Student Opinion: Welcome To The Hotel California: Adventures With California’s Vaccine Appointment System

(CA Government)

By Jacob Derin

This week, I developed a deep hatred of the phrase “medical record number.” For some time now, I’ve delayed wading into the Kafkaesque quagmire that is California’s “MyTurn” COVID-19 vaccination program.

One day, and truthfully I can’t even remember which, because quarantine has so far been one interminably long day, dragging across months and seasons and years, like a sentence with far too many subordinating clauses, something which is, contrary to popular belief, not grammatically forbidden, merely frowned upon due to the tedious effect it produces on the eyes and ears (depending upon the medium) of a writer’s fragile audience, making it difficult to follow the frenzy of verbiage, the maelstrom of adverbs, nouns and prepositions, the veritable torrent of lexical items… 

But, anyway, the point’s been made, and there does exist “too much of a good thing.” This concept, evidently, occurred to the State government, which lists type 2 but not type 1 diabetes as a qualifying condition for vaccination. I have the latter type. I was able to access the part of the system that holds information from the various private distributors of the vaccine.

As it turns out, one of these was Kaiser, which does accept my particular chronic health condition as legitimate. What they don’t do, evidently, is give a lot of thought to how their website was designed. When I attempted to fill out the form, which I was led to believe would allow me to schedule an appointment for the vaccine, I was informed that I needed an account. To create my account, I needed a medical record number. 

Ah, here’s where that hallowed phrase enters our story and where it began to burrow into my brain. Even now, if I listen closely, I can hear its ceaseless drumbeat against my skull: M… R… N… As it turned out, I already had one of these, from a visit to Kaiser many years ago. When I put it into the account registration webpage, it told me that I had created an account, but I couldn’t use it without a temporary password. I could either wait for them to email me one (an option no one well-versed in bureaucracy would willingly choose) or call a 24/7 helpline to get it right away. 

Little did I know that even at 9:00 at night, the wait would still be more than an hour long. The hold music, which I dared not mute for fear of missing the operator picking up, still haunts my dreams. But, as I am no Dante, this is not an account of my trip into hell, where suffering is without end. Finally, an actual human being picked up and kindly walked me through the process of getting a temporary password. With it, I logged in and filled out the form I had been trying to fill out. 

The website helpfully informed me that I had now applied for a medical record number. Now, seeing as I already had one of those, I thought this couldn’t be right. The only way I could get access to the form, to begin with, was by having a medical record number. I figured this must be some mistake and filled out the form again––same result. I decided to read the website’s instructions more carefully, but they only led me back to the form and its Borgesian recursion. 

At this point, I had narrowed the suspects for “Kaiser website designer” to two: Franz Kafka and Joseph Heller. When I grew tired of this, and after waiting a few days for something to fall out of the cobwebs of artificial intelligence, I decided to call the helpline back. 

Unfortunately, I made the elementary mistake of calling Kaiser of Southern California, which did not have my medical record number on file. The helpful woman on the phone said she’d transfer both me and my MRN over to the northern line. 

This had the unfortunate consequence of making it so that the phone tree for the northern line no longer recognized my MRN no matter how many times I shouted it slowly and clearly while resisting the urge to shatter my phone into tiny shards of endlessly reflecting glass, mirrors mirroring mirrors, eyes watching themselves. The poetic justice of the image was almost too tempting to resist. 

Anyway, after finally claiming to have lost my MRN to get around the phone tree, I got another helpful woman on the phone. By this point, I had waited on hold with or shout-enunciated at the Kaiser helpline for more than two hours in total. 

This made the woman’s explanation that there was nothing she or I could do but wait for an email or physical letter almost too much to bear. Nothing more came of this until a couple of days ago when I received a letter from Kaiser. 

Excited, I tore it open, read its contents and promptly curled myself into the fetal position, weeping and screaming like a child on the edge of madness — the letter, you see, contained my medical record number.

The story has a happy ending, fortunately. A few days later, the cogs of the machine finally moved, and I got my appointment. It would seem that sometimes Don Quixote actually does slay a giant.

Jacob Derin is a third-year English and Philosophy major at UC Davis.

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  1. Alan Miller

     . . . resisting the urge to shatter my phone into tiny shards of endlessly reflecting glass, mirrors mirroring mirrors, eyes watching themselves.

    JD, I’m not sure how you passed the writing test for the Davis Vanguard.  You must have submitted a poorly written paper exhumed from the trash of a local middle school.  Anyway, I’m glad you cheated, as I look forward to your articles above any local or national columnist.  The above passage is simply brilliant, and your subject all-too-familiar to any of us dealing with any automated phone system and most medical jungles.

    1. Ron Oertel

      I agree, regarding this writer’s talent.

      Regarding phone trees – “zero is not an option”, and “please listen carefully, as our (multi-level) menu has changed”.

      “Although no one is available to answer your call at this time, many answers to your questions may be found on our website.”

      “Your call is important to us.”

        1. Ron Oertel

          “If at any point you’d like to make a payment, please press 1” (at which point your account will be automatically charged).

          “Otherwise, please select from one of the following options” (and try to “guess” which one has any chance whatsoever of connecting to a person).

          (Wrong answer.)

          “I’m sorry, I’m having trouble understanding you.”


        2. Alan Miller

          Recording:  “Please enter your ten-digit account number followed by the pound-sign so that we may better serve you.”

          Me:  [enters ten-digit account number]

          (35 minutes pass – music burned into head as JD says 🙁 )

          Live person:  “This is Laurie, may I help you?”

          Me: [request that cannot be fullfilled by a machine]

          Live person:  “What is your ten-digit account number?”

          Me:  “I already entered it.  Didn’t you get it?”

          Live person:  “No, you’ll have to give it to me again, sir”

          I actually recently had, for the very first time ever, the live person say they had the account number I entered.  I threw their company a small party online to celebrate.

    2. Bill Marshall

      “It was a dark and stormy night” when the author experienced his experiences…

      It takes talent to write in such a way as to not only observe and recount, but draw the reader fully into the the experience…

  2. Alan Miller

    Meanwhile, to hearken back to TW’s concerns from the latest Covid-19 DV article regarding opening up too fast, only to shut down again:
    Solano County health officials warn residents as COVID cases rise

    “We are now starting to get uncomfortably close to the level of the disease reported each day that would put us back in purple”

    I can walk to Solano County from my house in about 4 minutes.  I don’t supposed any of them thar infected Solanans are creeping over the border into our downtown restaurant scene, eh?

    Build the wall, and let Fairfield pay for it!

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