IN DOCTOR’S OFFICE, IT’S HURRY UP AND WAIT

It begins the moment I enter the doctor’s office. How long? Although I’ve asked for the first appointment of the day – it is 7:30 a.m. – there already are two patients sitting in the room when I arrive. How long?

I sign the sheet. I see the names before mine. They also list their appointments as “7:30.” How can three people be at 7:30?

I take a seat.

How long?

I am there only for a blood test. No need to see the doctor. Just a needle, a tube, a label, a piece of cotton that I press down with my finger. How long can that take?

A white-haired woman enters the office. She signs in. A middle-aged man follows. Now there are five of us. Sitting in silence. The old woman picks up a magazine. No movement from the other side of the doors.

How long?

I hear the doctor in the background. I hear him chatting to his staff. A small voice inside me yells, “Stop chatting, start examining!” Another man enters the office. He signs in. Now there are six.

The door opens. A name is called. Not mine. I check my watch. Already 15 minutes have passed since my “appointment.”

My foot starts tapping.

How long?

No time for distractions …

There are magazines in the corner. I resist the urge to pick one up. I do not want to settle in with a magazine. I do not want to surrender to the black hole. No. I won’t pick up a magazine. I am sure they will call me. Another patient enters – a thin young man – and he signs in. Why do so many go for such early appointments?

Did they all think they were first?

The door opens. Another name. Not mine. Worse. It is a person who came in after me. “No fair!” screams the voice inside of me. “No fair! Go in order!”

Who do I see about this? My foot taps faster. Twenty minutes have passed. That’s a blip of time in a doctor’s office. Yet I wonder how the doctor reacts when he has to wait 20 minutes at a restaurant?

Another new patient enters. She signs in. Someone coughs. Otherwise it is silent. Twenty-five minutes have passed.

I know I should be calm. I know I should stop and smell the roses. But a doctor’s office does not smell like roses. It smells like a latex glove.

I happily will smell the roses – if they’d just open the door, give me my blood test and let me go outside where the roses are.

Thirty minutes. One half-hour. Not a word from anyone. Not a “thanks for being patient.” Nothing. I wonder if I could sit here all day?

How long?

The final countdown …

The door opens. Another name is called. It’s a woman who just got there! The cardinal sin! She rises. We all look up. “Who does she know?” the voice inside me screams. “Did she pay extra? Why her? Not fair!”

I picture a revolt. I picture the middle-aged man, the thin guy, the other woman and me storming the desk, forcing our

way in. I picture us catching the doctor loafing in his office, looking at Mercedes catalogues.

“Aha!” we scream.

Forty minutes. In my head I wonder, “Should I say something? Is it rude? It’s not rude, right? They’re rude, not me, right?”

I give it five more minutes. A nice round number. Forty-five, I say. Forty-five comes. Forty-five goes. I stand. I approach the desk. I clear my throat.

“You’re next,” the nurse says.

I sit back down. What does that mean? Next? Wasn’t I first? Why is it always like this in a doctor’s office? Who are these people who think scheduling three people at the same time is normal?

Forty-seven minutes. I am led inside. They stick the needle. I press the cotton. I put on my coat. I exit the office. The faces don’t look up, but I know what they are thinking. They are thinking, “How long?” They are hating every minute of it.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. “The Mitch Albom Show” is 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. For recent columns, go to www.freep.com/mitch.

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