A long wait in a doctor’s waiting room reveals much about the human condition, some of it encouraging, much of it not.
On a recent Wednesday, my longtime eye doctor was especially busy, so I found myself sitting in the waiting room for a spell.
The makeup of my fellow patients was diverse – young mothers with young children, a couple of folks my age, a few much older than me. They were white, black and Latino, and though I had no way of knowing this for sure, I suspect some were well to do, some not so much.
Sitting closest to me were five Latinos – two women and three children, who all seemed to be together. I suspect one of the adults came along to look after the children while the other saw the doctor.
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Not all of Johnston County is welcoming of its new Latino neighbors. I remember the letter to the editor I received many years ago from a man who referred to Walmart in Smithfield as Little Mexico. The language barrier seems to be a particular bone of contention, with English-speaking folks spouting that Latinos should learn English. These are the people who get especially riled when they see their state government posting signs and printing publications in Spanish.
I have long argued that the language barrier is a generational one, which is to say that while adult Latinos arriving in Johnston might not speak English, their children will learn the language.
So I was encouraged when the young Latina girl next to me picked up an English-language book – I think it was “Cinderella” – and began reading aloud. She looked to be 7 to 9 years old, and she read English as well as I did at that age, maybe better.
I didn’t hear the Latino adults speak any English, and maybe they won’t ever learn much. But I suspect that little girl will one day speak and read English as fluently as she no doubt speaks and reads Spanish, and I suspect her children will too.
I found her reading skills encouraging, and she was evidence that our new neighbors are assimilating.
My wife and I are not rich, far from it, but I consider us fortunate. Not everyone is.
One of my eye doctor’s patients arrived by taxi, which I took to mean that she didn’t own a car. Problem was she had come to the doctor’s office on the wrong day, maybe a day early, maybe a week early, I can’t remember now. But looking over her shoulder at the crowded waiting room, the woman figured she wasn’t going to be seen anytime soon, so she asked the receptionist to call her a taxi. Her complaint, as she waited for the taxi, was that she had wasted $12 on a cab ride. The way she said it, I got the impression that she didn’t have $12 to waste.
A short while later, an elderly woman arrived, driven to the doctor’s office by a son or grandson; I couldn’t really tell; I was just envious of him because he was able to fall quickly and soundly asleep in the waiting room, so soundly that he slept through his cell phone ringing.
At the counter, the receptionist told the elderly woman that her insurance copay would be $45. “Forty-five dollars?” the woman repeated, as shocked as if the receptionist had said $450 to me when I checked in. Honestly, she appeared to swoon, and her son or grandson winced when the receptionist said $45.
The woman, after the initial shock, said she had $43, and I don’t know if that was all she had with her or all she had period.
I don’t mean to speak for this woman; for all I know, she goes to bed each night feeling more content, more fortunate than I do. But I got the impression that coming up with a $45 copay was a burden, which had the effect of reminding me of how fortunate I am. The woman and I both had copays that day. Mine was $40; hers was $45. But I didn’t give a second thought to putting $40 on my debit card. This woman scrounged to come up with $43.
It is human nature to put self first and to think our problems, our struggles, are big deals. But a wait at the doctor’s office reminded me that my problems are nothing compared to the struggles of others. I am fortunate and now more thankful.