Category Archives: hands are tied

no…i’m so sorry

I am going to jump on my soapbox.  I will try not to stay up here too long for fear that I will fall off and hurt myself.

I have been contemplating the idea of work policies.  this is not a post to bash those policies but to reflect and yes to complain about them.

for the past 7 months I have been working in a surgical office.  it has been a fun experience with fun people to work with.  I am not going to say it has been perfect because Thursday and Friday would fall into the not so perfect days, but it has been a wonderful learning environment and I am blessed to be there.

most of the time it is really “easy.”  I get there and do my job and don’t worry about it when the clock hits 5:00.  for the most part it is low stress and everything works out.  notice I said “most.”

I work front desk and part of my responsibility is to schedule appointments.  it is part of my responsibility to filter people who need to be seen asap and who can wait a week or two.  some of time it is easy to figure out.  routine follow-up (be it breast cancer or colon cancer) patients can wait a few weeks to be seen.  newly diagnosed cancer patients that need a port for chemo need to be seen asap (or yesterday as the nurses say when they call to make the appointments).  this can be slightly stressful when we have no available spots to put these patients in.  it becomes a gamble of which doctor will be the most understanding with the added work load and will they be on time for clinic.  there are so many variables…but it is something we have to do.  it is our work policy to get them in our office in a timely manner.

another work policy is that we take referrals from other doctors office.  meaning that if you think you have a hernia we need your primary care doctor to call us and make the appointment.  this also goes for abdominal pain and a few other ailments.  this line is constantly blurred because if you are an established patient we sometimes can make an appointment for a mole to be removed or (for breast cancer patients) breast pain and lumps without talking to a primary care doctor.  we have our policies of what we can and can’t do…but those lines are a little blurry.

the last one I am going to touch on is the one about insurance and payments.  unlike some doctors in our town all of our doctors will see “self pay” patients which means people with no insurance.  we offer a 35% discount to those patients and we allow them to set up payment plans (unlike some offices that require people to pay it all in a lump sum).

defining both of those policies leads me to this: several months ago when I had only been working there a few months I got a call from a man about his 24 year old son.  his son went to the er for gallbladder symptoms and was uninsured.  they did some tests but determined he wasn’t a candidate for “emergency” (admit to the hospital and do the surgery right them) surgery – his symptoms were bad but not bad enough.  they sent him home with the order to call the surgeons office the next morning when we opened and make an appointment.  his dad called to make an appointment and I told him that I could and made it for several weeks out. (because that is our policy).  the dad started crying because his son was laying in the floor crying in pain and that his son had a drug problem and the er thought he might be seeking drugs and that he didn’t know what to do and the no insurance thing would be bad trying to pay off the hospital bills.  he went on to say that he didn’t understand what he had done wrong and if he had done this and that differently maybe his son wouldn’t have gotten in with the drug crowd.  I told him I was sorry I couldn’t do anything else for him but that was all I could do but if his son was that bad off he needed to take him back to the er and hopefully they would admit him.  it made me incredibly sad because I talked to this gentleman for about 15 minutes assuring him that he wasn’t a bad person and neither was his son and that there is no way to determine if his actions in the past would have impacted what his son was doing now.  I felt awful because I know he wanted his son to be better, I know that it must have been awful to see him crying in the floor but my hands were tied.  there was nothing I could do to get him in any earlier.  my doctors were already overbooked and that was that.  even though my heart went out to him I could do nothing other than offer a few encouraging words and my apologies because that is our policy.

Tuesday of this past week I got a call from a frantic lady asking me what kind of “deals” and financial assistance we offer.  I told her 35% discount and payment plan.  she asked if we did anything else.  I told her no (without hesitation).  she said well can’t you ask someone.  I said I could double-check with my boss but the last time I asked (which wasn’t that long ago) she told me our policies.  the patient said she contacted another office and they “forgave her debt” and wrote her off and that another office was going to do the same and why couldn’t we do that too.  I said I was sorry but that is what we offer that is our policy.  she started crying (and not the sniffling cry but the “ugly” cry where I only caught every other word).  she said she didn’t understand why I couldn’t help her and didn’t I understand what she was going through and told me most of her life story.  all I could offer was “I am so sorry.  I wish it were different but my hands are tied.”  I felt like a mean cold-hearted person when I hung up the phone.

these policies at my office and feeling like those patients must think I am cold-hearted and mean because I am the one that delivered the news made me think about other places with policies that are annoying.

like when I go to a fast food place and they start off by saying “would you like to try…?” or after I am done and they say “would you like a hot apple pie with that?”  I always get so annoyed because I will tell you what I want from the beginning to the end.  no I don’t want your starting suggestions and no I don’t need dessert ideas – if I wanted it I would have included that in my order.  so when I say a number 1 combo and that is all – I wasn’t joking that is really all.  thanks but no, sorry.

or like when I go to walgreens and put my purchases on the counter (right next to the LARGE display of candy on sale – that is so big my items are falling off the counter) and the cashier says “would you like some candy while it is on sale?”   no I don’t.  do you see that in my stack of items I would like to purchase?  I didn’t think so.  thank you but no.

or when I power walk into home depot or lowes and am walking straight to the one thing I need to get and get out of there or if I am arms full walking to the counter and I get within 4 feet of an employee they ask “may I help you find something?”  I am either a. already know what I am after or b. arms full checking out – I think I am good.

or (last one I promise) when I am in a store with a buggy full and I get to the cashier and they say “did you find what you need?”  no I have almost 200 dollars worth of merchandise but nope I didn’t find what I needed!

I know that those are all policies that the workers have to say.  and I think they can all be good things (like when I am strolling in lowes really looking for something it is nice to be reminded there are people that will find it for me!)  but working at the surgical office I am now realizing and trying to mold my brain to be reminded that these people are forced to say these things and to follow the rules because they are their work policies and their hands are tied.  I don’t need to be mad at the person holding me up in walgreens because she is trying to sell me stuff I don’t want…but I need to be mad at the work policies and the people who made them – not the people who have to actually carry them out.  because truth be told I am sure they are wishing they didn’t have to say them.  I am sure they are thinking I am sorry I have to ask you this but do you want an apple pie with that.  I am sure they are tired of people snapping at them when they are just doing their job.

i want to remember not to hold it against them and i hope that one day if they ever call my office and ask me to get them in sooner and i say no…i’m so sorry.  or if they as me to forgive their bills and i have to say no…i’m so sorry.  i hope that they look at me as a person just following my work policies and not a cold-hearted apathetic person.