Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Save me, Jesus!"

My office is a very modern, open, "boutique" medical practice. I share office space with an HIV specialist in Chelsea- The Gay Ghetto of Manhattan. My office is at ground zero of The Ghetto. Everyone who works in my office, healthcare practicioners included, are gay men. The vast majority of our patients are gay men. We have some gay-themed artwork on our walls and we have HIV-prevention, Hep C-prevention and drug-addiction related pamphlets and educational materials in our waiting room. You get the picture.

Yesterday, a new patient arrived at 3:40 pm for her 4:30 PM appointment. She was an immigrant from the Carribean, mid-40's, and dressed like a nun. She immediately went to the front desk, registered in record time and then asked my front desk receptionist, Ricardo, "Is the doctor going to see me now or will I have to wait another 45 minutes?" He politely advised her that while I would love to take her in sooner, I was booked solid until 4:30 and that we couldn't upset the 4 PM appointment just because she came early. He then reviewed her paperwork only to notice that she did not fill out the 2nd and 3rd sheets of our registration materials. That would be the authorization to bill her insurance (i.e., so we can get paid) and the missed appointment policy agreement (which states that unless it is a true emergency, appointment that are not cancelled with 24 hours advanced notice will incur a missed-appointment fee. She quickly signed the authorization to bill her insurance but refused to sign the missed appointment fee. Ricardo knows very well that if a new, registering patient refuses to sign the agreement, she or he will not be seen to even become established as a patient and we will send them out. This is because, I have learned over the years, as with all relationships, this is someone who is telling you from the outset that they won't be willing to hold up their end of the bargain as far as being polite and considerate of your time. I have no room in my life for people like that- personally or professionally. But I digress...

So she finally, after a bunch of huffing and puffing, signed this agreement and then sat down in a crowded waiting room of gay men to wait to be seen. She began mutterring to herself. Ricardo paged me from the front desk to let me know this and I was horrified. I peeked out of my room to look out to find her clenching her rosary beads, eyes squeezed closed, muttering, "Save me, Jesus... save me from the evil and sin that surrounds me... Save me, Jesus... in your name...." and it went on and on.

My reflex was to be angry and horrified. I felt, "Who is this woman to come into a gay neigborhood and seek out treatment from a gay doctor in a gay office and then condemn us for being gay?!? How dare she!" But then I calmed down. I peeked around the corner and took a look. She was sitting there, clutching her rosary bead, eyes squinted tightly closed, muttering and praying. I looked at the other patients in the waiting area. They seemed confused, upset, offended and very uncomfortable. So I knew I had to do something, while trying not to offend her.

I walked out. I waited until I saw her move her finger to the next bead, signaling to me that it was a pause to interrupt. I quietly said, "Excuse me, Ma'am."

"Yes?" She said, looking as though she was roused from a deep sleep.

"I'm sorry to bother you," I offered. "I'm Dr. Ciment and I certainly don't mean any offense but some of our patients are troubled by the sounds of the prayers you're making. "

I then drew on my parochial education,"If you'll recall in the Book of Samuel when Hanna makes her famous prayer, it says that only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. And clearly, her prayer was more than answered, so we know it works. So if you wouldn't mind, perhaps you could pray like Hannah did."

I don't think she was ready for that one. Stunned by the on-the-spot Biblical reference she replied, "Of course."

On my way back, I stopped at the front desk and turned to Ricardo, "That's $250,000 worth of Hebrew School and Jewish education. I knew it would come in handy!"

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