One night after a series of colds and recurring ear infections, our daughter woke with a high fever. Figuring it was probably a return of her recent ear infection, we made an appointment at our pediatrician’s office. We were told we would be squeezed in to the already overloaded schedule. Recently a very highly-regarded pediatrician had taken over the office that is closest to us, after our former pediatrician had retired. This doctor has a few office locations, so most of the time that we have gone to the pediatrician for regular check-ups there has only been a nurse in attendance. It has been rare for our family to see an actual doctor during any regular doctor appointments. With my daughter clearly in discomfort, I made the trek to the pediatrician’s office, my son along to have his ears checked as well, and father-in-law in-tow to help with the inevitable cat herding that would be required during this excursion.
We drove the forty minutes to our usual office location. Being the first patients to arrive, my hopes were high for a quick in-and-out visit. We were promptly ushered into the back rooms where we went through the usual procedures, and then on to the examining room to wait to be seen. The kids seemed to feel okay —Grandpa looked like he needed a cigarette— but otherwise we were off to a good start!
Then we waited. And we waited. My son and Grandpa took a bathroom break. After about an hour of waiting in the tiny examining room, the office worker who had processed us entered the room and sheepishly handed me a business card with an address written on the back. She explained that since there would be no provider in the office that day, we would need to go visit one of the other office locations. There would be no medical professional present that day in a doctor’s office. We were assured that we would be seen as quickly as possible once we arrived at the other location. Dismayed, but somehow not too surprised, we shuffled out into the waiting room where the other patients were gathering themselves to venture off in the hopes of seeing a doctor for their sick children.
Navigating through the downtrodden areas that surround this particular part of California, another thirty minutes or so drive, we arrived at the doctor’s office where we would be seen. We then joined the multitude of people with sick children sitting in the crowded waiting room. Mothers clutching their sick babies against their chests. Children running back and forth from the water fountain that my son was now fascinated by. There were no less than fifty people sitting miserably in that waiting room. If you weren’t sick before, you were definitely coming out of there with something.
After another thirty-minute wait, and much to the chagrin of the other waiting patients, we were called back to the examining room. This examining room was even smaller (and dirtier) than the last. Then we waited. And we waited. I was glad that I had the presence of mind to bring my son’s backpack in with us as now the kids were starting to get hungry. I split his lunch between the two of them, so as to avoid any hangry child situations. The germaphobe in me awakened fully at this point, I struggled to balance everything in my lap so that they would only be eating food and not some other sick child’s bodily fluids.
As we were finishing this messy undertaking, the doctor came bustling in. Very apologetic, he explained that they are trying to hire someone for the other location. If you haven’t gathered this by now, California is suffering from a shortage of doctors.
I was relieved to find out that neither child had an ear infection at this point. But my daughter did have a flu. I listened patiently while the doctor explained that should my daughter have a fever on, say, a Friday night, I should not take her to the emergency room. Instead, I should try to keep her as comfortable as possible and see the doctor again the following week. It seems the normal course of action for most people these days is to rush to the emergency room, sometimes even for the common cold.
After another potty break we all shuffled back out into the still-crowded waiting room and made our way to the nearest pharmacy to get our precautionary prescription filled. This required yet more waiting as the pharmacies in this area will not begin preparing your prescription until you are physically present at the pharmacy.
We waited in the car while Grandpa went in to show his physical presence.
My daughter wanted something to drink; her sippy cup had long been empty.
Grandpa was offered a dollar for a cigarette by a passing homeless person.
We made the long trek back home.
This is California.
This article was originally published in 2019.