Am I a patient here? My mysterious ophthalmological morning

Alex Katz

Tomorrow’s the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Week Symposium in New York City. I sent in my check back in February, especially because the cocktail party that follows the day of talks and panels is limited in size, and I wanted to be sure to snag myself a reservation in plenty of time.

I’m ambivalent about going, though. If my check hadn’t already cleared, I might stay home. Instead, I’m psyching myself up to catch the Amtrak train at 5:10 am so as to make it there in time for Donald Maass’s opening talk on “Writing the Breakout Novel.” I’ve got brand-new bookmarks to pass out, but I’m ambivalent about those as well. Iconix did an excellent job and carried out my instructions exactly, but they turned out a tad busier and more lurid than I’d hoped. Oh well, live and learn.

With two self-published novels, I haven’t exactly “broken out,” but maybe Mr. Maass will inspire me to take it to the next level. Then there’s that cocktail party with the bountiful hors d’oeuvres, the open bar, and the agents and editors wearing specially colored name tags so the authors can more knowledgeably accost them. By then I hope I’ll be feeling more jazzed and sociable than I am right now.

This morning threw me badly off my stride. When I showed up for my 9:30 appointment for an ophthalmology checkup at the office I swore I’d been to before, the receptionist said they had no record of my appointment. The office looked strangely different as well.

(Note: the following saga is tangential to the topics I usually blog about, but I feel the need to vent. In case you prefer to skip the rest of the post, this is a reasonable place to stop.)

The appointment was in my datebook, but I was so sure of the time and location that I hadn’t bothered to bring it. Nor could I remember the doctor’s name – it was one of those group practices where you’re never sure of seeing the same doctor twice. My husband had told me there was a phone message reminding me of the appointment, so I plumped myself down on the carpet in the hallway, called his cell and had him play back the message. Laser and cataract surgery, it said – that was odd, since I don’t need laser surgery, and my cataracts are so small I’ve been told they won’t need attention for years yet. No address in the message, so he looked it up in the phone book.  

Lo and behold, the office was a few blocks away. Was I losing my mind? Feeling caught in a Kaflaesque space warp, or maybe an M.C. Escher, I drove to the correct office, which looked utterly unfamiliar. Yes, I was told, I did have an appointment, though by now I was half an hour late. I asked if they had my records. The receptionist checked the files and found nothing; I was listed as a new patient. I’d made the appointment in March, she said.

“I know I’m a patient somewhere,” I said. “Maybe I’d better see if I can find out where.” She agreed but handed me a card in case I changed my mind.

I’d gotten the office number from a personalized letter informing me it had been two years since my last appointment and stressing the significance of regular checkups. Why had they sent it if I wasn’t their patient? “Is this a group practice with different offices?” I asked. “Have you moved?” Negative on both counts.

Priding myself on the fact that I was only mildly anxious rather than freaking out, I decided to drive back to the first office. The receptionist behind the plastic partition gave me a guarded look, perhaps wondering if I was about to cause a ruckus. “Am I a patient here?” I asked.

“Yes. Your last appointment was in 2008.”

Why hadn’t she told me that the first time? For that matter, why hadn’t I thought to ask? Probably because the layout was so different. So were the matching maroon polyester shirts all the staff were wearing. The place looked much more institutional. “Have you redecorated?” I waved at the wall of plastic that segregated the staff from patients. “Is this partition new?”

“Yes, they redid the office last year. A lot of people get confused when they come in.”

 A wave of relief swept over me. Maybe I wasn’t getting Alzheimer’s after all. “Would it be possible to make an appointment?”

 “Certainly. How’s next Monday at 9:40?”

So here I am at my computer, minus the eye drops that make it impossible to tolerate the glare. I still don’t know why I got the letter with the wrong office number, but next time, if I have any doubts, I’ll double check that I’m actually a patient of the practice I plan to visit. And I won’t leave my datebook at home.

There, I feel better now that I’ve vented. If you’ve read this far, please leave a comment and let me know if I’ve gotten too far afield, or if you’ve found my rambling entertaining. Any similar adventures you’d like to share?

5 thoughts on “Am I a patient here? My mysterious ophthalmological morning

  1. Oh, Julie. More and more I question myself when something like this happens, thinking it’s an aging thing.
    I want you to know you have no reason to feel badly about self-publishing. I started Mood Swings last night and am blown away by what a good writer you are. There is so much talent out there and only a small percentage are lucky enough to find an agent and/or publisher. It was smart for us to take it into our own hands. You are a gifted writer. No worries.

  2. Hi Diane and Karen,
    Thanks so much for your comments and good wishes. I’m just about to shut down my computer and organize everything so that I can just fall out of bed and into my clothes at 4am, just a few hours from now.

    Karen, I especially appreciate your comments about my writing – they’ll help me face the MWA New York scene with more confidence!

  3. Posts like this are helpful, Julie. They tell me I’m not alone.

    My most recent mix-up was at my favorite grocery store which is undergoing a remodel. I went on Sunday and found they were on backup power while their power was out — all the cold counters were draped in plastic or in cardboard covers fastened with tape.

    Looking at the covered cases, I could not for the life of me remember where the chicken would be in the meat department. Instead of lifting all those cardboard covers or just asking, I skipped the meat and poultry altogether. It was just weird.

  4. I’d have been clueless too, Patricia. I probably would have used it as an excuse to just buy frozen pizza from a case with glass windows!

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