A man sitting on an indoor bench eyeballed the medication I carried as I walked through the sliding doors into the Northeastern Medical Center. I came here every two weeks, and I made it a habit to go through the side entrance–Entrance B–so I could miss the main lobby and walk up the side stairwell hidden behind Ophthalmology.
The man on the bench, however, reminded me that this convenient care and medical center was the place where the unknown became known. The place where people came to have their mysteries solved. This was the place without secrets.
Making my way upstairs, I headed for the familiar office. I looked through the glass windows to see the familiar receptionist, but noticed she was absent from her desk. That’s different, I thought as I fumbled with the door handle, not pushing it down enough, shaking the door forward, and causing it to bang several times on the door handle.
Embarrassed, I open the door with a wry smile even though no one was around to see. I heard two nurses discussing in a room beyond the receptionist’s desk, and I assumed they heard my noisy scene. I took my normal seat next to the outdated golf magazines, and waited.
No one came to greet me. I pondered this. There was no other patient in the waiting room, the receptionist was not in, and two nurses talked in the back without coming to check on the noise. Was it possible I had arrived too early? Was the office still closed? I had been coming here at the same time on the same day of the week for years. Nonetheless, I checked my email to confirm the time of my appointment. I was on time. The office should be open.
As I listened, I realized the nurses conversation had ended. They were no longer talking, though they had not left the room.
Slowly, a head peered around the door frame and looked in my direction. It was Katherine, the nurse I had come to see for years now. As she saw me, I saw relief in her eyes. Katherine exited, and quickly behind her came Deborah, the second nurse.
“It’s just you! Thank goodness. Let me get you checked in.” Katherine said.
“Just me?” I asked.
“She thought you were a ghost!” Deborah interjected, laughing.. “You almost had me! Don’t ask her about it, she’s fully convinced and she’ll try to convince you too.”
“What are you talking about? It’s real and you know it. This office has a ghost.” Katherine said, hitting Deborah lightly.
“A ghost? In this office?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m sure of it.” Katherine said.
“Her name’s Linda.” Deborah added.
“Linda? Really? That’s an odd name for a ghost.” I said. “I need to hear this story–why are you so sure?”
“I’m out. I don’t want to listen to this whole thing again!” Deborah threw up her hands and left.
“Well, so many reasons. First of all, every so often I’ll come here in the morning–and I’m the first one in the office, I mean, I unlock the door–and I’ll see Dr. K’s office light on. You might not think twice about it right away, but he only comes in twice a week. He’s the only one to use that office, I swear. And, once or twice that it happened I was also the last one to leave at night. Who’s coming in here during the middle of the night to use Dr. K’s office?”
“Woah.” I said.
She took a breath.
“Second, you see this room back here where Deb and I were just a minute ago? Well, often when they are patients about we close the door slightly so we can talk and not be heard. When Dr. K needs to come in and say something, he always knocks at the door first. He doesn’t need to, it’s already slightly open, but he does. I don’t know why. He’s the only one that does.”
“Right.” I said.
“But like I said before, he’s only in twice a week. Right? Well, one day Deb and I were in there, and that time we happened to be chatting and listening to some music, when we both heard knocks on the door. Right, Deb?” Katherine yelled down the hallway.
Deb stuck her head out and yelled back, “I’m not interested!”
“She knows.” Katherine said. “Anyway, knocks came on the door and I thought that’s odd because Dr. K wasn’t supposed to be in that day. I called out, “Dr. K did you forget something in this office?” But when I walked out into this area there was nothing–no one. Less than five seconds had gone by. If it was Dr. K, and he had left immediately, I at least would have seen him leaving through the door you came in. But there was nothing.”
“That’s a little scary,” I said.
“And, of course, there’s all the noises we hear at night. Our office is open an hour later than everyone else’s, and if you stay I guarantee you’ll hear some odd noises.”
Deborah walked into the back room to pick up something she printed. As she walked by, she asked, “Did she convince you? Do you believe in the ghost now too?”
“Well, it certainly seems like there’s some weird stuff going on. But I’m still confused, why is the ghost named Linda? Did you just pick that name?”
“Did you not tell him about the CMNs?” Deborah turned to Katherine.
“I was just getting to that. Okay, well, CMN stands for–“
“for Certificate of Medical Necessity.” Deborah interrupted. “It’s what we send pharmacies to prove that a patient, usually a medicare patient, needs–well, it doesn’t matter. We send it. A pharmacy receives it. Yada yada ya. Recently, we’ve been getting these calls from this one pharmacy on the other side of the country. And we don’t have that many patients from outside our state.”
“Are you telling this or am I?” Katherine implored.
“You missed your chance!” Deborah chuckled. “Anyway, these calls are from some pharmacists who keep asking about a CMN we repeatedly sent them. They said they wanted to ensure the prescription, but they couldn’t because they didn’t have enough information on the form. We asked what they meant and they told us that the form was blank.”
They both looked at each other and then at me.
“We never send blank CMNs. Never.” They said together. “Okay?”
“Okay.” I said.
“We asked them what they meant,” Katherine continued Deborah’s story, “and they said the form had our office’s letterhead and it was for one of our patients. We told them promptly that we do not send blanks CMNs. Then they said, well maybe not but we are holding one in our hands right now. Then we said, well who is the patient listed on the form? And they said, you only included a first name, but no last name: Linda.”
I sat there for a minute.
“Listen,” Deborah said, “we went through every record. And we make copies of everything, everything. We looked through all the files, all the offices. There was no record of this thing. We thought this was all a joke, so we asked the pharmacy to fax it to us–our letterhead isn’t public. However, they sent it and it was ours alright. Our letterhead at the top of a blank CMN, on which was written Linda in creepy, poor handwriting.”
“Yeah, like someone was writing with their left-hand. Their off-hand, I mean.” Katherine added.
We all stood there for a moment, taking in the details of their story. Deborah asked me again, “Are you convinced now about Linda, our ghost?”
I thought about it for a moment. “I don’t know,” I said, “It seems all the evidence is there. Just depends on whether you believe in ghosts or not.”
The appointment was over, I left wishing them good luck against Linda, their ghost, and they laughed. I walked down the side stairwell, out the door I came in, and noticed the man on the indoor bench had left.