I signed in for my appointment 10 minutes early, as usual. I paid my copay and high fived myself for having medical insurance. I took a seat in one of the modern looking but surprisingly flimsy plastic chairs in the waiting room and noticed that it was 20 degrees colder in there than in the hospital hallway. There was probably a scientific or psychological reason for this, and I wanted to figure it out. I never did, though, because Google just showed me forums full of bitter people with unfriendly psychiatrists.
I hypothesized that if psychiatric patients are cold, we are only thinking about temperature instead of sharing our medical history with strangers, or yelling, or talking to our imaginary friends. In my experience, they never want to make the mentally ill too comfortable. We are harder to predict when we’re content. I just sat back carefully so I didn’t break the plastic chair, and settled in to waiting.
The hall door opened and a tiny lady with a large presence rushed through the door with her 4 year old son in a giant jogging stroller. She speed-walked to the front desk where she started making demands while checking her makeup in a rhinestone compact.
“Look, I know I’m late,” combs eyebrow with pinky finger, “but you’re just going to have to let me back there anyway. My nanny broke her ankle or something and left me stranded with him,” gestures offhandedly to her miserable looking son, “I came to see my mother, and I will see her. You can show me to her room, or I can go back there and find it myself!” She never made eye contact with the receptionist, preferring instead to reapply her lipstick. Her neck was a different color than her face.
The receptionist told her to wait, and went to find someone who gets paid enough to handle entitled people with bad attitudes. I made funny faces for the miserable looking son, and he giggled quietly. His mother looked disapprovingly at him, and then at me. I gave her a bright, innocent smile and made more faces as soon as she rolled her eyes and looked away. Soon they were whisked away to somewhere out of sight as she said, entirely too loudly, “Jesus, my mother has another one of her psychotic break episodes and it takes 30 minutes for someone to let her own daughter see her!” I looked at my watch. It had been 4 minutes since she arrived.
I glanced around to observe the reactions of the other patients in the room. Most of them had their heads down pretending to disappear into magazines or the TV in the corner that only plays underwater scenes to soothing music. One patient notices me noticing people, and smiles, looking away quickly and back at his magazine.
Two ladies behind me, strangers to each other as far as I can tell, have discovered a common interest in bird watching. There’s talk of tanager this and pelican that, and discussion of respective back yard specimens. I never saw their faces, but in my mind’s eye they were both aged 65-80 with large grey and dyed black Texas hair, and they were both knitting, piled high with overflowing baskets of yarn. One of them was wearing an apron. I have no idea why.
As the birdspeak continued behind me, a man and woman, possibly Indian and Hispanic, walked through the waiting room together on their way out the door. The man was teaching the woman to say a word in another language.
“Chin – tah.”
“Sinn – tuh?”
“Chinnn – tah.”
“Chin – tah.”
“Chin– tah. Ooooh ok…”
The door closed on that conversation.
The door to the offices opened and my physician’s assistant called my name. We got through the formal greetings, I asked her about her cats and she showed me 30 pictures on her phone, and we settled in to discuss my brain chemistry.
Nothing wakes up my writer’s brain quite like a trip to the psychiatrist’s office.