Operator: …And what is your ZIP code?
Operator: Could you repeat that?
Operator: Gerald? G-e-r-a-l-d?
Me: My ZIP code is zero, um, oh-one-five-two-oh
Operator: And, your phone number?
After last week’s surgery, I needed to make two appointments. One was with the doctor who performed the procedure. The other was with a nurse or nurse practitioner in a particular practice group.
I first tried the number provided to me on my hospital discharge paperwork and wound up in voice mail hell (VMH) with a series of unhelpful prompts that never identified what organization I had reached. Waiting to speak to an operator, I was repeatedly directed back to the VMH loop with prompts for department listing and employee directory, neither of which produced any recognizable result. Rather than choosing a random person from the list, I tried another tack.
My hospital discharge paperwork also provided the hospital’s main phone number. I called that number and explained what I was trying to do.
Operator: We don’t schedule for doctor’s offices.
Me: But this is the number I was given when I was discharged from the hospital.
After a bit of time, the operator provided me with a phone number. I called and listened to three minutes of dreaded hold music (DHM). I hung up, dialed again, listened to three more minutes of DHM, hung up, and tried my luck with the second task.
I went to the Saint Vincent Hospital website to find a number for the department where nurses and nurse practitioners allegedly worked. I could find no department number, only the option to choose a doctor from a list of, I’m sure, very qualified practitioners, but people I never knew. I chose one doctor at random and clicked the Call Now button which opened a popup on my computer and tried to make a call. This particular computer didn’t have my Google Voice set up to allow me to make calls, so the button did nothing.
Back to the Saint Vincent Hospital website, I tried a toll-free number associated with the department and spoke with the operator who thought that my ZIP code started with Gerald. After we’d sorted that out, she gave me the last names of nurses in that department, along with their phone numbers. The third one was 14 miles away, she said. I asked if the first two were in Worcester. “Yes,” she said. I chose the first one because I recognized the exchange. A Google search showed that the number was related to a practice group in another part of the city.
I jotted down the number and called. This time, the DHM was pseudo-Lynyrd Skynyrd interspersed with a series of boops and beeps that led me to the answering service for the Pain Click where I could cancel an upcoming appointment that I didn’t have. I left my name and phone number anyway.
Sandra and I went for a walk, and I told her what I’d not gotten done that morning. She suggested that I use MyChart to ask for help from my primary care physician’s team.
I received a referral from my PCP to the department in question along with a phone number for said department. I called the number, listened to DHM for six minutes, followed by a series of telephone rings, followed by four more minutes of DHM, until I finally spoke to a person who was not pleased to be speaking to me (or anyone, I suspect). In spite of that, I received an appointment with a nurse for three days later.
A short while later, I received a message via MyChart from the surgeon’s office, asking if a date two-and-a-half weeks hence was good. I quickly replied that it was.
- My PCP’s care team
- Person who answered the phone after 10 minutes
- Saint Vincent Hospital website
- Saint Vincent Hospital telephone trees
This might explain some of what’s going on: Report says there are 19,000 unfilled hospital positions in Mass. The people who are staffing these positions are basically good, hard-working, competent employees who want to help those for whom they care. There just aren’t enough of them.
In addition, several people with whom I’d had contact received what I call field promotions. They are put in customer-facing jobs for which they have neither the training nor temperament. I’m thinking about the phlebotomist who said I’d filled out a form incorrectly. She said, “You did it wrong.” twice. I’d had blood drawn from one arm earlier in the morning. She tut-tutted at the bruise and proceeded to give me a worse bruise on the other arm.