Sunday, April 3, 2011

Take Care

Take Care

My glasses broke today. The earpiece, the part that goes over your ear, became weak and broke off. The same thing happened to the other earpiece a month ago. The glasses are four years old, old for my glasses, which take a lot of abuse, but they are great glasses so I will have them repaired. And my insurance pays for an exam and lenses every year, but I haven’t done either for four years, so I decided to make an appointment and take the glasses in.

I checked on my insurance company’s website for a “preferred provider”, (one they prefer), and found the doctor associated with the eye glass shop is on the list, so off I went.

Friday afternoon, 1:30. Half hour after lunch, three hours until quitting time. I am retired, but I know how sleepy and distracted I got on Friday afternoons, any afternoon for that matter, but especially Fridays. There are two women in this office and I walk up to the window.

“Can I help you,” she says.

“Yes, is Dr. Kalin taking new patients?”

“Yes,” she says.

“Then I would like an appointment if you will take my insurance.”

“OK” she says, “who is your insurer?”

So I give her my insurance card from Alaska Care, which she looks at with the same expression she would have if I had handed her a “Chance” card from a Monopoly deck. “What is this?” she asks. “I’ve never seen one of these before. It looks like a prescription drug card!”

I explain who the insurer is (Wells Fargo) and that Dr. Kalin is on the preferred provider list.

“I don’t know about that,” she says, “never heard of that list.”

“But will you take my insurance?” I ask.

“I don’t know, we will just have to submit it and see what happens.”

“OK,” I say hesitantly, “well, I guess I have to do that.”

But that doesn’t really sit well with me. This has happened before. I know she has the internet set up right in front of her, and that she could go right to that website and find out all about my insurer’s preferred provider list.

There was no one else in line, waiting for her. The phone wasn’t ringing, and there were, after all, two women working this one quiet desk this afternoon. And she could find out whether Dr. Kalin can take my insurance or not. For that matter I could look it up on my smart phone and turn it to her and show her, but I didn’t think that would do any good. She would not assure me further that my insurance will pay, or that their charges will not exceed the usual and customary amount my insurer would pay. I would love it if she would take five minutes and find that information for me, but I also knew she wasn’t going to.

She doesn’t care if I make an appointment or not, I said to myself, or if my insurer pays for my eye exam or not. I care, but she doesn’t. She won’t even tell me how much an eye exam costs, because the doctor might have to do some tests, and might not do others, so it is really up to the doctor. And of course I can’t meet the doctor ahead of time; I have to make an appointment.
So no matter what, I can’t know how much I will end up paying until I am sitting at home, after the service has already been rendered, and I am looking at the bill and explanation of benefits, and then I will just have to write a check.

I took my car in for regular service the other day, just an oil change, $39.

I waited in a large comfortable waiting room with about 30 other people who were reading magazines, working on computers or peering into their smartphones.

Every now and then a man would come out and talk to one of us customers about how much the repair was going to cost and ask them if that is O.K., will they pay for that.

The man eventually came to me and said that they had found that the power steering fluid needed to be changed, it smelled bad and was 60,000 miles old. And the rear brake pads needed changing, they were worn out. I debated on both, because he wanted an extra $480 and I had planned for a $39 oil change. But I agreed, knowing I trusted this shop and needed my car to be well maintained. I scrimped on these things when I was younger and poorer, and learned to regret it.

Each time the man came out and described the work needed to someone, and the new found costs, he made sure to be quiet about it, and to be respectful and considerate about it. After all, he talked to people about unexpected costs every day. He was used to softening the blow and encouraging people to be cool about the whole thing.

You might think this is a story about the cost of things, but it’s not. Or you might think this is a story about levels of customer service, but it’s not.

Back at the eye doctor’s office, the optometrist, who I needed to drop my old glasses off with for repair, had a table set up just beyond the desk of the doctor’s receptionist. As I was wrapping up my unsatisfying chat with the receptionist, an older man came in and made his way slowly to the optometrist’s table.

The doctor’s receptionist used her phone to call in the back to let the optometrist know people were waiting for her.

When she came forward, she asked the old man what she could do for him. He said that I was there before him.

So I stepped up and offered my broken glasses, explaining that she had fixed the other side a month ago and would she please fix this side. She went to go get my chart from the office of the receptionist. The old man asked me if it was the earpiece or just the screw that broke. My glasses are a different kind that doesn’t have screws and hinges in the earpiece, but I didn’t want to explain that to him, so I said that it was the earpiece part, not the screw. I was still vaguely miffed because I was powerless to do anything about the position receptionist had put me in, except to cancel the appointment and go to another doctor. But Dr. Kalin was the only doctor in my town on the preferred providers list, and I didn’t want to drive thirty minutes to the eye doctor.

I could hear the receptionist say to the optometrist that I didn’t have a file, I had just made my first appointment. And I heard the optometrist correct her, that I had been in just last month for a repair, and then she returned with my file and agreed to order the part and call me next week.

So I left.

As I was pulling out of my parking spot I looked into the only other car in the lot to see an old lady sitting in the drivers’ seat looking out at me. I knew she was the old man’s wife, waiting in the car while her husband picked up his glasses. No one had been waiting for me.

As I thought about this today I learned something about caring. Not about the Doctor’s receptionist lack of care for what I wanted. Not about the car repair man’s care for the people in his shop.

Not even about the old man caring about me being there first and letting me go ahead of him as his wife waited in the car.

And it even goes beyond my lack of care to show him the proper gratitude and appreciation for letting me before him.

I learned that even if someone does not take care to be loving to the strangers he encounters, doesn’t mean that he is uncaring.

I care that the old man was taking care of me. I just cared more later, on reflection of the events. Sometimes I am with it enough to take care right on the spot, in the moment. But in this case, the way the receptionist treated me had thrown me off my game, and I was less than caring to the old man. I wasn’t mean and am not filled with regrets.

I wonder if my lack of gratitude and care threw him off of his game a little, and he was less able to take care of the next person, and so on.

I hope I do better next time.

March 2011


  1. Good piece Rob, I enjoyed reading this. A very personal tone and interesting message. Thanks for posting this.
    Dave Seward

  2. Thanks Rob. Thought-provoking.
    Susan McD...