My late aunt, Joan, was late for everything even before she died. Deceiving people who must be late so they will be on time only works for so long. Then they catch on to your tricks, those tricks stop working and they go back to being late, only with a vengeance. After all, they have to make up for time that wasn’t lost. My mother invited Aunt Joan to come to the house for Sunday dinner at 1:00 PM. Mom planned the dinner for 3:00 PM. Aunt Joan showed up at 5:00 PM. My dopey mother didn’t serve dinner until she got there. When Aunt Joan sat down to dinner, the very first words out of her mouth were: “This meat is overcooked.” I replied: “It wasn’t over-cooked four hours ago.”
Aunt Joan wasn’t even a doctor! You’ve heard the old joke haven’t you? Question: What’s the difference between God and a doctor? Answer: God doesn’t think he’s a doctor.
For some time now, doctors have been having staff call patients to remind them of appointments. Lately, a new and more annoying practice has come into common usage. They use a computer to make the call, and it insists you press one to confirm the appointment. If you don’t press “one,” the computer will harass you by calling you back until you do press “one.” I call this machine a Press One computer and I’d be more sanguine about doctors using it they made any effort at all to be on time themselves.
Is patients not showing for appointments a big problem? Is it as big a problem as doctors not keeping appointments? Is there a no-call list I can get on so they can’t do this to me? There should be. I am the second most punctual person in the world. I say that because it’s almost never good to claim absolutes. What I really mean is once you have met me, whoever was the most punctual person you knew won’t be anymore. Punctuality is my most noticeable neurosis.
I am particularly annoyed today because my endocrinologist got one of those Press One computers. He is the second least punctual person I ever met, and I have met both my former orthopedist, and the deceased anti-Vietnam War congressman Allard K. Lowenstein. In the thirteen years I’ve been seeing this doctor, I’ve never been late and he’s never been on time. If he had a person call me up to remind me to be on time, I believe I’d yell at that person. If he called me up to remind me to be on time, I know I’d yell at him.
To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, insanity is expecting different outcomes when repeating the same action over and over. I know this doctor is going to be late enough to be the envy of the overwhelming majority of those practicing healing arts. In an attempt to short-circuit his tardiness, I sign myself up for his first appointment of the day. This means I have to get up early enough to be at his office before 7:30 AM. His office is 15 miles away and rush hour starts long before 7:30 AM in my neighborhood.
Today, he came into my examining room for my 7:30 appointment at 8:45! How did he manage that? Easy! He made four appointments for the same time. So, now he’s harassing me to be on time yet making the first appointment of the day isn’t going to cut down my waiting anymore. I didn’t walk out for three reasons: I needed prescription renewals; walking out would further inconvenience me; and if I left, I’d be doing him a favor by helping him get closer to schedule. I didn’t complain because I’ve done that before, and his response was, “If you don’t like it, find another doctor.” 75 minutes late for your first appointment is bad enough to make finding another doctor quite appealing. But how do I find one who will be more scrupulous about keeping appointments? That thought must have occurred to at least one other person. But he or she is still working on it. The url www.punctualdoctor.com does belong to someone, but it isn’t up and running. It isn’t even under construction. It’s just parked. Damn!