Having a father with advanced Alzheimer’s and a legally blind mother with hearing problems has taught me a lot about how people deal with other people. So has traveling around to various senior communities and learning how they live. I’ve seen some incredibly kind and patient people. I’ve also seen some people that seemed to be born without the gene that gives you the ability to deal with aging with compassion.
Yesterday I saw both.
The day started in a doctor’s office. I walked in with a simple request: can you have the doctor fill out this drug company form so I can get my parents financial relief? (For those of you familiar with the “donut hole,” we’ve hit it square in the middle with dad and can no longer afford his medicine because insurance has run out).
Before I could say more than three words, this woman actually put up a hand in front of her face to say, “quit speaking.” At this point, I thought, “uh oh, she’s sitting behind the main desk but telling me to shut up before I even begin trying to explain this situation.” I took a breath, squelched my patience and zippered my lip. When she finally glanced up, I began a short explanation, which was basically this: I did all the research and have written a cover letter to the doctor explaining exactly what we need, which is to have the doctor sign this form in two places I’ve marked and write out a prescription.
“And who are you?” she said with raised eyebrows. “Uh oh,” I thought again. “I’ve been in this office multiple times with dad and mom and she doesn’t even recognize that I belong here?”
I gave the patient’s name and shoved the file at her.
Instead of looking at it, she said: “You need to bring it to the doctor’s office on your next visit. Otherwise, we charge you $25.”
I tried to explain the next appointment was too far into the future to do us any good.
She took two seconds to glance at the first page of paperwork and pronounced: “You’re being unrealistic. You need to call the drug company. This will be denied if you had any insurance at all. They don’t care about the donut hole.”
This made me gasp. I knew the claim might be denied, but to even get to the point of appealing to the drug company required I apply for and be denied extra help from the government itself (my parents were just a few dollars short of qualifying). I had done just that and hours of research to see that my dad might get help. This front office worker was telling me I was being unrealistic without even looking through the forms or cover letter explanation.
We went back and forth for a few more minutes, but I could see there was no way she was even going to give it any consideration or get the form to the doctor to decide. I walked out seething.
Maybe she knew what she was talking about, but her lack of compassion astounded me. We are a family in crisis and she couldn’t spend two minutes listening to me. It was too easy to just dismiss me as unrealistic and get on with her duties.
However, as cruel as I believe this woman was, I saw the other side of this coin that very same day.
Mom and I were meeting with different seniors communities to try to book speaking engagements. We’ve found it’s better to just walk in and ask for the activity director and if she or he is not available, leave a packet of information.
One woman in particular simply wowed us. Mom had been impressed with her on the phone because she’d been enthusiastic about the fact mom was writing at her advanced age. But the director was also realistic in pointing out that “my residents don’t know who you are so I’m not sure you’d sell any books. I don’t want to waste your time.” But we promised to give her a sample knowing that most people who read Twist or Wretched are thoroughly entertained. Once we arrived, she not only remembered mom’s call, she took the time to sit down and go through our packet and, after discussing what we’ve done with other communities, come up with an idea for a program there on the spot. That was impressive in itself, but it was the woman’s attitude toward her own residents that was the real wow. Her eyes sparkled with enthusiasm as she talked about how we could make this work to get more people out of their apartments and into the community area. Her colorful bracelets jangled as she waved at residents passing by. She smiled and called each one my name, before returning her attention to our “meeting.”
We could clearly see this was a woman who understood the needs of the people under her care. And she was a woman who was not about to dismiss us at the door because we didn’t make an appointment. She had us so pumped up and proud of ourselves for what we do by the time we walked out of there, it made our day and made up for the rudeness of the office worker.
Both women deal with the elderly every day. The office woman works for a neurologist who has many Alzheimers and dementia patients. The community director deals with their issues and concerns every single day, all day long. The difference between the two, however, was attitude. That office worker chose to stick to “procedure” to get her out of having to deal with yet another demand being made upon her. But the director looks at what she does not as a burden, but a blessing. She knows there are many simple ways to help seniors that require no time at all. And the first of those ways is to simply listen.
–Genilee Swope Parente