1.a. The calm, uncomplaining endurance of pain, affliction, inconvenience, etc.; the capacity for such endurance. [OED]
8PM. The neighborhood, the country claps loud and clear for its healthcare workers. Mom curls up tighter on the couch. Chemo nurse. So they’re not really clapping for her. Nor me. Another cog in the private hospital machine.
The girls are complaining about their salaries while they share their midmorning snack. They like to call themselves secretaries, makes them feel important. We’re cashiers, really. Sure, people come in for wisdom teeth, circumcisions, colonoscopies, a lot of -scopies, abortions, port catheters, cataracts, small hand injuries, and the like. Little things, big deal, for some. It’s all the same. Insurance is your coupon. Cash, check, or card? Beep beep. Have a good day.
“What kind of room did you ask for? Single or double?”
“I didn’t ask for a room.”
“Oh, you must have. Did you book on our online platform or over the phone?”
“I said I didn’t ask for a room, I don’t need a room, do you even know what ambulatory care is? I don’t spend the night here!”
I stare. I, an ambulatory care employee.
“Well, we’re not going to let you wake up from your anesthetic in the corridor, are we?”
The man sits down at my desk and doesn’t get mad when I stutter on his name a bit. “Don’t overthink it.” He smiles. I smile back. I know he has cancer.
The two little old ladies sit at my desk. Little old ladies are wild cards. With printers going crazy in the background, the masks, the separation glass, the auditory processing disorder on my part, I can’t get the questions through. I pull down my mask, reassuring little-old-lady-on-the-right that it’s safe to do so, thanks to the glass, and I encourage her to do the same. I’ll read her lips and she can read mine, and then she’ll be off, it’ll be fine. I can tell she’s looking at my septum piercing, though. Little-old-lady-on-the-left says something about me not being very professional about the contamination risk. I stare at her, she stares back— at my eyes or my piercing, I don’t care, with her mask tucked right under her nose.
I’m with a patient when the phone rings.
“Why would ambulatory chemo call? Is it Helen?” Chloe asks.
“No, transfer it to me.”
A gesture to the patient for a second of respite.
“Is this extension 1110?”
“Yeah,” I say quieter, “You still have to change right? See you in five minutes?”
Mom later tells me she didn’t recognize my voice.
“What do you mean, patients pay the parking fee?”
Lilian shrugs. “Simple. Clients come to be operated on, parking is not included.”
“I see the mother didn’t sign the authorization to operate, is there a reason for that?”
“Well, she abandoned her son before he even got to kindergarten, you see.”
Well, that’s a bit more information than what I bargained for, you see.
Mom tears off a piece of her bread and damps it in the sauce. It takes me a moment to register.
“You’re telling me…”
“That if we test positive but show no symptoms, we don’t have to self-isolate.” She keeps eating, her colleagues keep eating. The noise of the cafeteria swarms me.
“They want us to look our cancer patients in the eyes and tell them they’re safe.”
“You really do have a team of lovely people here, makes going to the hospital less of an ordeal.”
“Oh, the nurses, all the staff, they always have a smile on their faces—”
“Have you told them that? They’d love to hear it in person.” “I heard!” An eye-bagged nurse walks by, carrying bottles of betadine, now with a spring in her step. I choose not to look at what that woman came in for.
Men of all ages sit down in front of me with a woman at their side, on the left chair, hidden away by my computer screen. They’ll sit right there and they’ll whisper to their faceless mothers or sisters or wives or daughters to be handed the documents, they’ll whisper for the name of the doctor, for the kind of room they booked, they’ll whisper for confirmation like actors who don’t know the script, they’ll scold.
My lunch breaks should not exceed thirty minutes, nurses get forty-five because they have to change in and out of their blouses. I trail behind Mom and her colleagues while we take a walk around the building. They make comments about some of the doctors’ fancy cars. Back inside, she greets Dr. C with a smile. She tells me it’d been a while, and that he had been assigned to the very same office he had attempted suicide in.
A woman cries after another lady scolds her for skipping the line, she stammers and says she didn’t see the sign. I believe her. She’s stressed, it’s tunnel vision. I offer some tissue paper from the roll we use to clean the remote controls. It’s some ugly faded green and not soft, but it’s all I have. I tell her the other lady made a big deal out of nothing. She asks for a moment and I pretend to do something else. Her name is foreign and I hear an accent, so I explain extra hard, and that distracts her a bit. She gratefully touches my hand in the slit of the glass and I pat hers. I have to disinfect my hands after that.
“Goddamn it,” Lilian says, brandishing a sheet of paper that just got faxed in, “That guy came in just this morning, the insurance covered the single room, we missed a sale!”
“Hm? How’s it a big deal?”
She looks at me like I’m an idiot. “We get a raise based on the numbers!”
Two cops drag their feet around the hospital, chatting with their hands on their belts near their guns, their junk forward. The next day, I learn that they’ll be here a while to fine people who fail to wear their masks.
I get a good few seconds of fanning myself with a file before the patients walk into sight. Attempts to cool down in the scorching heat are unprofessional. Just like spaghetti strap tank tops.
The woman tosses her cards at me before I even ask for a name. I pretend that doesn’t make me want to hurl my payment terminal at her head. I smile. Of course. The more efficient I am the faster I can be a human being again and drink water.
“Another signature here, please, to indicate that you’ve been informed not to leave your valuables unattended, if you do have—”
“But we don’t really have a choice but to leave them unattended, do we?”
“—valuables on you, please give them to the nurses and assistant nurses, they have a safe.”
I wonder if it’s the spaghetti straps, the piercing, the tattoo. This woman totally has or will call me a slut at some point.
“Why can’t we lock the rooms? For basic privacy.”
Yes, indeed, please lock your room. It’d be so tragic if you were to have a heart attack in there and we couldn’t get to you in time because you were worried somebody would see your panties.
“Your safety prevails over your privacy. We knock, don’t worry. Here, you can have those back, I’m actually all done with your entry—”
I hold the documents out and she snatches them, getting up to leave. I really wanna let her walk off without a room to go.
“Hold on a second madam, I haven’t told you your room number yet.” She stops in her tracks for a split second, annoyed, makes me repeat then walks off before I’m done pointing her. I hope your ass is stuffed with cancerous polyps.
“Why am I in a double room?”
“You asked for a double room, sir.”
“Last time I asked for a double room and got a single one, didn’t have to pay for it either!”
“We must’ve had no double rooms left that time, so naturally you got a single room we didn’t charge for.”
“You’re just some intern, call your supervisor.” “Of course.”
Mister-temper-tantrum tries to look dignified as he walks by in his disposable mobcap and airport-looking-shoe-covers on his bare feet. There was a time where the OR robe left patients butts-out, but the attire got upgraded, and now they have disposable puffy panties instead.
Maya’s wits are lobotomy level. Maya works in the ER where you need the fastest wits; it doesn’t matter if Maya sits on her ass and inputs half-assed files, because it’s the ER, so it should all go fast, very fast, very very fast to Billing, so that the bills go fast, very fast, and land very very fast in people’s mailboxes.
“I don’t know, it wasn’t my shift!” she cries, as though I’m accusing her of stealing another kid’s juice box.
“The point is, there was no input of the necessary info, so the current bill is erroneous. New info has just been brought to our attention, so if we could just fix the bill or cancel it and make a new one—”
“Oh, you keep telling me the bill is erroneous, but that’s not what you should say. Actually, you should say it needs to be canceled,” she says, with all the confidence in the world.
I don’t say anything for a moment because this bitch really is focusing on the vocab I use rather than the low-income patient who’s been unfairly charged. Also erroneous means that it contains an error which is why it needs to be canceled you’re not making a smart argument against me you’re literally just stating the obvious consequence of what I’ve been explaining I’ll fuck you up I will Maya.
“So we agree that there is a problem that needs fixing then? I’ve done all I could here.”
“Also why is this person on your floor, it just doesn’t make sense–”
“I don’t know, sir here just found whoever he could speak to, can I send him over?”
I hang up violently. It’s cathartic.
Maya got a Covid raise for working in the ER and going very very fast.
I’m sweating. It’s hot, but it’s not that. I lean on my chair a bit more heavily. I get through a patient, I get through two patients, I put my head between my hands; it all spins.
The blood pressure monitor tightens around my arm. Mom looks at me, worried but stern. My skin must be transparent. Chemo consultation room couches are comfy, I’m discovering. The thing beeps, she checks the result.
“8.2. A wonder you managed to walk all the way here.”
“It’s the heat. And the 7AM shifts, s’all.”
She’s already readying the dextrometer. The thing pricks my finger, she squeezes to get the blood out. “0.7.”
“I wasn’t told I’d have to pay on the spot.”
Oh, this is about to be a day. Flashback to the moment I waved the lady in, the way she strutted, dragging her suitcase along. Should’ve guessed this was for plastic surgery. I squint at the sheer digits.
The Deluxe room (do not snort do not snort) isn’t ready, for some reason. She came with luggage but no means of payment to cover all the fees, and now refuses to write up a document to testify that that this is a her problem, not a me not doing my job properly problem. We’re now two admin girls trying to coordinate and figure things out. She answers a call and laughs about how much of a mess it is here. She hangs up, apparently the OR is waiting for her. She takes her time, still, drafts three versions of her statement, then writes another fourth and final one.
I rehearse the name before calling it. I think I remember contacting her insurance company and spelling it. I watch this sixteen-something-year-old take out every single thing that I need in an orderly fashion as her mother sits by her side. Their polite answers, please and thank you’s are music to my ears. She translates what I explain to her about the procedures with their insurance. Those five minutes on the phone with the insurance person were worth it.
It’s too damn hot in the booth and I take off my mask. She looks at my piercing and asks if she can keep hers. I’m touring the rooms to distribute the newspapers and magazines and stop by hers to explain something I hadn’t been able to on the spot when she’d first asked.
Nurse assistant Nana pats me on the shoulder.
“Weren’t feeling okay yesterday, you alright?”
“Yeah, no, not a big deal. Mom told you?”
Nana’s face falls a little behind her mask, she shakes her head.
“The girls, I heard them talking about the hypoglycemia.”
“... And by talking about you mean making fun of.” “Don’t give more fucks than they have brain cells.”
I’m running out of ways to explain to this woman that legally, I have to input her married name. She’s growing petty, except I don’t think it has much to do with me. I can’t do much about it. I try and re-explain while sliding papers her way.
“That’s the rule we have to follow, in case of identity control and such. It doesn’t align with my personal beliefs, but I can’t do otherwise. Your married name appears on your ID and therefore ...”
She’s just about to sign.
“I have my passport. It’s valid, and I got it after the divorce, so my married name isn’t on it.”
I stare at her. There are people in the waiting room, and I already spent so much time on her. I think I see tears in her eyes, and hear a quiver in her voice. I hesitate. I can do something about it.
“That would work, then. Let me scan it and I’ll make the correction across the board.”
I hear sighs and scoffs from the booths next to me. Gotta start over, reprocess the whole file. I tell that woman goodbye using the right name and I think she smiles.
“Hey girls, I’m going to warn the nurses about the name change, it’ll be just a minute.”
The door barely closes behind me and I hear them mock my voice. “It doesn’t align with my personal beliefs,” they cackle.
Mom plops down on the couch. She tells me the Chemo section is not meeting the productivity standards.
Hello A, Are you free to work during the xmas holidays, pls? Regards Mr. T
I don’t wanna go back. I must be a bad person. I’m a bad person. I don’t know if I care.
1. b. Forbearance or long-suffering under provocation; esp. tolerance of the faults or limitations of other people. [OED]
Astrid Vallet is an English graduate from France, currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Cultural Studies. She likes to steep in the comfort of blankets, coffee, and perpetual confusion. Her work is featured or forthcoming in Honeyguide Literary Magazine,Sonder Magazine, The Shoutflower, and Crow & Cross Keys; it usually revolves around queer, neurodivergent women like her, and she’s decided that that’s okay. She tweets at @astriddoeswrite.