Wilson took the cards from his wallet and laid them on the desk -- Social Security, Medicare, Humana Prescription Drug Coverage, and the card of Dr. Deborah Gonzalez, director of neuro-oncology at City Health in Miami. It had a number on it, and Wilson picked up the phone and dialed it.
A voice answered and told Wilson that the staff of City Health was glad to serve him. He should press one to make an appointment, two for billing, three for radiology and labs, and four to speak with the secretary.
He pressed one.
The phone clicked, and the voice returned. It informed him of all the awards City Health had won for its brain-trauma research. The voice was detailing the history of the hospital, which began in 1888, when someone picked up.
“Hola, esto es Helena.”
Wilson asked as politely as he knew how if there was anyone available who spoke English.
“Sí, sí, I speak,” said Helena.
He introduced himself, explained that he was a patient of Dr. Gonzalez and that he needed to schedule an appointment.
“No, no, no, no, no. We do not do this. Dr. Gonzalez, she is in the front office. You need to talk to Miriam. Press quatro.”
Wilson wanted to ask why then did the phone tell you to press one to make an appointment, but Helena transferred him.
The voice came back, telling him that the staff of City Health was glad to serve him. He pressed four before it got to the menu. After a pause, it came back, praising City Health for its treatment of juvenile kidney disease and thanking him for his patience. They would be right with him. Then the phone rang. And rang. And rang, and rang, and rang, and rang, and rang.
Wilson drummed his fingers on his thigh while he waited. He moved the cards around on the desk. He looked at the CD he’d picked up that morning from the diagnostic imaging center.
Click. “Yeah?” A man.
Wilson introduced himself again, said that he needed to schedule an appointment with Dr. Gonzalez and asked to speak with Miriam.
He asked why.
He tried to make it clear that Dr. Gonzalez had asked him to get some scans and meet with her afterwards. It was urgent.
“Sorry,” the man said. “Not here. Try again. I’ll transfer you. Press one.”
This time, Wilson didn’t wait for the voice to express its happiness in serving him before punching the keypad. He put the phone on the desk when it began the list of accolades. He brought it back to his ear when he heard someone say, “Hay alguien alli?” It was Helena.
Wilson took a breath, held it, let it out and started in with what the front office had said.
“No, no, no, no, no,” Helena insisted. “We cannot do. You must talk to Miriam or wait. Is important, sí? You talk to her. I transfer you.”
Wilson hung up.
He stared at the cards on the table. He stared at the CD. He put the cards back into his wallet and put the wallet into a drawer. He ran his hand over the scar that started at his right ear and ended on the top of his head. Then he began to cry.
At nine a.m. the next day, Wilson summoned up his courage, called the number, pressed four and asked the person who answered if he could speak to Miriam.
“This is Miriam.”
Wilson said he was very pleased to make her acquaintance and that he needed to schedule an appointment with Dr. Gonzalez. Could she do that?
“I’d love to,” Miriam said, “but our computers are down. The back office should be able to help. May I transfer you?”