The walk from the parking garage to the entryway of the building at UCSF to which I went this afternoon took me fifteen minutes and a sufficiently large fraction of my energy that I had to rest on a bench before entering. Damn damn damn, I muttered, bemoaning the fifteen pounds of unnecessary body weight hugging my middle section. I do not mean to shame myself, but above a certain poundage, my legs, lungs, and impaired neurology simply buckle.
I drew myself vertical and dragged my sorry feet the last hundred yards. I showed my “Covid Compliant” hallpass and got a little green sticker bearing the day of the week. Where do I find the imaging department, I inquired of the attendant. “Take the garage elevators to the bottom floor and turn right,” she replied.
The garage elevators. The elevators from which I had emerged fifteen minutes before collapsing on that cold bench in the breezeway off Parnassus Street?
The very one.
The reverse course took me seventeen minutes, mainly because I stopped on yet another bench to regain my composure. On the bottom level, I gave my name, date of birth, and shoe size to a young lady behind four large pieces of plexi-glass. When she had acknowledged my appointment, I made a mild statement about being misdirected to the front entrance. She shrugged. I made a less mild statement. She said, “It’s not my job to send out the appointment emails.” I asked whose job it was. She did not know. I explained the issue. She made a face.
I noticed another clerk eavesdropping behind a partial wall. I invited her to come out and asked if she knew whose job it might be to craft the directions given to new patients via the confirmation email. That she lifted and dropped her shoulders gave me no shock. I did not anticipate the voice from the waiting room. The same thing happened to me, said a blonde woman from behind a flower-print mask. Then another woman added her son’s experience. He had walked all the way to the front entrance and back to where he actually needed to be, but the delay cost him the time slot and they forced him to reschedule.
“Look,” I said. “We’re not complaining. We’re just telling you, this is a problem and we would like you to be part of the solution. New patients need accurate information.”
A third clerk had joined the first two. None of them made even the slightest gesture to indicate their concern. My two compatriots stood behind me. Into the silence, the blonde woman said, “Somebody should know why they give the wrong information, and somebody should be able to fix this problem.” Three on one side of the plexi-glass barrier; three on the other; and a hopeless divide in between. The silence hung no heavier than my heart.
A little while later, the head of the department talked to each of us as we tarried in socially distant plastic chairs. By and by, I got my MRI and exited the building. I slid into the driver’s seat and navigated to street level. I turned my car south on Highway 1. I found my AirBnb and dumped my bags. Then I took myself to a roadside stop, leaned on the hood of my car, and breathed the heady fragrance of the sea. I lifted my face to the seductive caress of the evening breeze as the sun spread its molten glow across the far horizon.
It’s the eighteenth day of the ninetieth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.