Cassie McClure

It’s like he could sense it before I could. My typically happy-to-tag-along son was dragging his feet to leave for a routine follow-up appointment.

He told me that he was afraid of it taking a zillion hours. Last time, I told him, it was barely a half-hour. This time, he was right.

Because my work is flexible, and my kids are on a school-specific holiday break, it didn’t surprise me that the waiting room was filled exclusively with older folks. What did surprise me was that the room was packed. Our first visit had seemed like gear-work: a patient came in, a patient checked in, a patient went back.

Our appointment time came and went by a half-hour. The office had implemented a new scheduling system two months ago; the receptionist couldn’t find our appointment. Then she could.

My 6-year-old had decided to silently climb on my lap, using me as a recliner one minute and an acrobatic device the next.

He would lean into my ear every so often to whisper, “Forever. It’s taking forever.”

Two men in the room agreed. One huffed and made generalized, low, non sequitur complaints to the room. The other gave one stern huff, grabbed the ends of his chair and hoisted himself up and out toward the check-in desk.

It’s a sign of the times that I tensed and checked his Bermuda shorts for bulges that could indicate a weapon. Maybe we should have waited outside where my son could have watched the cars on the interstate or tested his luck on the climbing-sized boulders in the desert landscape.

Mr. Bermuda was given the office-language equivalent of “tough nuggets,” with an extra side of “sir.”

A full hour and half later, we were taken back to what would be the second circle of their waiting room limbo by a brusque nurse with no hellos left for us.

My son was squirrely but in good spirits, seemingly satisfied to be right about the wait, and to have Mama all to himself even if she had to check work emails every 10 to 15 minutes.

I made idle chatter with Mr. Bermuda and finally saw a grin creep to his eyes above the mask.

Everyone has had appointments run aground in timing at a doctor’s office, but I have the mindset of: Let’s lube our interactions with a bit more novelty. Tell me the doctor was called to testify in court in an emergency. Tell me he ran over an oryx on the way to the office. Tell me that another doctor called out with a snakebite.

Things happen.

This wasn’t an office that would have any dealings with coronavirus-related work stress beyond what we all collectively had. It only felt like the hallmark of an overworked office.

We don’t talk enough about the trickle-down effect that seeps into all the interactions and dampens everyone’s patience with the whole medical system. Doctors and patients are all people with worlds of our own.

As a patient though, I’d sometimes like a simple: “Hey, I know the wait is way longer than we anticipated, but we really appreciate you being here and your patience with us. The doctor won a lifetime supply of doughnuts from Dunkin’ and had to stay around for pictures with the media.”

We’re a society worn out by being treated like sterile cogs — on both ends of the spectrum. One side of the desk has been accosted by one too many Mr. Bermudas, and his wife, Mrs. I’d Like To Speak to Your Manager.

But there’s also a slow simmer stewing from those who show up on time, spend 5 minutes with a doctor after an hour and a half of waiting, and know that he’s billing the insurance for hundreds of dollars — even if for valid things like paying staff, his insurance and maybe even his student loans.

At the very least, for the money, I’d like a whopper of a story to take home, or just a simple admission that reminds us, yes, we’re all in this terrible system together, and maybe there should be a way for us to change it.

Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She is also executive director of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and can be contacted at, or follow her on Twitter: @TheCMcClure. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.