The year 2000 is almost over and the “new” office will celebrate its second anniversary in a couple of months. Traditionally this is a time of year to look back on accomplishments, setbacks, obstacles overcome, achievements, maybe some regrets. It is also a time to look forward to moving ahead with new plans, learning from past mistakes and building new dreams. As (for now anyway) the official chronicler of The Life and Times of Yaffe/Ruden, this was made very vivid to me during our office Christmas party on December 15. As the revels went into full swing, the first question that occurred to me was why we did not do something like this sooner. As a student of cultural anthropology I have certainly read my fair share about tribal rituals and their significance for affirming group bonds, a sense of common purpose and group identity. I’m sure there is an anthology somewhere right now that contains at least one ethnographic account of “the annual office holiday party” as a modern day example of such tribal celebrations. Well, ours this year, struck me as interesting and unique enough to warrant at least one issue of the Chronicles devoted to exploring its “meaning” for the Yaffe/Ruden community.
THE PATIENTS: The “invisible” protagonists.
DR. HEATHER CANNING: Most senior member of the Yaffe/Ruden Physician Assistants Team, Mistress of the Revels and an Australian Original. Organizer of the Festivities, Menu Planner and Stern Admonisher who promised every person in the office that she would personally boot them out the door if they did not “have a good time”.
DR.YAFFE: Original founder of Yaffe/Ruden before it becameYaffe/Ruden . Originator of the concept “workaholic”, hyperactive nightmare of every kindergarten teacher, exploding fireball of ideas and energy, eternal optimist, visionary, party animal extraordinaire.
DR. RUDEN: Dreamer-scientist, seeker-after-unified-theory-of-body-and-soul who will one day have a new discipline named after him: ‘Rudenology: the concept of mind as a chemical-biological-theosophical-psychological reification of the human imagination’. (I just thought that up. Pretty impressive, huh?) Also, raconteur of impeccable timing, and personal physician to the IceMan.
JILL AND JEANIE OF GLAXO WELLCOME AND JOHN OF SCHERING, THE PHARMACEUTICAL REPS: Generous purveyors of the wine and victuals without which no celebration can be complete. They of infinite patience who stand around and wait gratefully for two hours so they can get a two-minute audience with Messrs. Y and R to demonstrate why their drugs are superior to anything that has gone before. Sometimes they succeed. Sometimes they don’t. But victorious or defeated, always generous and always good sports.
THE REST OF US: The Associates, the PAs, the Checkers-In, the Checkers-Out, the Medical Assistants, the Phone Secretaries, the Billers, the Managers, the Referral Ladies, the Chart Bearers. All who do a yeoman’s job throughout the year, performing their duties amid, at times, unbearably stressful conditions and an atmosphere sometimes akin to a 6-ring circus. They do not always do them uncomplainingly. But they always do them.
THE SIGNIFICANT OTHERS: The spouses, lovers, offspring, kinfolk and friends of the above. I.e. the “other”, “invisible” audience who get to hear replays of the day’s Yaffe/Ruden Serial Drama after The Players have removed their greasepaint, taken off their costumes and trudged home for the night.
At 6 PM punctually, the food arrives. As per Yaffe/Ruden custom, patients will be seen until the very last moment and staff members in their white lab coats are still dutifully at their posts. Checking patients in, ushering them into exam rooms, tending to their ailments, checking them out. It is the end of the day and though small signs of the holiday spirit have been evident throughout the day with gift exchanges between friends, holiday gifts of food from patients and other doctors scattered around the tables, cards and holiday decorations on some desks, most people are tired.
The past month has been especially trying because of the changeover to a new phone service. Irate patients demanding explanations as to why calls have not been returned; hapless secretaries exhausted from a non-stop round of apologizing to patients for the inexplicable mysteries of technology at the same time as trying to direct a never-ending stream of requests to the correct departments; doctors and PAs working round the clock to see every patient scheduled or unscheduled; patients trying hard to stay patient but rapidly running out of patience at the interminably long waits and the problems of trying to get a “live human being” to return their calls which have been lost somewhere in telephone space.. With so many people of goodwill all presumably working towards the same end, it does seem frustrating for the year to end on a note of question. Why does it take so long for the whole machinery to work smoothly? One might as well ask that question of life itself.
Barbecued chicken, fried chicken, broiled chicken, potato salad, bow ties and kasha, corn on the cob, piled up squares of cornbread, soda and wine galore–in short, a feast to perk up the most jaded appetites and then die content of a heart attack. As it is all laid out in our 50s style ‘Archie and Veronica‘ soda-fountain/lunch room, flagging spirits slowly revive. Some decide to change out of their daytime clothes and don more festive garb. Simona and Tamara return from the hairdresser freshly coifed and radiant. Lab coats are shucked off to reveal more glamorous outfits beneath. The women touch up their faces. Brock, in her lace party frock that just barely stretches over her 5-months-pregnant belly is the vision of a presiding, African fertility goddess. People start picking up plates of food and clustering in small groups having conversations where they can actually finish speaking an entire sentence without the intercom honking overhead summoning them somewhere else. The room gets warmer and more crowded. The music gets louder and more insistent. The invited ‘”significant others” arrive. Let the ceremonies begin.
THE INVOCATION–THE OFFICE PAST, THE OFFICE PRESENT AND THE OFFICE FUTURE
Gradually the stage moves to the Patient Waiting Area. The music is now so loud, people are craning their necks to hear what their companions are saying. And then comes the moment we have all been waiting for. The tribal elders ask for the music to be turned down and for the company to gather round so the tradition of formal gift-exchange (the Grab Bag) can take place. It is time for the annual group rite of recounting tribal accomplishments of the last two years and relating tribal lore and legends of the past for the benefit of all the newcomers. A hush falls over the group. Unquestionably, the moment belongs to Dr. Yaffe and Dr. Ruden.
First they speak of the immediate past–what the office looked like a year ago, all the improvements in décor, the addition of the Website as a new tool of communication and information, the art gallery, the expansion of the practice in terms of both patients, new medical associates and new administrative staff.
Then come the stories. For many newer staff members who joined the office only after we moved, they are treated to a side of their two “bosses” they have rarely seen before. First, Dr. Y describing with relish the 75-year-old lady who marched into the old office one day, stripped off her clothes and insisted that she was there for one purpose only: to get her drugs. She had no interest in getting a medical exam or any form of medical advice, but if it made him think he was performing his doctorly duties more efficiently she would be happy to oblige him by stripping.
Then it is Dr. Ruden’s turn. He tells of the day Anthony Quinn visited the office while Vera was sitting at the Reception Desk, a phone receiver in each ear, recording appointments in a dog-eared, practically-in-shreds appointment book with one hand, writing prescriptions with the other, head nodding crazily in response to Dr. Y barking instructions over the intercom. Patient walks in, stands behind counter and announces “I’m here to see Dr. Ruden.” Says Vera, “What’s your name?” Says Unseen Man, “Anthony Quinn”. Says Vera without looking up, still concentrating on accomplishing her juggling feat without mishap: “Oh yeah, and mine’s Marilyn Monroe”. Silence. Vera wearily about to direct Wise Guy to Sign-In Sheet. Then she looks up. There, large as life is Zorba the Greek.
Now it is Dr. Canning who enacts the complete scenario of the day she came into the office feeling like death warmed over, valiantly kept seeing patients up to the point where she thought she was going to keel over herself, actually did keel over, was fanned back to life by a horrified LuAnn and then pressed into battle once more by Generalissimo Dr. Yaffe urging her to finish draining Clogged Ear in the Blue Room. (In those days we did not have Exam Rooms A, B, C, D, E, and F. Besides Dr. Yaffe’s and Dr. Ruden’s offices, there was only the Pink Room and the Blue Room. Every once in a while, Diane’s “office” which was the bathroom also did double-duty as an exam room.)
As history and nostalgia unfolded in this completely impromptu and unrehearsed way, the audience listened rapt. Although there were no patients physically present as either actor or audience, they were invoked as an unseen but absolutely necessary and indelible part of the scene. After all there would be no doctor’s office and no stories to tell without patients.
It is time for the dance. Now everyone is accustomed to seeing Dr. Yaffe racing down the halls at 90 miles an hour on a slow day. What they do not know however is that somewhere along the way, he secretly took a course in ‘The Art of the Whirling Dervish’. To say the newcomers were surprised would be gross understatement. They were astonished, they were astounded, they were delighted. It was only after he finally landed on his back and went groping his way to the sample closet groaning for a Relafen, that it gradually dawned on the staff this was DR. YAFFE!
Dr. Ruden gamely took his turn on the dance floor too, bumping and grinding with the best of them. As ‘the girls’ gradually got accustomed to this new revelation of their bosses as the John Travoltas of the Medical Establishment, they all joined in, dancing with a spirited abandonment that was a joy to behold. As one person took me aside and whispered: “This party was such a great idea. I wasn’t even going to come at first, but now I’m thinking we should do it more often. Maybe again in the summer?”
Lastly, we apologize to patients and staff alike for the stresses, strains and inconveniences of the past year but we hope to do better in the New Year. Please use the pages of these Chronicles or the Website to send us your ideas, suggestions, comments and complaints. Perhaps we still have a long way to go. But one thing is certain. There is probably no doctor’s office in America that tries as hard as we do to deal with outside constraints that we have no control over, to be “open” about our struggles and allow patients considerably more than a glimpse into the workings of our world, and, most importantly, to look for ways to improve.
We wish the whole Yaffe/Ruden community, including all the families, very Happy Holidays in whatever religious or secular tradition they may celebrate them. We also wish them a prosperous and healthy New Year.