We walked into the enormous health care collective, you know, those medical campuses where patients are herded through a maze of reception desks before landing in an exam room to wait. We had arrived to begin the “process.”
Now just for the record, my husband and I have become accustomed, as I’m sure you have, to the impersonal dispensing of modern-day medical care. Long gone are the days when you could knock on the neighborhood doctor’s kitchen door and see him eating his lunch as you peer through the screen door asking if you could come in with your small medical problem du jour. Today, we wend our way through the “process” before sitting vis-à-vis with someone who might actually be able to help us.
Alas, I miss the old days.
But there we were, an aging couple, feeling small, anonymous, and needing help. A health scare had sent us seeking attention, but first we had to go through the “process.”
Calling the doctor’s office is the first step in the process.
With my fingers sweating, I listen to, “Press 2 to make an appointment, press 3 to hear the message in another language, press 4 to hear the menu again.” I’ve learned how to bypass this step.
Here’s the trick: do nothing. Press nothing, and usually after about five minutes of listening to that lilting voice telling you where to go, you’ll hear something like, “…Or stay on the line for the next customer service representative.” Yippee, hope springs eternal. I may yet to speak to a real person sometime today.
Mission accomplished. Appointment made for the following day with the physician’s assistant working in my husband’s primary care physician’s office.
The following day after finding a parking spot three football fields away from the building we needed to get to, we got in line at the main reception desk.
“Date of birth?” the receptionist asks without looking up from her computer screen. “Name?”
Still no eye contact.
“Who are you seeing today?” Her voice has a slightly nasal monotone similar to the voice on the automated telephone system. She is still focused on her first love, the computer screen, while asking, “Did you go online to pre-register?”
She’s not looking at us as we look at each other in bewilderment, disgust, and horror. Did we miss a critical step in the “process?”
She hands my husband a tablet, you know, a computer tablet, and tells him that the “new process” requires that he register himself into the system using the tablet.
“You sit over there,” she gestures to a row of chairs where other people, people our age, are tapping on tablets and looking confused. I overhear a couple as they huddle over their tablet. The lady says to the man, “No, no you don’t keep hitting the buttons!”
My husband takes the tablet, muttering under his breath words I won’t repeat, as we find two empty chairs. We look at the tablet. It demands that we populate 1,000 fields of information – everything from name and birthdate, race, creed, and a question asking us to rate the experience of using the tablet.
I say to my husband, “Another bit of technology displacing humanity.”
After we finally see the PA, it’s determined that testing is necessary. She then informs us that a doctor can’t see my husband for eight weeks. “They’re booking into late January,” we are told by another staffer who also seems unable to look up from her computer screen into the faces of living, breathing, terrified humans.
As we walk the five kilometers back to our car, I say to my husband, “Well, we got some exercise anyway.”
He is not amused.
The truth is that, as much as we appreciate all that modern medicine can do towards granting us the most pain-free and disease-banished old age as possible, we don’t like the “process” at all. We don’t like the complicated telephone systems that require you carve out half a day’s schedule just to navigate its levels and layers. We don’t like not recognizing the receptionist or anyone in the doctor’s office because, heaven forbid, people working for ‘Big Medicine’ should be allowed to work full-time, earn retirement packages, and get to know their patients.
Medicine is, after all, now big business where labor efficiencies are measured, including the amount of time the doctor actually examines a patient and how many patients are booked in a day. It makes one feel like just a data byte in an algorithm stored in a virtual cloud in the space-time continuum. It sort of confirms the spiritual belief that we are “dust in the wind,” or even worse, part of an economic engine fueled by our medical needs.
This Mattapoisett Life
By Marilou Newell