A while back, I visited my doctor’s office for a follow-up on some minor shoulder surgery. It should have been a normal office visit, but it didn’t take long for things to go astray.
“Hi, I’d like to check in,” I said, and then gave the check-in hostess my full name.
“OK, initial here and here and we’ll be right with you,” she replied as she handed me the usual form. I have never read this form. I don’t think anybody does, but I used their pen and scribbled my initials where it was highlighted and handed it back to her.
The waiting room was packed, as it usually is, but I found a seat in the south wing of the theater sized holding area. I was barely there a minute when the hostess called my name. Well, half of it anyway.
“Richard? Come on back,” she said. I put down the magazine and walked across the waiting room. As we walked back towards the exam rooms, she asked how everything was going and I said much better, thank you. We continued to chat as we walked down the labyrinth of corridors towards and then past the usual exam room. I was now lost, so I activated the GPS on my phone.
“Different room?” I asked. She just smiled and opened the door. “The doctor will be with you shortly,” she said, as she closed the door and left the room. This visit was a simple follow-up, so the exam room switcheroo wasn’t anything alarming.
Since there weren’t any magazines in the room, I do what I always do while I wait in exam rooms—I read the medical posters on the wall and in this case, I also maneuvered the artificial knee joint on the desk. Really, how often does one get to play with a titanium knee joint? I’d be a fool not to take advantage of that opportunity.
After a few minutes, the door opened and a random doctor I had never seen before poked his head inside. “Richard Spitelli?” he asked. Many people mispronounce my last name, but that wasn’t even close.
“I’m Doctor Random Guy, are you … Richard Spitelli?” the confused doctor asked as he eyed my legs. “Nope,” said I.
“Huh …” he said as he backed out of the room. I could see that he was trying to figure out why the Richard sitting in the chair didn’t match the Richard on his chart. Funny thing is, I knew exactly why, but I wasn’t going to budge an inch until they figured it out on their own.
On this particular day at this doctor’s office, there were apparently two men named Richard in the waiting room. I should point out that in the interest of privacy, Spitelli was not the actual last name of the other Richard either. I should also point out that privacy is precisely how this mistake was made.
Recent changes in the privacy laws prevent the medical office staff from using a patient’s last name in a public waiting room. If they shouted out “Justin” nobody but a few guys named Justin would even notice but if they shouted out, “Justin … Bieber,” ears will perk up and people would think that Justin Bieber might be at the doctor’s office. It would then be time to gird their twitters for some selfies of Bieber standing shirtless in the exam room while flashing some sort of Canadian gangsta finger display with his free hand. “Yo, what up? Geese.”
A few minutes later, a woman came into the exam room holding Richard Spitelli’s medical chart. “You’re not Richard Spitelli,” she said matter-of-factly, as if I didn’t already know that. “Nope. Not Spitelli,” I said.
“Huh,” she said as she left the room, leaving Spitelli’s chart behind. Since there weren’t any five year-old copies of Better Homes and Gardens or Ladies Home Journal for me to leaf through, and since the bone poster was a somewhat dry read, I checked out Spitelli’s chart. Oh c’mon, don’t judge me. You would too.
“Let’s see here,” I said to myself as I adjusted my glasses. “Born May 4, 1945. Looks like he had knee surgery, hmmmm, uh-hmmmmm, o-h-h-h-h-h, uh-hum.” This explained the different doctor and the remarkably fast knee recovery he saw as he looked at my leg. My doctor is the shoulder guy; this other doctor was the knee guy, and I was placed in the knee room. Mathematically speaking, that would be Richard + knee room ÷ wrong last name = chaos.
A few more minutes went by before a third person came in to see me, as this Richardly confusion made its way up the administrative chain of command. “You’re the wrong Richard,” she said. This shocked me, since I always thought I was a decent enough representation of a Richard. “We’ll have to bring you back to the waiting room.” I suddenly felt like the Christmas shirt that was being returned because it didn’t fit.
As we walked out, I asked her why they couldn’t say the last initial of the patient’s name. I then cited my previous experience with a half dozen waiting room women named Mary, who all stood up when they heard their name called. That group was eventually whittled down to the correct Mary through a tedious process of birthday Jeopardy.
“Oh we can’t do that. HIPPA laws,” she replied as if the HIPPA police would rain down a holy terror if somebody said, “Mary Smith.”
I went back to the waiting room and as I took my seat, the same person called out once again for “Richard.” She then shot me a look that I haven’t seen since Catholic school, a look so intense that it glued me to my chair.
Meanwhile, off in the corner, Richard Spitelli, knee surgery patient, born May 4, 1945, stood up slowly with his wife and emergency contact, Arlene. He had to use a walker, since his knee was all caged up. As they walked back together, yet another person appeared, stared right at me, and called out for “Richard.” I paused for a few long seconds for dramatic effect while she waited for me to stand up. “Okeydokey then,” I said. She then escorted me back towards my familiar exam room.
“I think we have the right Richard now,” she said.
“Depends,” I replied, “Does Spitelli have a nicer car?”
When the exam was finished, I walked out to the desk area where future appointments are made and was greeted by yet another person. I swear this place employs more people than McDonalds. “Why Mr. Spitelli, you’re walking very well,” the receptionist said. “Yeah, not too bad for a guy that had shoulder surgery,” I replied.
Since Spitelli had a higher co-pay than I did, this ruse had to end before I got the bill for a new iUni G2 knee resurfacing device. OK, maybe I read a little more than I should have.
“You have the wrong chart. I’m not Richard Spitelli,” I said and then proceeded to explain that there was some Richard confusion out in the waiting room. I made a follow-up appointment and left, still not convinced that Spitelli wasn’t having his shoulder examined somewhere off in the distance.
On the way home, I thought it might be a good idea to make a few notes so that details of what just happened wouldn’t be forgotten, so I stopped at the nearby Starbucks for a cup of coffee.
“Hi. Small black coffee, please,” I said.
As the barista stood there with his marker poised over the paper cup, he looked up at me. “OK, name?” he asked. That was easy.
“Spitelli. Rick Spitelli. On second thought, leave a little room for cream. Spitelli likes cream in his coffee.”