. P only accepts your insurance at her private practice on Clarkson Ave. You’ll have to call tomorrow and schedule with her there. We don’t take your insurance at this location. This is the number, she sees patients on Fridays from 2-5 pm. I’m so sorry, sweetie. Good luck!”
Quietly I cry as a shove the paper into my book as a bookmark. I walk over to the elevator.
Down, down, down.