On January 16th, I rested under a blanket on my mom’s living room couch with a heating pad on my knees. I have been holding water in my limbs and have been taking a diuretic, but water still collects and causes pain as I move.
My cell phone rang. I answered and learned by a robot call that I have an appointment for a CAT scan tomorrow at 11:15 a.m. in the Fantus Clinic. It was news to me.
The dehumanization of patients begins with the dehumanization of hospital workers. If the making of an appointment is dictated by a machine, then it tells the patient that your time does not matter, ergo you do not matter. It also tells people with excellent telephone skills that their jobs can be performed better by unfeeling machines that do not engage in give and take. We should not be placing all of the blame for the incivility of texters on the texters. They are responding to a society that no longer values the service inherent in a personal phone call.
As it happens, I am available Tuesday at 11:15 a.m., but it makes for an extraordinarily long day. I teach Tuesday night at Naperville, a long way from the hospital. I have work responsibilities every day of this week. Had they wanted me to come at the same time on Wednesday, I could not be there. Wouldn’t all of us feel better if we treated each other to some old-fashioned one-on-one communication?
Machines are everywhere for our convenience. There are toilets that flush every time I move while hovering over a toilet seat. I think such a machine caused cross-contamination of my bowel to my urinary tract (not that I can prove that). A machine emits soap or disinfectant or heat when I move my hands under a soap dispenser, disinfectant dispenser, or hands drier. How are those things working for you? I see more soap on sinks and bathroom floors than ever. Doesn’t the hands drier draw air from a filthy floor to dry my newly cleaned hands?
I recently spent days of “quality time” hooked up to I.V. poles and liquids. The machines were fancy. They told me what drug I received, the speed of delivery and if the equipment operated unimpeded. Did I require this information? No. My nurses did. Did they get it? No, not unless they came to shut off a beeping alarm because the line was occluded or the I.V. bag was empty. The beeping woke me from fitful sleep. It startled me when I was close to drowsing. I learned to shut it up for short periods of time. It alerted me that I needed care. My nurses rarely heard it. To summon a nurse I still needed to ring a call button. Someone would answer. I would wait, with the alarm beeping, for someone to come by to resolve the issue. On many occasions a nurse would come turn off my call button and then leave me waiting even longer with the I.V. beeping, until someone else could return to fix the problem. The end result was that the new equipment served as a reminder that I was getting less than prompt or effective care.
I recognize that the public has become increasingly “rough” on service people who call on the telephone. I have prefaced calls to service personnel with an acknowledgement that I am angry at someone else in an organization. I have seen horrific news reports about people with guns lashing out against strangers in an organization that did some “wrong.” Folks get killed for giving the finger or shouting an epithet. The persons shouting loudest about their need to be respected sometimes show no respect to others. We are quick to escalate our matters, raise our voices, and pound our podiums when we do not get what we want. In politics we have elevated to public office people who will say “no” to any options other than those that serve their narrow agendas. A representative democracy has become an explanation for incivility between the elected representatives of a city, a state, or a nation.
I don’t care for the idea of making appointments by dictating day and time by robocall. I prefer to speak with a live person at a place of business. I like to flush my own toilet and dispense soap. I wish I could call and speak with a service person who cares whether I remain a customer. I hope my elected representatives can listen to other points of view and help generate compromises that resolve problems rather than polarizing issues.
If anyone is listening, I wish that Hal would open the pod door for me. I’m ready to get off this robot-driven, life’s conveyor belt. If you care to speak, then I care enough to answer your call and talk about it.