stories from home
Slow Death in the Waiting Room
By Julie Jensen
In her final years, I took on the
responsibility of escorting my mother to her monthly shrink visits.
It is the type of duty which naturally falls to the only daughter,
the oldest child. Sons will fix the dishwasher or mow the lawn,
but it is daughters who are expected to hang in there when the going
gets wacky. Regrettably, I looked forward to these appointments
with the same good cheer others save for root canal work, a tax
audit maybe. Although still attractive and well-kept, Mom was the
Howitzer of loose cannons. Possibly on some cosmic level, these
painfully embarrassing afternoons were payback for all of the rotten
things I said to her as a teenager.
The half dozen depressed and troubled
souls always waiting in the outer office when we arrived sat silently
and tried not to draw attention to themselves. There seemed to be
an unspoken code of courtesy: avoid unnecessary eye contact, save
the chit chat, MYOB please. Mom, true to form, sensed none of this.
Her irrepressible nature, combined with an anxious hypermania and
mild dementia, portended social disaster. Factor in a voice permanently
stuck in broadcast mode and it was inevitable. Silent prayers were
part of my preappointment routine.
Even before I had her signed in
one day, Mom announced, "Maxine's soup gave me the runs again!"
A woman dressed in a high dollar business suit peered over her San
Francisco Chronicle with raised eyebrows. I steered Mom, still elaborating
on her lunchtime intestinal woes, to a vacant seat and flashed the
business suit a pleading look of apology. There was some uncomfortable
squirming in the ranks, but except for one man feigning sleep, the
rest of the sullen faced crew retreated behind their battered Newsweeks.
My usual tactic of trying to focus
the conversation on safe topics, a desperately delusional idea to
begin with, was not effective subterfuge. Mom was distracted by
patients trickling out of the back offices and discovered that one
looked just like Nola on Guiding Light." She wondered
out loud, much to "Nolas" amusement, if others had
noticed the same thing, and added that I could be almost as attractive
if I cared enough to "fix my face" once in awhile.
The business suit was not prepared and bit her lip.
In that small space, it was impossible
not to eavesdrop on patients rescheduling appointments or hassling
over insurance at the window. When one startled lady made the mistake
of requesting a 5 p.m. session, Mom leaned forward, despite the
death grip I had on her wrist, and interjected sound advice about
getting dinner on the table on time, "Put a roast in the oven
before you leave, or just say 'to hell with it' and pick up a bag
of hamburgers on the way home." A few moments later, a free
spirit sporting green go-go boots and a crushed velvet skirt breezed
through to silent stares. Mom blurted out, "Someone should
go tell that poor woman that green shoes went out thirty years ago!"
I detected a snort from the receptionist. The business suit and
her Chron were now shaking violently. If you had asked me right
then, I would have offered that my vision of Hell did not include
fire and brimstone, but instead was furnished with industrial gray,
modular seating units, chrome lamps, and bad watercolors, Mom forever
talking at my side.
Mercifully, the doctor appeared
right on time. I gathered our belongings and pointed Mom towards
the doorway. Just when I was certain the worst was over, Mom delivered
her knock out punch, loudly reassuring me, "I'm not nervous
anymore, because now I know he doesn't want to touch me 'down there.'"
Wince, cringe; her timing was impeccable.
The billing clerk was wiping away
tears when we passed the reception window. "Your mother is
delightful," she offered in consolation. I had to chuckle,
and glancing back into the waiting room I couldnt help noticing
that even the man with his eyes closed was smiling.
Julie Jensen teaches sixth grade in Lodi, California,
and the bulk of her writing experience has been on blackboards. She
is a compulsive emailer, with family, students, and coworkers providing
plenty of material for her nightly dispatches. Recently, the San
Francisco Chronicle published a few of her short essays.
Julie and her husband Jeff, both products of good
Lutheran homes with midwestern roots, are proud of their two grown
sons. Humor and sarcasm are the glue which bind the family together.
You can reach Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org