Compassion versus avoidance

10 Sep

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




Posted by on September 10, 2014 in Uncategorized


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7 responses to “Compassion versus avoidance

  1. Johanna Muench

    September 11, 2014 at 1:54 am

    Wow Genilee, your descriptions are dead on!! I too have seen both when I was dealing with my mother’s illness and hospice long distance, and was appalled by the bad attitudes who were *supposed* to be helping me. On a good note though I found many more good souls than bad; and they seemed to have a bottomless supply of sunshine in their hearts for not only the elderly or sick, but even for folks just like me struggling to hold it all together. And you know what? I took all the extra sunshine they gave so freely–I really needed it during that time!–so that I could 1) not totally freak out! and 2) keep bankrolling all that sunshine for the very rainy day to come. Your story took me back to those difficult times when I felt so incredibly small in a big, mean, sad world, but I remembered all the sunshine! That sunshine that I savored and nurtured then has grown exponentially since then, maybe not bottomless yet, but I am working on it!! Isn’t that what we do: Live and learn and pass it on? Pass on the sunshine, I say! 🙂

    • swopeparente

      September 12, 2014 at 9:27 pm

      Thank you so much for that comment, Johanna. I now have a new phrase: pass on the sunshine. You’ve just done that for me. I guess we need rude, awful people to show us the contrast.

      You know what else: YOU should be writing as well. Are you? Nicely said.

  2. Allyn Stotz

    September 11, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Wow, I could just slap that mean lady at the dr.’s office. People like that should not be dealing with the public. It’s their job to be helpful and civil. And if they can’t be nice and helpful to Sr. citizens then they need to find another occupation! I don’t care if she has dealt with this issue many times, it’s her job to do so and not her job to upset clients. Grrrrrrrrrr So sorry, you had to deal with her after all the work you did on researching and doing the proper thing!! Let me know if I can help somehow.

    But I’m proud of you for not just dwelling on that and seeing that other people can be nice! So glad the woman at the Sr. community was so impressive. So did you get a book signing scheduled?

  3. swopeparente

    September 12, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    I derived a great deal of satisfaction today by calling the drug company as the woman instructed me to do. She was full of … she did NOT know what she was talking about. You would think that people who work in an office like that would not dismiss someone who needs help so quicky!

    And we had an EVEN BETTER dayThursday. Three enthusiastic activity directors that were very good and very nice. More on that later!

    • allyn stotz

      September 12, 2014 at 3:17 pm

      People like her are rude and unhelpful because they don’t know what they’re doing! That’s their way of getting out of looking dumb. I’ve worked with tons of people like that. Instead of them admitting they might not know the answer but will get it to you by asking someone, they yell at the person with the question and make that person look like the idot, NOT themselves,. Hate people like that!.

  4. Verna Wortkoetter

    September 16, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    So good to hear from you. One of the many blessings with my new home is the Fact everyone is very kind and friendly. Never hear any unkind words. I trust you Do not have any more bad dealings. I am proud of you for all the help you do for Your wonderful parents. They are blessed. God’s blessings for you, Verna


  5. swopeparente

    September 18, 2014 at 11:58 pm

    I have met as many people that were kind as this woman. Thank you Verna for being one of them.


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