Thursday, July 28, 2011

Just another number

It all started several years ago at Radio Shack. (Nothing good ever starts at Radio Shack.) I was at The Shack buying something. (That's what they want to be called these days: The Shack. They're trying to rebrand the company, as if somehow shortening the name will make you think the whole store isn't as obsolete as the "Radio" part of their name. It's like when Kentucky Fried Chicken became "KFC" to try make you forget their food was fried. Or when the SciFi channel changed their name to "SyFy" so people wouldn't think of it as a nerdy science fiction place, but instead as a cool place where they can pick up syphilis.)

Anywho, I was at The Shack buying something, I'm not sure what. It had to have been a cord for my stereo, a cable for my computer, or a battery for my cordless phone. (Something along those lines, because unless you are a remote-control car aficionado, why else would you go to The Shack?) 

The Shack: the place to go for cords, batteries, and remote-control cars!
I was at the counter paying for my purchase, my mind wandering to which fast food place I should go to for lunch. (This was back when I was single and ate out on average 13 times a week.) My internal Arby's/Burger King debate was interrupted when the salesclerk unexpectedly said, "What is your phone number?"

"What?" I said. I was a bit taken aback. 

The clerk repeated, "What is your phone number?" I asked why they needed my phone number. "We always get the phone numbers of our customers." Who can argue with logic like that? (Anyone with a brain?) The salesclerk made me feel stupid because I didn't know that this sort of information exchange went on all the time. I gave them my phone number, because who was I to go against the wishes of The Shack, especially if it's something they "always" do? Besides, I didn't want to argue, I just wanted to take my cord/cable/battery and get me a Beef 'N' Cheddar. (Mmmm….cheesy sauce!)

That's how it began. And now, it's hard to make any purchase without leaving a piece of personal information behind. We hardly even flinch anymore. I've made several visits to several doctors over the last couple of months (to try to see why my leg seems to be falling apart), and the first thing they ask me, even before my name, is when is my date of birth. It's a good thing my junior high buddy Jim doesn't go to the same doctors I go to, or there would be some confusion. (We share the same birthday.)

Sometimes it's not clear who is asking for the information and why. Within a week of moving to my current house, I was paying for fuel with my credit card when the fuel pump asked for my zip code. I wasn't sure which zip code to give them. Was it the credit card company asking for my old billing zip code for security reasons, or was it the gas station asking for my new zip for marketing Radio Shack-ish reasons? (And just what was my new zip code, anyway?) After entering the wrong zip code twice, I was shut out of the system. (It's never good to be totally rejected by an inanimate object.)(I already get enough rejection from actual people, I don't need machines doing it, too.) I had to move to a different pump, where I finally was able to crack their zip code code.
The other day when I went to get my hair cut, I finally lost it. I get my haircuts at a national chain. I don't want to mention them by name, so I'll just call them "Good Clippers." I've been going to this particular "Good Clippers" for about three years now. The first time I went there, they asked for my phone number. All of the eleventeen times I've been there since, they ask me my phone number as soon as I walk in the door. I tell them my number. They look at their screen and say "Andrew?" I then say, "No, my name is Joe." We've done this dance at least a dozen times. (Or eleventeen. Whichever is bigger.)
Finally, this time, I had had enough. "No, I'm not Andrew," I said sternly. "I've been coming here for three years, and every single time I do, you think my name is Andrew. Andrew hasn't had that phone number for at least three years. It would be very nice if you could take Andrew's name out of your computer, so that you don't call me Andrew the next time I come in. Do you think you can do that?" I had to try to maintain a bit of civility, remembering that one of these women would soon be holding sharp instruments very near to my head.

Yes, we can do that, the woman at the register said. She type-ity typed in her computer for a bit, then said she had removed Andrew's name from my phone number. Did she really remove Andrew's name? I'll find out for sure in a few weeks when I go back. If they call me Andrew again, I'll probably lose it and punch the wall or something. I'll hurt myself, and then I'll have to go to the doctor. And tell them what my birthday is.

Monday, July 11, 2011

I've Been Waiting....

Only at a doctor's office can you be treated so poorly in order to get treated to get better. It's a good thing for doctors that we need them, because if anyone else ran a business like a typical doctor's office, they wouldn't be in business for very long.

The other day I had to go to the doctor. I was having another flare-up of my gout, and I wanted to see if the doctor could help me get it under control. (Gout: I wouldn't recommend it. But, with age and weight numbers on the wrong side of young and skinny, coupled with a love of eating red meat and a genetic predisposition, I'm even a better candidate for gout than a child actor is for having future substance abuse problems.) (I'm talking to you, Lohan.)

So, I had a doctor's appointment at 3:30 PM. I got there at 3:25 on the odd chance that the planets had aligned and they might actually be ready for me early. (Fat chance.)

I was then handed a clipboard to fill out my medical history. Now, as I get older and more creaky, I go to the doctor with greater frequency. I have been to this particular doctor's office several times in the last two or three years. And yet, here I am filling out my medical history. Again. They say they need me to fill out my medical history again because they have a new computer system. I swear, offices change their computer systems more often than Walmart rearranges their aisles, because heaven forbid you could actually walk right to where the light bulbs are without having to map out a search grid!

So, I fill out my medical history yet again. No, I do not have a sexually transmitted disease. No, I do not have any allergies to any medications (although I am starting to develop a nervous twitch every time I have to fill out my medical history.) And no, no matter how many times you ask, I am NOT pregnant!

So, I finish up with the clipboard and wait. And wait. And wait. (They call it the "waiting room" for a reason.) Happily, they have some good magazines (actually from this century), so I lose myself in a Sports Illustrated article. I'm reading so intently that I wonder if they called my name and I didn't hear it. Nope. I'm still waiting.

Finally, they call me back at 4:10 PM. (I've been there for 45 minutes.) Every time I get called out of the waiting room I think, "Okay, now we're getting somewhere." And then I'm plunked down into the little examination room, and the waiting continues.

The little examination room is fun, isn't it? It's a magical land of cotton balls, Q-Tips, and colorful posters showing what your innards would look like if someone sliced you open. And whatever you do, don't touch the haz-mat receptacle full of used needles! (Death in a little plastic container!)

Of course, the centerpiece of the little exam room is the 3-foot long exam "bed," covered with a wide swath of wax paper. The message of the wax paper: You are stinky, filthy and full of germs, and as soon as you leave we're going to fumigate the room and throw away anything you touched. (We'd burn all the furniture as well, if it weren't for cost and safety concerns.)

So, I am now sitting on the exam "bed" with my feet dangling in the air. I can't lay down, because the "bed" is too short. There is no back support, so I'm slumping there with my shoulders all hunched. (Do they have a deal with the chiropractors? I mean, the chairs in the waiting room weren't exactly La-Z-Boys, but at least they had a little support.)

Is it a bed? Is it a chair? How do you get comfortable on this thing?
(And what if parts of my body touch the area that's not covered by the wax paper?)

In a fairly recent development, they now have magazines in the exam room. Unfortunately, there are only three magazines. They are: Parenting Magazine, People, and Martha Stewart Living. (I'm not a big fan of Martha Stewart, but at least she's not so ego driven that she feels the need to have a picture of herself on the cover of every single issue of her magazine.) (I'm talking to you, Winfrey!) None of the magazines are enticing enough to make me jump down from my wax paper perch and possibly twist my ankle (Why does the exam "bed" have to be so tall? It's a good thing I'm not afraid of heights.)

Finally, an hour after arriving at the office, the doctor made an appearance. And that's all it was: an appearance. The doctor was in the room for less than five minutes. I usually spend more time changing channels during the two minute warning of a football game than he spent in the room with me. He told me I needed to get blood work and an x-ray. And then he left. The vampire nurse then came in and took my blood. (To be fair, the vampire nurse was very nice. She was the only one in the entire building who apologized to me for how slow they were.) And then I was gone. But I wasn't done. I had to get an x-ray, and there is no x-ray machine at the doctor's office. So, I had to go to the hospital.

Things went smoother at the hospital than they did at the doctor's office. Mostly. Instead of giving me the clipboard to fill out my medical history, the woman at the admissions desk just asked me the pertinent questions. (And, thankfully, she did NOT ask if I was pregnant.) (I'm not, by the way.) But, the one question that really threw me was when she asked, "Do you have a living will?" I was there for an x-ray. I didn't think it was a life-or-death situation. (But then, I guess they do put that lead apron over you, so maybe it's more dangerous than I thought.)

By the time I finished up with the doctor's office and the hospital, I had spent the entire afternoon and much of the evening trying to figure out why my knee hurt. And, at the end of the day I didn't know any more than when I started. It was very frustrating.

It doesn't have to be that way. The very next day I had a dentist appointment. (I know, glutton for punishment.) When I got to the dentist office I was led to a chair in the waiting room. I sat there for literally less than one minute when they came and took me back to the exam room! There were no questions about my medical history, because they already knew it. Compared to the doctor's visit, the trip to the dentist was like a dream come true! (Except for the needles, drills, and sharp pointy things inside my mouth.) (And the drool.)