Somewhere There is a Desk Under Here

This is a mantra I constantly repeat to myself, both at work and at home.  Felix Unger, of Odd Couple fame, wanted to shoot a documentary about his roommate Oscar Madison and title it Mondo Filth.  Were someone to do this about my desk, Mondo Clutter would be the perfect title for it.

At work, this is less true than normal.  I transcribed like a man possessed Friday, and was able to finish shortly before lunch.  The doctor wasn’t one of my favorites, but he’s articulate enough that I usually have no trouble transcribing, once he finishes repeating himself and interrupting himself.  That left the second half of the day without any specific jobs or responsibilities, so I cleaned up my pod somewhat.  I was able to throw out a backlog of no-longer-relevant paperwork, file away some personal papers, and get the desk to the point where I was able to use a rag and a spray cleaner on the surface.

But that never lasts.  “Out of sight, out of mind” is something you usually hear in connection with long-distance romance, but that is a truism when it comes to my trying to locate things.  Unless it’s all on the surface of my desk, no matter how far buried it is, I’m likely to lose track of a book, document, or disk.

My ideal desk is a Tingle table.  I first saw one when I worked at the IRS’ Regional Processing Center in Covington, Kentucky in 1995, before electronic filing became more the rule than the exception.  (When you mailed your Federal income tax form to Cincinnati, Ohio 45999, this is where it would end up.)  A Tingle table (named for its inventor; I thought that it had a rather kinky-sex sound to it at first) had numerous compartments, slots, and drawers to separate incoming documents and enclosures when people mailed in their tax returns.  Failing that, I would love to own one of the 19th-century rolltop desks which featured dozens of small pigeonholes, much like the stations for letter-sorting by hand where I spent many a predawn hour.  (I saw a multi-pigeonholed desk for sale when I lived in Franklinton.  The $2000 asking price was all that prevented me from taking it home.)

This is a picture of a Tingle table that ran in The New York Times sometime in the late 1990s.  I remember seeing them in the Service Center in Covington, but I was grateful that I never had to sit at one.

I have some incentives to straighten out the desk where I am now sitting.  When Steph and Susie came home from running errands yesterday afternoon (including clothes-shopping and a haircut for Susie), Susie left something on my desk, along with the recent issues of The New Yorker and The Catholic Worker.  She found it Scotch-taped to our front door.  It was from our landlord, saying they’re doing a property inspection next Tuesday afternoon.  A messy desk isn’t grounds for eviction or reprimand, but it’s a good reason to try to make some headway into straightening this up.  (The letter said, “It is not necessary that you be on the premises at the time of entry.  The representative, after knocking, will use a passage key to gain entrance.”)

Some other incentives: My pedometer and my keys are missing.  I made it a point not to take my key ring to the Con in Cleveland last weekend (see last entry), because I was worried about losing my keys in Cleveland.  (This ring has my house keys, the keys to my desk and cupboards at work, and the ring knife I “borrowed” from the Cincinnati post office when I worked there in 1994.)  As part of a Live and Work Well campaign at work, Human Resources was handing out free pedometers at work, and I was quite conscientious about clipping it to my belt, and recording my daily number of steps in my diary every night, and now the pedometer is at large.

As I’ve made the first baby steps toward organizing this desk (more of a work table, really), I’m more grateful than ever that I don’t smoke.  I’ve never regretted for a nanosecond the fact that I’ve never smoked a cigarette (total disclosure here: I’ve never smoked tobacco), because I’m uncovering half-empty cans of cola and cups almost every time.  Had these been cigarettes, I would have burned this place down long ago.

I have the same “out of sight, out of mind” problem when it comes to facial recognition, and because of this, I have–totally without meaning to–offended people when I draw a blank on who they are.  Last Monday, when Susie and I took COTA to her school, we were walking from the stop on Indianola Ave. to her school (just under half a mile), when a father driving his daughter to school pulled over and offered us a ride.  I was grateful for this, because it was raining.  He called me by name, and wished me happy belated birthday (I turned 48 on the 29th), so I knew we are Facebook friends.  Susie didn’t know who he was, either, because she and his daughter aren’t close friends.  His name didn’t click with me until tonight, when there was a notice on Facebook that he had changed his profile picture.

This is an extension of the shock you feel when you’re a grade-schooler.  All of us can look back and laugh at how bewildered we are as children the first time we see our teacher at the grocery store, or walking down the street, or at a restaurant.  I will totally overlook someone if they are out of context.  If I’m used to seeing you at work or church, there is a chance I may not click on who you are initially if I see you in a completely different setting.

Sometimes that extends to uniforms and clothing.  There was a Muppet skit on Sesame Street a long time ago where a little boy is lost, and goes to a nearby police officer for help.  Because of the badge and the uniform, he doesn’t recognize that the officer is his uncle.  One of my English professors at Ohio U. was a Catholic priest, but I only saw him “in uniform” once.  He usually dressed like a stereotypical academic–tweed jacket with suede elbow patches, button-down shirts, necktie.  The one time he came in wearing his “blacks”–i.e., black shirt with clerical collar, black slacks–was when he had performed a wedding shortly before class, and hadn’t had time to run back to his apartment and change clothes.  When he came into the classroom, it took me a second to realize who it was, although I knew from day one that he was a priest.

So when everything is right out on the desk, it’s easier for me to remember its existence.  Whether my keys and my pedometer are under here is still a mystery.  (I am not exaggerating.  This desk currently resembles an archaeological dig.  I considered posting before-and-after pictures, but decided against it.  I’m too mortified by its current condition.)  In the course of typing this entry, I’ve already discovered a pair of laptop speakers I forgot that I owned.

My Annual Cough

This is my last week of comparative luxury.  The seasonal job at Columbus State Community College’s bookstore begins Monday evening at 5:30, so from then until the 31st, 13-hour workdays will be the norm and not the exception.  I should probably savor what free time I have, but it’s hard to when my cough has come back, making its presence known whenever I take a deep breath.

The vernal equinox is the 20th, and I had been hoping that I would be spared the cough this year, but no such luck.  It started off as a mild tickling in the back of my throat, and now there’s a constant urge to cough nestled at the base of my tongue.  All I have to do is breathe normally and that’ll trigger it.

Susie and I are in the same boat, ear-wise, unfortunately.  She developed an earache that goes down the whole side of her face and even into her tooth.  Nevertheless, she took some ibuprofen and gave a splendid performance in Annie, Jr. tonight at Dominion Middle School.  (I didn’t go, because I was supposed to be at a late doctor’s appointment.  His office called to reschedule just as I was leaving work this afternoon.  But I’ll be there tomorrow night at 7 p.m. sharp.  Take note, those of you in the Columbus area!)  She went to bed tonight with some NyQuil, and hopefully that’ll clear it up.

On Monday, I leave work at 11 a.m. for an appointment with an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat guy) at OSU Medical Center.  Since before Christmas, I’ve had a non-stop rushing and ringing sound in my ears.  It feels like your ears do after someone has come up behind you and boxed them.  I was a little worried when the office called to reschedule, because they wanted an audiologist there, as well as the physician.

I complained to a friend of mine that I had such a backlog of work, I needed a periscope to see over everything.  I admit that sometime soon I’ll have to make an effort to clean up the papers that scatter my desk, but I’m actually spending most of my work hours transcribing, which means I haven’t had time to sort through what belongs there and what I should discard.  One of my un-favorite doctors dominated today’s work.  He dictates very rapidly, occasionally gasping for breath between paragraphs, and I have to take down what he’s saying, sort out his run-on sentences, and pause to look at various medical references (both online and in books) to make sure he said what he said.  I keep thinking to myself, For Christ’s sake, you’re a physician, not an auctioneer.

Some people have said I’m a little anal-retentive when it comes to transcribing the doctors’ reports, but this is one profession where it is a must, or should be a must.  So many medical terms sound alike (“atraumatic,” as opposed to “it was a traumatic event”), as do the names of many medications, that if I’m not 100% sure, I stop the recording and look up the term or drug name in question.  This is because someone’s health is at stake whenever you transcribe a report.  It’s not like a data entry job at Victoria’s Secret, where the worst that can happen is that a package addressed to Logan, Ohio may end up in Logan, Utah.

After about a week of going without, I have a cell phone yet again.  My LG cell phone fizzled unexpectedly Wednesday night.  I spent over an hour on the phone with Net10’s customer service people the next day (not including the time on hold–you can listen to most of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen during that), and finally they agreed to send me a new phone free of charge, and FedEx delivered a new Motorola cell phone, complete with camera, this morning.  I had to go to my email account and send a mass message to friends who have called me.  (I stored most of their numbers in the phone, and when the phone went belly-up, the memory was kaput as well.)

While Susie was onstage and Steph was in the audience tonight, I did something which probably helped neither my cough nor my ears.  They had eaten dinner before I came home (since they thought–as I did–that I wouldn’t be home), so I went out in the cold rain (temperature in the mid-30s tonight) and went to Wendy’s and brought back two Double Stacks for dinner.

More doctors’ reports await me when I walk into the office at 8 a.m.  They’re from a psychologist, so at least it’ll be interesting.  They’re long, but I always seem to whiz through psychological and psychiatric examinations.  Hearing about people’s backgrounds and family upbringings is more interesting than hearing about their spines and their problems walking.  (One claimant had a condition you’ll find most often in spelling bees: trichotillomania, a compulsion to pull out your own hair.)

Listened to a Doctor and His Lunch Today

And no, despite the lateness of the hour, my fingers (the two I use for typing) did not stray when I typed the title.  I did a stack of ex parte orders and Statements of Facts today, but this morning I finished transcribing a doctor’s report that I left behind at the end of work yesterday.

This is not one of the doctors whose reports I dread.  This doctor (we’ll call him Dr. Kildare, after the hero of the movie and radio serials of the ’30s and ’40s–it’s better than typing “this doctor” over and over) dictated a 10-minute report, and I did not shudder when I clicked on it to type.

After nearly six years, I know what to anticipate when I see a physician’s name in the “To be Transcribed” queue.  A certain doctor always mumbles; another one mumbles and dictates too quickly; yet another one’s dictation varies on whether he records before or after Happy Hour; this one is very conscientious and will spell out the names of unusual drug names and ailments for you, etc.

Those of us on the receiving end–the ones doing the transcribing–have to hold up our end as well.  Most importantly, I have to listen to phrases and words in context, since many drug names and medical phrases sound similar, and remember lots of spelling rules that don’t make any sense at first.  (She was atraumatic, as opposed to It was a traumatic event.  The first C in cervical is pronounced like “Sam,” while the second one sounds like “cat.”  So far, the only real mistake I’ve made was when I was still quite green at the job: I typed fecal sac instead of thecal sac.)

I heard horror stories from other medical transcriptionists–including my mother–about doctors who cough in your ear, mumble, swear, run words together and then stop and gasp before continuing, but today was a unique experience.

About four minutes into his 10-minute dictation, I heard something while he was dictating.  (He was reading verbatim from an X ray report, and I had gone into our scanned documents, pulled up the document in a smaller Window onscreen, and was typing the words as I saw them and as he read them.)  At first, I thought the sound was paper rustling.  I’ve heard it many times, as the doctor reads one paper and searches for another one at the same time.

It was rustling, but not of paper.  “She had an MRI of the cervical spine on–” was interrupted by a loud crunch sound, and then the sound continued.  For the next few minutes, he averaged several crunches for every word that he dictated.  The guy was eating while he dictated, and apparently he was eating potato or corn chips!  I was glad to hear what sounded like his crumpling up the empty bag and throwing it away, and then he (I suppose, listening to the sounds) wiped his mouth with a napkin and gave the dictation his full attention.

Before his snack, I heard someone knock on his door, and I heard about 45 seconds of a conversation with a nurse.  It was about Mrs. So-and-So’s chart and did it need to be copied?

I wish I could find those kids’ telephone etiquette posters that used to hang in the hallways of my various elementary schools.  They featured animals showing how you shouldn’t be when you’re talking on the phone. I would send this doctor this poster, especially one of a goat with a phone receiver in his mouth, their way of saying that eating and talking at the same time is a no-no.

When Susie was younger, I used to dread having to call the houses of her friends.  Either the friend, or a younger sibling, answered.  After asking, “May I speak to your mom (or dad)?” I would then brace myself, holding the receiver a good five or six inches from my ear.  Almost immediately, the very high-decibel, “MOMMY!!  PHONE!!!” blasted out of the earpiece, because the kid inevitably would not cover the mouthpiece or turn his/her head away from it.

The long list of inconsiderate things cell phone users do is a subject that has been done to death in conversation, newspaper columns, letters to the editor, and blogs.  I haven’t witnessed much cell phone rudeness first-hand, although I hear complaints about how someone will be on their phone on a crowded bus, jabbering loudly about their genital warts or their spouses’ infidelities.

Wrong numbers are frequent with cell phones, since no one retains the same number for very long.  It changes when they buy a new phone, switch the service, etc.  Callers don’t seem to understand that the original owner of the phone will not come back if you just keep calling.  I have received calls from collection agencies asking for a particular woman almost from the day I started using the phone I have now, and no matter how many times I tell the collection agencies, they keep calling.  (Although I do admit it’s a relief to have a collection agency call and have it not be for me.)

I’m going to try and grab some sleep, since the day comes all too soon.  These next few days won’t be nearly as sleepless as last week (subject of an upcoming post), but I’m still a bit estranged from my bed.