‘The job I was just not cut out to do’
I’ve worked at a lot of jobs, over a lot of years. I worked at ad agencies in New York and, before that, in the Midwest. Before that I worked at my hometown newspaper. And before that I was a babysitter. Heck, I’ve even worked as a “cleaning lady” — and not just in my own house. Oldest Younger Brother Scott and I ‘did’ my Dad’s office back when I was a kid in grade school. (I can’t remember what we got paid, if anything.)
But nothing I had worked at before in all my many years of working prepared me for serving as a receptionist in my husband-the-doctor’s office.
Yup, The Dude is a doctor. An eye doctor (an ophthalmologist), in fact. If you’re going to be a doctor, it’s a pretty good kind to be. For one thing, there are hardly any emergencies. No matter how often your mom warned you, it’s really not that often that kids poke each others’ eyes out with pointy sticks. Another thing that’s good, at least from The Wife’s perspective: no one gets naked. Nope, you’ll hardly ever hear an eye doctor say “Let’s get that top off; I need to examine your retinas.”
Not only The Child thinks The Dude is “the best eye doctor in town”. He is kind, and gentle, and good at what he does. Well, there was the time I fainted in his chair. But that’s more because I am extremely squeamish when it comes to Anything Medical. He was wielding a cotton swab and had just murmured (in that kind, gentle ‘doctor voice’), “Now I’m going to examine the inside of your upper lid” when I slid to the floor.
Among his happy and satisfied patient base are many of my friends from the Ad Biz. This is because, years ago, he performed cataract surgery on my boss. I will spare you the details about how this came to be. But trust me when I say I was very nervous the night before the surgery. Probably more nervous than my boss was. Well, the surgery was a Big Success and my boss told his boss who told his client who told his industry leader friend. And so on and so forth.
The Dude has been such a Big Hit doctor-wise that he’ll often say things like, “No, I can’t go to that really cool party with you; I’m operating on a BigWig tomorrow.” ‘BigWig’ is what he calls his famous patients. It’s very Frowned-Upon to reveal your patients’ — any patients’ — identities to anyone except in a professional context. So he never tells me their names. (Oh, and don’t worry if you’re reading this and you’re a patient but not a Famous Person; everyone is a BigWig to Doctor Dude when he operates.)
Some of the BigWigs are even theater people and TV and movie stars. I’m not sure how this happened, but suffice it to say there are lots of them. My theory is that these BigWigs — the Movie Star Types, anyway — feel comfortable going to Wayne because he never knows who they are. Seriously. We’ll be talking and I’ll mention seeing someone on the street like, say, Woody Harrelson (not one of his patients, at least as far as I know) and he’ll say “Who’s that?”
One day he came home and said, “I saw that actor you really like today.” Me: “Which one?” “You know, that guy who’s in everything. The one you really like.” He couldn’t tell me, of course, but this time it was mainly because he couldn’t remember his name. So I called his office. It was Tom Hanks.
But back to the point of this story. The Dude was between receptionists, and I was between freelance jobs. So I ‘volunteered’ to help out. Big mistake. I was so not suited for filing files, stamping charts, and manipulating seven phone lines — yes, seven!
I was pretty good at smiling and talking and making the reminder phone calls. Though it was pretty funny when the person I called to remind was someone I knew from advertising. Me: “This is Doctor Whitmore’s office. I’m calling to remind you of your appointment tomorrow…” Person I Used to Work With: “Alice? Is that you?!?”
And I was most excellent at getting the patients to pay. You’d be surprised how many people waltz right out of a doctor’s office without paying. When one guy tried this, I called out after him “Why, Mr. Smith! Payment is indeed required at the time of visit. You wouldn’t walk out of Gristede’s without paying for your chicken!”
I guess I was doing too good a job because the hunt for the Real Receptionist was starting to slow down. But, for me, the novelty of working in a cute dress behind a pane of glass was starting to pall. It didn’t help matters that I couldn’t figure out what to call The Dude when I was on duty. Of course I couldn’t call him ‘The Dude’, or even ‘Wayne’. Everyone else in the office called him ‘Doctor’ or even ‘The Doctor’. But there was no way I was going to call my husband ‘The Doctor’. I warned him that if he didn’t find a proper receptionist soon I was going to start calling him Dr. Man. And in front of the patients, too.
Well. One late afternoon I had had enough. I think it was the day that Mrs. GotRocks (not her real name) complained because the fees had gone up. She had the nerve to say this while clutching her ostrich wallet and holding on to the arm of her chauffeur. So I said, “Oh yes, Mrs. GotRocks, everything has gone up. Have you ridden the subway lately? It’s up to a buck and a half!”
So here’s what happened. The Dude’s office (the Actual Door of which is pictured at the top of this post) is located, like many New York City doctor’s offices, next to the main entrance to an apartment building. One of the receptionist’s many duties is to take the trash through the lobby of this building to be disposed of at the end of the day. I was on my way, garbage bag clutched in my hand, when I happened to see an attractive young woman in conversation with the building doorman.
The doorman introduced us, we got to talking, and I found out she worked as personal assistant to a Famous Man who lived in the building, but that yes, she had time on her hands and could use some more employment. “Would you like to work in a doctor’s office?” I asked. And when she said “yes” I said “Come with me.”
That was fifteen years ago. And she’s been there ever since.
New York City. February 2018