Rina was now in her private doctor’s office hours, at least as private as it could be since she worked for the medical school. She looked at the clock on the wall, she had fifteen minutes for Ada — from walking into the exam room to logging out of the computer from her hospital account.
Somewhere she had to squeeze in a few seconds of compassion. According to the financial reports, her RVU numbers were down by which they measured her work productivity, and the people in the business office at the Medical Center were increasingly cold and distant. But they were always warm and friendly to the biggest income earners among the doctors whom they depended on most for jobs and bonuses.
“I am just a dollar number to them,” she thought glumly. “Soon I’ll be outta here like a used tissue.”
Ada was in her late twenties. Her last name was famous, belonging to her biological father. Her stepfather was a professor at this medical school. Rina noticed her health insurance was under her stepfather.
Ada sat on the examination table in a patient gown, disheveled, a tad chubbier than her visit a few months ago, and her street clothes were clumsily piled on the chair in the room. The assistant’s notes said she had just returned to town from several months abroad due to the pandemic.
“How was South America?” she inquired. She liked hearing about travels.
“It was a good trip! I mean, I didn’t get everywhere I wanted to. I did not have enough time for that visa for Brazil.”
“Did you travel with anyone?”
“No, it was OK. You always meet people wherever you go.”
“Life good otherwise Ada?” she asked.
“Its life, Dr. Rivas.” Her eyes teared up.
“Where are you working now?”
“For my Dad’s hotels. I am in the accounting office working from home. I just went back there after I returned from South America.
“Well, any nice young man in your life?”
She shook her head, then looked away.
“Well, Dad doesn’t know, but I have a girlfriend.”
“Would he not accept it?” he asked her.
She made a face. “He and my stepmom are pretty traditional, you know super religious and stuff.”
“Ada, you have to live your life,” he suggested.
“He may cut me off,” she said. “Well, its not so much the money or the job even. I mean I care what he thinks about me.”
“What does your girlfriend think?”
Ada shrugged. “She wants me to be happy and to do whatever feels comfortable and right.” She paused and frowned. “Meena loves me. Maybe…I don’t think anyone has ever loved me like she has. When I am with her, I just feel accepted.”
Ada went on. “Dr. Rivas, my father may be my Dad but he sees life through my stepmom’s eyes. It is all about her, their kids, her kids, and I am just like some picture on their mantle, not really a person…just Ada.
I can just hear my stepmom talk about me, acting like she really cares (Ada made a face): saying I’m “kinda troubled, a bit fat, never-got-her-act-together.” She mimicked her stepmother’s voice.
Rina shook his head and patted her shoulder. “Sorry, that is hard.” She thought about the clock, the people in the business office, the assistant outside shaking her head about her always running behind schedule, and here she was, getting even further behind schedule.
“I am so glad you found Meena!”
Ada brightened and dabbed her tears with the back of her hand.
“Yeah, Meena helps me keep going. She’s so wise. I actually traveled to South America with her, Dr. Rivas, to tell you the truth. But right now, she is with her family in Philadelphia. We are trying to figure out what to do next.”
“What does your Mom say?”
“Mom knows, but she is not very comfortable with it. You know, it is just that we live in this backward part of the country. But I grew up here and I have lived here all my life.
“Meena does not want to live here, she says she does not feel comfortable having to stay under the radar about our relationship, like with my dad and stepmom, or even not be able to feel totally accepted about our relationship like with my Mom and her family.”
Rina did not say anything, and it was not just because she had run way over the allotted time in her office schedule with Ada. It would save time if she would use that scribe, the person who would shadow her everywhere and put everything into the computer for her.
But how could patients be open to her with a stranger in the room?” So she had become a throwback to the past at the business office. They would be happy to see her go.
“Thanks Dr. Rivas, for listening!” Ada said before he left. “You made me feel a lot better.”
Ada was on her mind as she drove home. She remembered the first time she met Ada, a small pale child with stony black eyes and chubby cheeks, about five years old. She was with her parents, also her patients.
Ada was a miniature dolled-out version of her beautiful mother, Alice. It was at a mall, Christmas-time, and they were in line to see Santa. Ada wore a red wool dress under a white coat, white stockings and red Mary Jane shoes. A red and green bow perched on her dark hair.
Much had happened since. Ada’s parents had split up and both remarried. There were more children. But for all practical purposes, she seemed still an only child, a lonely child.
Ada had gone to the same private schools as her father’s other children, something in the divorce agreement. When she graduated from high school, she also graduated from her pediatrician and began coming to Rina as her primary doctor.
Rina saw her parents in the office and also at parties at the medical school, or community fundraisers, or even sometimes in the neighborhood at friends’ houses. Ada came for sleepovers to their own home, with their daughter, Barb. So she did not talk about Ada to her husband. Even if it had not been the law, she felt protective of the child’s privacy.
She remembered another time, some years ago, when she ran into Ada at the mall. It was again a festive Christmas season. She was home from college over Christmas break.
She had waved and said hello.
“Oh, hey Dr. Rivas, how are you?” Ada had said. ” I am surprised you remember me. You have so many patients!”
“Oh, yes, Ada. Getting some holiday shopping done?”
“Well, Dad and my stepmom are out of town in Italy. And Mom had a holiday party, to go to with Dan. So yes, here I am.” She waved her little flowered wallet vaguely at the store fronts. Dan said I could buy whatever I want.
Rina had not seen Ada around since that last appointment. But a few month later, she ran into Ada’s mother, Alice.
“Ada moved to Philadelphia,” she said. “She has a good job there and a nice roommate. She is really happy.”
“Good to hear!” Rina replied. “Seems like that may be a good fit for her.”
“Yes,” said Alice. She looked thoughtful. “Yeah, I don’t think she is coming back here. Nor will she likely give me grandkids.”
“And I con’t really care about any of that,” Alice added and emphatically shook her head. “I mean I don’t think everybody has to get married or have kids.”
Alice’s voice trailed off. Their eyes locked and Alice’s fell.
Rina changed the subject politely and after a quick exchange of small talk, they walked their separate ways. Only once, she turned around and looked at Alice’s receding figure.