Receptionist: Holyoke, Mass
by Janet Bowdan

Summers in high school I worked for my father
as his receptionist, answering phones, writing
appointments into the big datebook, canceling,
rescheduling, filing, transcribing his notes,
the normal stuff.  He’d introduce me to the patients
as his daughter, and they’d smile and tell me
what a good doctor he was (true) or they’d tell him
I was pretty and looked just like him (two comments
I considered mutually contradictory).  All normal.
He’d do rounds at the hospital in his lunch hour,
technically three hours.  Occasionally the ER would call
because someone was having a psychotic episode,
and he’d walk across to take care of it.
In the waiting room they were pretty quiet; maybe
they’d read a magazine, an old Punch or a recent People.
One time he called to say he’d be late; I explained
to the patients that he was in line waiting for gas–
it was the energy crisis, hostages in Iran, long lines
at the pumps.  The patients nodded, understanding
we had this in common, and they started chatting
to each other about prices and lines and these days.
There was a lot of waiting: appointments could run
10 minutes late, half an hour, an hour.  He’d never
shove a patient out in mid-trauma, though it’s true
he’d tell me to adjust the billing for the longer time.
When we got insurance checks, it gave him
a little happy bounce, even though Medicare
would take forever to come in and only be a fraction
of what he’d billed. My mother would get angry:
we have to pay our taxes on time, but they can take
as long as they want!  She did the taxes.  One day
my father came out of the inner office with a big guy,
Vietnam vet, they talked a bit and the vet left.  Come look
at this, my dad said, and I went in to see the toy train
set up in its tracks on the table.  You put it together?
I asked.  The train had a little trick to it; part of the track
was a U and the little train made it revolve in order to
go around the station.  My father could never figure it out.
No, the patient did.  He never talks. But he was sitting
looking at the train, and finally he said, “Why’s that
in pieces?”  I said, because I’m a klutz.  And he asked,
“Can I try?” and he fixed it in 5 seconds.  And then he talked.
Sometimes people called my dad a shrink, but he said,
he’s doesn’t shrink heads.  He expands them.

IMAGE: Portrait of Sigmund Freud by Andy Warhol (1980).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My father is now retired, but at the time I worked for him, he was the only psychiatrist in Western Massachusetts.  Even now I meet doctors who recognize my name because they’ve read his notes in their patient files, and I wonder if those were notes I typed up.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Janet Bowdan‘s poems have appeared in APR, Crazyhorse, VerseDenver Quarterly, Pinch, Free State Review, Peacock Journal, Best American Poetry 2000Poetry Daily, and elsewhere. The editor of Common Ground Reviewshe teaches at Western New England University and lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with her husband, son, and sometimes a lovely stepdaughter or two.