I'm Just the Receptionist


It's 8:45 Monday morning when Dr. Smith walks past my desk, eyes fixed ahead on the file room door. To my "good morning" he murmurs an indecipherable response, never turning my way. It's OK. I like him anyway for making the effort.

I'm just the receptionist.

By 10:30 am the place is abuzz with ADHD kids breaking every rule spelled out on the posted signs - throwing toys, rearranging furniture, drawing mustaches on cover girls, running miniature cars across the walls. I have observed in my 55 years that Amish kids never pitch a temper tantrum or run amok in stores. Could it be because the parents are calm and quiet, and the kids are mimicking their behavior? What do I know...

I'm just the receptionist.

8:30 Wednesday morning, a teenager and her mother are arguing loudly and endlessly in the waiting room making me want to crawl under my desk. When they check out, the mother, clearly at her wit's end, apologizes for the disturbance. I reassure her, based on my personal experience, that her daughter will turn out just fine. She seemed relieved.

And I'm just the receptionist.

2:00 PM Thursday another former co-worker arrives, a reminder of my past life. And once again I see the perplexed look. "Paula, is that you?" The subtext being, didn't you used to be the "right-hand man" of one of the biggest employers in Centre County?

Now I'm just the receptionist.

Friday at 9:40 am a desperate mother with home-cut hair and crooked teeth tells me how her man broke a wooden drumstick across her mentally-challenged son. I admonish her that no man is more important than her children. This is really sticking my neck out. I'm not supposed to get involved with the patients.

I'm just the receptionist.

Friday, 2:30 pm a nurse escorts a visiting doctor by my desk and does not introduce me.

I'm just the receptionist.

Sunday at a retirement party, after learning that I work in a behavioral health office, a former co-worker shares with me her son's desperate plight with mental illness. And there in the middle of the festive crowd, we had a dark discussion on a taboo subject - why is our society so hellbent on keeping suffering people alive when all they want is to die? And here I am...

Just the receptionist.