Tuesday, September 22, 2015

You're Not The Dalai Lama

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published September 24, 2015] © 2015 

I was hugely dismayed to walk into a local doctor’s office recently and see the following sign:

Please be advised that your waiting time could be extensive. If you are unable to continue your wait, please let the receptionist know and she will reschedule your appointment. Thank you for your understanding and patience as the doctor takes the time to provide excellent medical care to all.

Here’s the translation:

We make absolutely no effort to schedule in any meaningful way or to respect the time and comfort of our patients. Be prepared to sit here all afternoon because we have egos the size of Connecticut and think the sun rises and sets on our board certified tushies. Should you get so fed up that you leave, our hostile office staff will assure you that the same thing will happen the next time so you might as well suck it up and stay since you’ve already paid for parking.  Regardless, we’re keeping your co-pay.

They weren’t joking about the “extensive.” Sorry, guys: this is ridiculously bad management disguised as dedicated health care. All medical offices – in fact, anyone in a field that books appointments – has to figure out appropriate scheduling. Failing to even try is just rude and disrespectful. What part of the word “appointment” do you not get?

A glutton for punishment, I confess I had actually had contact with this group once before in 2012. My then-primary care doctor had referred me there for a consult but merely achieving a human to schedule an appointment took some 14 phone calls over three days. Even during business hours, I kept getting a message to “please call back during business hours.”
On the third day, I systematically tried every one of the eight options but got a recording on all of them (even the one for doctors which I confess gave me a certain perverse pleasure). On Option 6, the authorizations line, a truly crabby troll chastised people for taking up her time by calling, admonishing them that if it hadn’t been at least two weeks, don’t bother leaving a message.

On my first appointment there in 2012, I waited a little over two hours in a waiting room that was so packed that people – elderly people – were standing. When I came back to review my test results, I waited an hour and forty minutes. I refused to come back a third time.
So what possessed me to go back there again? My new primary care doctor wanted me to have another consult with a different doctor in this group. Please note that there are no lack of doctors in this specialty in La Jolla. (These folks must throw one helluva Christmas party.) When I called, sure enough, I got voice mail. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. But in fairness, I would like to note that their voice mail now sports a less cranky troll who notes that if has been less than 14 days for an authorization, “please be patient.” They still don’t want you to leave a message, but the delivery is a ton better.  Sometimes that all you can hope for in a doctor’s office, that they’re less rude than they used to be.

Having decided that I would call these people only once, I was about to search out a different specialist the next morning when an actual human returned my call from the day before. The prompter response gave me hope that they had changed in the last three years. But then I arrived and saw the sign.

Now one might think that the right approach would be to come at least an hour late. Don’t even think it. They are clear that they expect you on time even if they aren’t.

I had the prior week’s New York Times crossword puzzles in my purse in case I had to wait. I checked in and filled out all the usual insurance and medical history forms clearly indicating why I was there. Before they called my name, I still had time to do the Saturday crossword which, I may say, is usually a bear.

I was encouraged when I was taken to an examining room and told that the doctor would be “right in.” “Right in” in their world turns out to be a half hour and I had done the Friday puzzle and started on the Thursday.

When the doctor arrived, he asked me why I was there (um, it’s on those forms I filled out) and when I told him, he handed me a brief questionnaire asking me to check which of the following 10 symptoms I had. I quickly checked off the five that applied to me and handed it back.  “No,” he says, “I want you to really look at it.  I’ll be right back.”

“Right back” meant going to see another patient. In the meantime, I managed to finish the Thursday puzzle and even start on the Wednesday.

The doctor reappeared and we reviewed my case. Then he stands (bad sign) and heads for the door. “Let’s have you take off your shoes and socks,” he says. My shoes were slip-ons.  “Ready!” I chirped, hoping to forestall his exit.  But he’s already gone to see another patient.

Unfortunately, the earlier-in-the-week puzzles are a lot easier and I finished both Wednesday and Tuesday, now finding myself staring at the walls.  That’s when I noticed the sign on the cabinet:

If you have ANY medical problems after your appointment or if your condition worsens, call immediately and make an appointment to see the doctor. 

Of course, the worsening of your health was probably caused by the 200 point increase in your blood pressure from sitting in their waiting room all afternoon.  I love the idea that you’re supposed to call. Except, of course, that they don’t answer their phones. By the time  they responded, you’d already be embalmed and on display at your local mortuary.

In fairness, did I feel I got a good, if installment-driven, medical consult? Check. Was he nice? Double check. Go back again? Not on your life. Because no routine doctor’s appointment should take five puzzles.



Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Perfect Teacher

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published September 17, 2015]  © 2015 

I don’t think there is a parent out there who wouldn’t agree that if there’s a good teacher-child fit, the school year flies by. A bad fit and it’s a long year indeed.

I should probably interject that there might not be anything wrong with the teacher other than that she doesn’t like your kid. As hard as it is to accept, your child may be a total pain.

You try to work with the teacher, of course. But at what point do you decide that it’s time to try to change classrooms, or even schools? A friend’s free-spirited child pretty much had his tushie firmly affixed to The Bench at his tightly-wound local private school. In fact, we heard so much about that time-out bench that it became incorporated into our lives as well. (“Olof,” I’d say to my husband, “do that one more time and you’re going to The Bench!”)  Ultimately, she moved him to public school where he thrived.  

It’s a fine line between trying to make everything perfect for your child versus concluding that the kid is just going to have to suck it up.

And that doesn’t change after elementary school.

My older son, Rory, was either adored or hated by his teachers. He had a teacher one year named Mr. Munzer who truly brought out the best in him, made him excited about learning, or even more, about behaving. At the time, I would have liked to have cloned Mr. Munzer and had him teach Rory for life. But that’s just not the way life works and it’s probably for the best. Rory would have missed a lot of life lessons along the way. Like, for example, what happens when you drive to berserkness someone who has power over your grades.

I’ve written quite a bit about Rory who could best be described as a parental terrorist in training. There was nothing he enjoyed better than getting an adult – parent or teacher – totally wound up.

When Rory was in eighth grade, all the kids were required as part of their PE class to run around the track within a certain time limit. Rory never quite made the grade (but not for any lack of physical ability). The PE teacher, whom Rory decided to target, decided she would make Rory her personal project, working with him every day after school.  As she told me at the time, she wanted every child to succeed.

Okay, maybe not this one. About three weeks into this endeavor, I picked up my phone at work to hear a woman screaming “I HATE your child! I have NEVER hated ANY child as much as I HATE your child!!!” I was hoping it was a wrong number but alas, I knew just which child she was referring to. It had taken her that long to realize that Rory, in collaboration with his digital watch, was running around the track precisely two seconds slower every day just to annoy her. You could be a quadriplegic and get an A in PE at this school. But she threatened to give Rory the first F in the school’s history.

I know some parents feel that their child’s teacher has it in for the kid, but I’ve always felt that if a teacher called me at home or the office, it wasn’t because they didn’t have anything else to do.

 I rarely heard from a teacher about my younger son, Henry, who was always a dedicated student and athlete. But in the spring semester of Henry’s senior year of high school, I got a call from the AP Physiology teacher who reported that she didn’t like his attitude. Actually, I didn’t like his attitude either. In fact, I didn’t much like HIM at the time. That spring, his spirit had already left for college but his body had to remain behind. I don’t know who suffered more.

Now, Henry had logged ten AP classes during high school and captained two sports teams so nobody could accuse him of being a slacker. Discussing the situation with him that night, he complained that the teacher was terrible; she had them coloring in diagrams of organs. Total waste of time, he protested. OK, sounded totally lame to me too. 

I had logged a lot of hours in the employment world by that time, 12 of them as a single working mom after my divorce from the kids’ father. I told Henry to think of this course not as the study of physiology but as an exercise in getting along in the real world. If he could master this, his future work life would go much smoother. You only have to deal with a teacher for an hour a day for nine months, I noted. In the work world, your boss might be having you do idiotic assignments for years at a time. You only have two more months with this lady until you graduate. Unless, of course, she gets so annoyed that she fails you in which case you won’t. Then you’ll be here for another year or until one of us kills the other. So figure out a way to do what she asks so that she’s not calling me again which I told her to do if you don’t shape up fast. 

I think it might have been the most important course he took in high school. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Adventures In Babysitting

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published September 10, 2015] © 2015 
Recently, we spent four days in L.A. babysitting our grandchildren – 5, 4, and 14 months – paroling our son and daughter-in-law for a much-needed get-away.  Overall it went well. There were, however, three heart-stopping episodes but fortunately nothing that could not be resolved by either (1) acetone (2) phenobarbital or (3) the realization that the house wasn’t on fire after all.  

Fortunately, we were provided the assistance of a babysitter as Olof and I were clear that we were not up to the task on our own. Each of those kids has more energy than Olof and I have combined. Further, the 14-month-old, like all of his ilk, is positively drunk with happiness at his new mobility and makes a break for the nearest object of peril the second you take your eyes off him. He needed one-on-one.

And so we arrived in L.A. with our dog Winston. Now, you may remember that Winston is actually their dog but he has spent so much time at our house that in January we took official ownership of him. Our son and daughter-in-law adore Winston – he was their wedding gift to each other eight years ago – but like most English bulldogs of his age, Winston has developed increasingly serious and time-consuming medical problems. 

Concurrent to Winston’s health woes, my daughter-in-law and two friends started a YouTube channel for moms with young kids that has been so successful that it has been featured on Good Morning America and the Today show; their thrice-weekly video site has 15 million views a month. They are delighted, of course, but my daughter-in-law’s overstretched life could no longer accommodate urgent veterinary appointments with three tots in tow. 

Now, normally the older kids would have had summer activities for part of the day but these had mostly ended. So we arrived with plenty of projects planned. We made homemade slime (borax, Elmer’s glue), planted herbs in little pots, read tons of stories, watched all manner of endearing theatrical performances, mediated the usual number of “He’s being mean to me!” altercations, tried to explain that in checkers you either have to use the red squares or the black squares but not both, and otherwise enjoyed our time with them. 

At 5 a.m. the second morning we were there, however, there was a sudden loud blast from the smoke alarm in the hallway right outside the kids’ bedrooms. Let me tell you, that will get your adrenaline going. Fortunately, the blast stopped as quickly as it started. There was no smell of smoke, and we recalled that our smoke alarms had occasionally, maliciously, done this as well. It’s like smoke alarms get bored and decide to toy with you.  (It’s not the same noise as the low battery indicator water-faucet-torture beep that smoke alarms make - also maliciously - at night.) But anyway, false alarm – but no coffee needed THAT morning. We were seriously awake. 

The second night we were there, after everyone had gone to bed, I was horrified to find Winston having a seizure. Fortunately, my arsenal of Winston medications included some doggie phenobarbital that my daughter-in-law had bequeathed me. Since Winston has only ever had a seizure at his L.A. home and not ours, he had obviously become sensitized to something at their house during the last two years while he was mostly living at ours. 

Now, Olof and I had to concede that a seizure for either human or canine was not an altogether inappropriate response after a day with three kids five and under. But the kids are incredibly gentle with Winston and there are plenty of places in the house he can escape. My theory? The L.A. folks eat mostly organic and use all green cleaning products. Maybe it’s too much of a shock for Winston’s aged immune system to go from our house where we don’t eat organic and the cleaning products are toxic. Definitely a puzzle. 

On the third day, the two older kids were giving me a mani-pedi while Olof was on toddler-stalker duty. Granddaughter accidentally knocked over the whole bottle of Mommy’s special bright red nail polish on the light colored kitchen floor. When the sitter tried to clean it up, it only succeeded in expanding it onto a nine inch diameter red blob which was impervious to kitchen cleaning products. We Googled “nearest hardware store” and dispatched Olof to acquire acetone and Magic Erasers which fortunately did the trick. Whew! That one was going to be hard to explain to Mommy! And if she asks if I’ve seen her red nail polish, I’m going to plead the fifth.

So: Mom and Dad are back home, we and Winston are back home, everyone survived, and a good, if exhausting, time was had by all. Now Olof and I are thinking of our own four day retreat. We’ve earned it. 

Manicure by four-year-old

 Winston as a gift pup (6 weeks old)