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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Identity Crisis

Pushing open the glass door of the Post Office, I smiled my greeting to the uniformed lady behind the window. Usually, she returned my greeting with a few words, but not this morning.

Running behind schedule already that morning, I headed to get the mail from my box, determined to speak to her on the way out. Maybe she’d had a bad start to her day and could use a bit of kindness.

“Thanks for the mail,” I said, smiling and holding up the envelopes as I reached for the door. “Have a good day!”

“Your mail’s nothing to thank me for; I didn’t send it to you.” No smile.

I shrugged my shoulders and let the door swing shut behind me. Mondays aren’t everybody’s cup o’ tea, right?

I bounded up the front steps of the hospital, eager to read the letter from my parents over that early-morning cup of coffee. Hopefully, there’d be a fresh pot, or at least, a bit left from the night shift.

“Hi Lilly! How’d things go last night? Guess you’re about to leave for home.” I’d stopped at the nurses’ station to greet the staff. They appeared to have finished report, so I smiled, waiting for someone to reply. No one did.

“Kathy, how’s that little boy of yours? Ears feeling better?” I’d moved to the face that, at least, looked up at me when I spoke. Her toddler had come to the clinic the previous week, so I had something more than a greeting to offer her.

“Yeah,” said the sober face behind the counter.

“Okay, good. Well, have a great day, Ladies,” I said, finally getting the hint. I could do without coffee until morning break.

When I noticed a memo from the official State medical records folks, I decided to take it down to Lillian, our matronly part-time Medical Records Director. That’d give me a bit of a reprieve from my paperwork. The flight of stairs would get some blood pumping back up my legs. In fact, I may just hand her the paper, and go down the second flight to the basement for that cup of coffee I’d missed.

Rounding the corner to the front desk, I froze; my smile left. No one had seen me yet, so I stopped to listen in on the conversation coming from the waiting area.

“She wants people to think she’s such a Christian. Humph. Well, I guess we know now,” said a female voice I couldn’t place.

“Yeah. It didn’t take long for her true colors to show, either,” said another unfamiliar voice. I wracked my memory to come up with faces to match the ladies’ voices, while praying the gossip involved some other poor victim.

“Did you want something?” I jumped at the sound behind me. Busted.

“Uh, no. Well actually, Maxine, I brought a memo down for Lillian. It came in today’s mail from the State medical records folks,” I stammered, as I turned towards the Director of Nursing. All voices but ours stopped, of course.

“I’m right here,” said Lillian, coming around the corner. “Did you have something for me?”

“Yes,” I said, having regained my composure. I held out the memo. “I thought you might like to read this. Is there a problem?”

“Not at all,” Lillian said, the normally cheery countenance frowning.

My face began to warm as she stared down at me. I tilted my head towards the waiting room, eyebrows arched.

“I said ‘nothing’,” Lillian said, jerking the paper out of my hand. Without another word, she spun on her heels and left me standing, arm still out-stretched.

“Maxine, do you have any idea what’s going on around here today? I may be imagining it, but it seems like I’ve offended people somehow.”

Maxine hesitated, but finally said, “It’s about Bud; that’s all. People talk, you know.” The Director of Nursing took hold of my elbow, urging me over to her office.

“Bud? Who’s Bud?” I said, resuming our hushed conversation.

“Over at the Bar-H*. Saturday night?” Maxine’s prompting didn’t ring any bells.

“I don’t know anyone named ‘Bud’; should I? The Bar-H? Is that the bar down across from Jimmy’s?” I tried to picture exactly where the pub sat compared with the grocery store.

“Yes. That’s the place. Saturday night, somebody told Bud’s wife, and well, that kind of thing doesn’t sit well with folks around here.”

“What kind of thing? What are you talking about Maxine?”

“Everyone who drank over at the Bar-H Saturday saw you hanging all over Bud. Some say you were drunk as a skunk; others say you knew exactly what you were doing and that Bud’s married. Those who weren’t there heard all about it from those that were. Like I said—“

“Maxine!” I interrupted. “You can’t mean that people think that I--” but I could see from her stare that she did. “I’ve never been in the Barr-H. Never. Maybe if I saw Bud, I’d know who you’re talking about, but I don’t know him; I certainly wasn’t hanging on him or trying to take him away from his wife.”

“Everyone said it was you. Even Lillian saw you there. She came to talk to her son, and left when she saw you.”

“So that’s why everyone I meet shuns me?” Maxine nodded. “I don’t drink, and I’ve never been in that bar. How can I prove it?”

Just then the cervical collar Dr. Williams had ordered me to wear day and night (unless sleeping) began to itch. While trying to process the shocking news, I reached two fingers under the soft foam and scratched. My mental light bulb switched on.

“Maxine, did the woman have a cervical collar like this one? Everyone knows I’m never without it, right?”

My friend gave me a smile; the first one I’d seen all day. Reaching for the telephone, I listened as she asked Lillian about the lady and the collar.

“Well?” I said as the receiver hit the cradle.

“No collar. Lillian is terribly sorry. I’m pretty sure she’s on the phone right now—filling in the towns’ ladies with the latest.” Both of us broke into laughter; my heart rejoiced with relief. 

An addendum to this story: Only days after this mistaken identity episode, my body-double came to pay her hospital bill. As soon as I caught sight of her, I had to agree; she looked exactly like me—without the collar.

*Name changed.

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