Ring. Ring. Ring.
No one is answering.
Ring. Ring. Ring.
It suddenly pauses, leaving me eager for some kind of reply. I hope to hear a voice on the other end of the phone line.
The next few seconds pass without a response from a human being or automated answering service. There is no boring elevator music to tide me through, no beeping or thrumming sound to give me confidence that I will eventually be connected to the first line of entry. It’s just silence. Dead. Freaking. Air. And then the line quietly disconnected, prompting the disappearance of the ten digits from the screen.
“No!” I said before I slammed the handset onto the hook. “God damn this!”
I propped my elbows on my desk, buried my face in my hands, and pressed my fingers against my temples. My jaw is clenched. Anxiety, the likes of which I hadn’t experienced for some time, is welling upside of me. I attempted to release some tension by groaning.
“Are you all right the Eze?” asked Flora, a concerned co-worker.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” I said through a voice slightly muffled by my palms. “I just can’t seem to get the hospital on the line. I keep calling and the phone keeps disconnecting. I’m starting to wonder if the number rings to a phone located in an empty office somewhere. God, is the hospital even real?”
Flora laughed. “Don’t be so fatalistic honey. I’m sure you’ve got the right number. Just give it some time before you call again.”
I interlaced my fingers across the front of my stomach, leaned back in the swivel chair, and turned to face Flora. Of course the hospital is real.“ What am I thinking? I’m sure you’re right, Flora. It’s probably just some separation anxiexty that I’m feeling.”
More minutes passed. What else can I do to pass the time? I asked myself. I could make some calls to clients, or perhaps get started on writing that Quarterly Quality Report that is due a few days from now. But I wasn’t in any mood to get started on work.
So I picked up the receiver and dialed the number once again. My foot tapped on the carpet as the phone rang until there is dead air. A wave of despair overtook me until I am nearly drowned by it. My eyes are focused on the phone screen, where the phone number still appears . I sighed, and kept the receiver glued to my right ear.
I started counting the seconds. The passage of thirty-four seconds felt like an eternity until the silence was interrupted by an automated phone system. It gave me the option to press a certain number if I would like to speak to someone. I pressed the button and inhaled a breath.
“Thank you for calling Denver Medicine,” said the voice at the other end of the line. How can I help you today?”
Oh thank god. Exhale.
I was able to set up an appointment with the hospital, though not with the doctor of my choosing — he was not taking any more patients. But I could care less who the doctor is at this point. I’ll be fine with the person as long as he or she quickly executes the power to refer a patient. My appointment with the doctor is in early January, 2021.
“I’ve been finding it hard to relax recently” I said.
Dr. Stacey’s nose and mouth are covered by a blue mask. So I focused on her eyes and the area surrounding them. Her eyebrows were raised, a signal of her sudden alarm. “Oh, no,” she said. “You want to give me some insight into what is going on?”
“Oh, hold on,” I said. My mask has slipped below my nose. I use my thumb and forefinger to slide the mask upward until it covers the bridge of my nose. Then I give the lining of the mask a pinch so that it stays in place. These goddamn things are an annoyance. “Before we start, I want to say thank you for everything you’ve done for me over the last six years.”
“You’re very welcome. Although, I must say that I should not get all of the credit. You’ve done a great amount of work to get to where you are.”
She was right of course. I’ve been in to see her once a year over the last four years — I have to visit Dr. Stacey in order to gain access to the medications I need to keep everything stable.
“This is going to be the last time I see you though.”
“Yeah,” I said. “My employer has recently switched insurance carriers. So I am not going to be able to access your hospital’s services anymore. And that includes the medications that I’ve been taking. That’s what got me worried, you know? I’m afraid that there’s going to be an…interruption.”
Dr. Stacey turned her swivel chair in my direction and leaned forward. “Okay. I see where you going with this. Well, you don’t have to worry about anything.”
“For real?” I said. “Because I don’t even know who my doctor will be at the other hospital. I’m going to have to secure an internal medicine doctor, and this doctor will have to refer me to a psychiatrist. And based upon my initial interactions with my new provider, I’m not sure when I’ll be able to see a psychiatrist in the near future.”
“First thing, Eze,” said Dr. Stacey. “You are very healthy right now.”
“Yes, I am,” I said.
“How is the job going by the way?”
“It’s going well.”
“Good. Now that you are stable I really don’t foresee any sort of catastrophe in the future.”
“I don’t either, but I don’t want to leave anything to chance.”
“And we won’t. So while you search for a new doctor I’m going to keep refilling your prescriptions.”
“You can do that?”
“I can. Not forever though.”
“Of course. Thank you.” The tenseness left my body as I blew out a breath. Tight limbs became limber and fluid. I fell back onto the couch, let my arms bounce against the cushions. “Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome. Thank you for being such a good patient, one of my best actually.”
If you think that changing healthcare providers is a normal and mundane practice that should not be fussed over, then you’ve never been diagnosed with a destabilizing mental illness.
I recently finished watching Euphoria, an addictive HBO show about a young woman who is unable to kick the drug habit that threatens to tear apart her life and ruin her family. The young woman, Rue, played masterfully by actress Zendaya, meets a young transgendered individual named Jules — she is born a boy and transitions into young womanhood — and Rue sets out to become clean in order to win Jules’s love.
After winning sobriety Rue stands before a group of recovering addicts to announce her achievement. Her sobriety is distinctive in this case, a hard earned badge of honor. She earned her medallion. And although I’m not a recovering drug addict, I found myself relating to Rue.
I’ve earned stability during the last five years of my life. However, I could not have won my stability without the help of my family, a job, and hospital facility that was receptive to my urgent needs. A lot had to fall into place for me to get to where I am. And as is the case for drug addicts, recovering from mental instability requires a somewhat fanatical assiduousness.
Everything was going smooth for me until my job switched insurance carriers, effectively pulling a rug from beneath me. And of course my mom, still haunted by memories of my past behavior, became worried when I told of her the switch. I think that she might have shivered as she processed those thoughts.
“Do you think you should shop on the individual market so you can still get the Kaiser insurance?” my mother asked.
“Individual insurance,” I said. “No, no, no. That stuff is too expensive. I’ll go with the new employee insurance. Don’t worry about it momma. I’ll set up an appointment with the new hospital, go see the doctor, and get a referral to another psychiatrist. It should be easy.”
“Yeah, I looked up the hospital online.”
I was faking assurdness to appease my mother, as I am just as nervous as she is. When this new hospital couldn’t seem to pick up the first time I fucking called, my heart nearly collapsed.
I need to be matched with a board certified psychiatrist with the authority to prescribe my medications. I need to be able to talk to this person in case I find myself walking along the edge again. The clock keeps on ticking, the days fly by. The closer I get to the first of the New Year, the more anxious I feel. I pray that my initial interaction with my new hospital is not a harbinger of what is to come.
I will follow through on my prayers with action.