My friend and former editor, Neal Rattican, used to say, “Boatwright, things happen to you just so you can write about them.”
This morning, during a tortuous hour, I heard Neal’s voice. That usually helps me laugh at whatever situation I’m in, and begin “writing” the story in my head. Today, though, I was too flustered to think about anything except figuring out where I was and how to get somewhere else.
For a week, my ankle that was operated on in June has acted up. I was afraid I’d done something that would result in a lifetime of pain and instability or another surgery. (I’m pretty sure, faced with the two choices, I’d go with the pain.)
Anyway, on Monday, I contacted my surgeon’s office and asked to see him this week, instead of waiting until my next scheduled follow-up on February 21. I left a message after trying to navigate Duke’s never-ending cycle of, “if you’re about to die, hang up and call 911. If you think you might live, press this number, then call this one, then press this one……” By the time you get to the point of leaving a message, you could be dead — of old age.
After leaving the voicemail, I thought, “Eureka! I’ll also send a message via the online “Duke MyChart.” There was no call back, but I did get a message on MyChart a couple hours later, saying the surgeon would see me on Wednesday.
His office is off Page Road in Durham — about a 40 minute drive. The appointment was at 10 a.m. today. I left at 9.
OK, so I have no sense of direction. I can get lost in my own house. Honestly, I once got lost in the Dan Allen parking deck at NC State.
Anyway, to get to Page Road, I usually take Hwy. 501 to Durham, cross I-85, pass Northgate Mall, head toward the Durham Bulls’ park and the DPAC, then jump on the Durham Freeway to I-40. That’s the way I know and have gone for 30 years. But, my husband, who has GPS embedded in his brain, goes another way, and tells me I should do the same because it’s easier and faster. He continues on 501 toward New Hope, getting on the freeway near Hillsborough Street.
The freeway exit there is exquisitely confusing to me. It’s one of those 108-A,B,C things, and for some reason, I just can’t remember the correct one.
So, 99.5 percent of the time, I go in the wrong direction on the freeway. And it runs out really quickly going that way. And there’s no easy on-off-and-back-on.
Today, for some ungodly reason, I decided to go Paul’s way. Disaster ensued. After going almost back to Hillsborough, I turned around and took a road I don’t think I’ve ever been on. And ended up on the Duke University campus. Yes, I did. I’ve been on campus many times before, but not when it was 9:35 and I had an appointment across town at 10 and no idea how to get there.
Desperate, I asked my phone for help. My Siri is an Australian man. I love the accent.
When Siri offered a route, it was through twists and turns that would put me at the doctor’s office about 10:15, but I decided he knew best at the moment. When I got to a point where I was pretty sure I could take a turn Siri didn’t approve of, and get to the interstate sooner, I did.
Siri threw up his hands, and said I’d gone walkabout and was on my own.
All this time, I’d been frantically trying to reach the surgeon’s office. I did not want to lose this appointment. Of course, I got caught in the endless hell of the Duke phone system again. I finally chose “dial one if you’re a physician wishing to speak to our practice,” and got a real human.
When I heard that human speak, I lost it and told the poor woman I had no sense of direction, needed a Xanax but didn’t have one, felt bad about tricking the phone system so I could talk to a person, really wanted to keep this appointment and, and …… She was nice, but said she didn’t have a clue how to direct me in. She gave me — yup — another Duke number to call, promising it would connect me to my surgeon’s practice.
I pulled over in a church parking lot. It was now 9:57. Swallowing my sobs, I looked at the road names and dialed the number. And got a message to punch such and such number for such and such. I started hyperventilating and crying again, and frantically searched my purse for a random Xanax that might be hiding somewhere.
I sobbed into the phone. I’m not totally sure, but I think I mentioned having no sense of direction and really wanting to keep the appointment and needing to talk to a person and that I was going to do my best to get there before next Tuesday.
After deep breaths, I again asked Siri for help. He had forgiven me! In his lovely accent, he said go right, then 1.3 miles, then turn onto NC 55. I almost died of happiness on the spot. I knew that I knew — on my own — how to get to I-40 from 55.
Finally! I-40! It was 10:05. I calculated — barring a highway shut-down or Armageddon — I’d be at the office by 10:15 at the latest.
Reaching the check-in desk at 10:18, I explained breathlessly that I got lost, was late, tried to call, but kept getting voicemail, and hoped I could still see the doctor. The nice lady punched my name in her computer, and said, “We don’t have you down for today.”
All I could think to say was, “But it’s on my Duke MyChart! I’ll pull it up on my phone and show you.”
I was thinking, “Oh, hell no! I WILL see that surgeon. I’ll stage a sit-in and live in this office until I’m seen.”
Then my phone rang, and it was someone who’d heard my desperate voicemail. She told me to tell the lady behind the desk it was OK, and to check me in.
I sat for half an hour, then got X-rays, then waited another half hour, then saw a resident. Finally, about noon, I saw my surgeon, who is not exactly Mr. Personality.
And he pissed me off. Royally. The resident poked, prodded, looked at the X-rays, twisted my ankle back and forth, and did all the “push on my hand” stuff. The boy of about 12 then, very sweetly, told me it was probably arthritis in the joint, as a result of the many years the ligament had been messed up.
OK. Well. OK. I could handle that. Sort of.
And then the surgeon — who’s older than me — came in, poked, prodded, and said, “The ligament healed just fine. We get older. Things hurt. Walk three miles three times a week.”
I just looked at the sonofa … um…. man. I knew if I opened my mouth, my father would come out, and things would get ugly.
So I left, and went straight to Barnes & Noble, knowing that only a latte and books would help.
When I got home, feeling calmer after “therapy,” I checked my phone’s Health app, and saw that I’d already walked 1.2 miles. So, I donned sneakers and winced and huffed and puffed my way to 2.7 while listening to an audiobook.
Then, Chief, I came inside, grabbed an adult beverage, and wrote.