The Need to Consistently Complain (Guest Voice)
The Need to Consistently Complain
by Peter W. Johnson
During a late night bout with insomnia I turned on my television and, happened to witness part of a PBS program concerning the attempts of a speaker to advocate for the legal rights of Native American who had apparently been mistreated by the financial institutions that managed the money they received—presumably concerning Casino income. The abuses they suffered included being denied the right to request current account balances, obtain full account statements and even, having to endure delays and denials concerning withdrawals of their own money.
The speaker was rightfully amazed at such absurd suspensions of legal rights that had become routine for many of these Natives Americans. And she had to initiate a long uphill battle, to even begin the process of obtaining justice. The accounts of her trials and tribulations encountered while on the road to an eventual win against the government, reminded me of how, on a lesser stage and smaller podium, I had encountered the arbitrary and illogical denial of my rights as a disabled person, who also suffered from Arrhythmia and, who had recently almost died of congestive heart failure.
While I was attempting to strengthen my heart and improve my health by using a gymnasium program at a local Nursing Home, I wanted only to use a small, 10 inch table fan to cool the sweat on my brow during exercise periods. On four different occasions during the previous three years I had undergone corrective procedures that included several Cardioversions and an Ablation which thankfully, seems to still be working.
My workout routines were done at a boot camp level of intensity that often left me drenched in sweat. And, a previous Administrator had gladly let me use a fan to cool my body and relax my mind—she had actually said, before granting me a fan, “Peter we don’t want to lose you.” This was a comforting acknowledgment that she valued my health as well as my personality. But all of that abruptly ended when a new Administrator summarily denied me the use of that same fan.
Well the rest of the story is long and involved, and I have told some of it before, but, suffice it to say that, I sought advise from a regional consumer advocate agency and, I was so naïve as to believe that a simple word from them to the new Administrator would easily convince her that there was no reason not to let me use a fan. Looking back now, I realize that I should have gone directly to the ADA, rather than trying to appeal to the sensibilities of an Administrator who quickly established her dominance as a control freak.
Also suffice it to say that that this new Administrator arbitrarily refused to consider any of my complaints at all. I tried making every reasonable request possible; including asking her if they could position the wall fan they normally used in order to provide me with a welcome breeze while using their stationary bike. And, I offered to let them return this fan (which was made to alternate directionally and had an adjustable tilt feature) to its original position after my 20 minute bike workout was done. I also tried every other compromise short of offering my first born son to them (thank God I didn’t have any sons).
But what I now know is that the agency I complained to was not fair enough, or possibly even able, to reach a supportive determination concerning a singular complaint, (admittedly) made against an otherwise, well run facility. I was summarily denied the use of any fan whatsoever, even though the use of one would not have altered the nature of the facility or its operations in any significant way—a prerequisite I later learned was needed to successfully use the ADA’s legal help to seek justice for a complaint—I had been completely gullible.
Some of these frustrating experiences may, in part, have led up to my angry outburst in a local ER room which I had more recently visited in order to obtain just one little pill that I had failed to re-order to keep my heart condition in check. In fact, last summer I wrote a Guest Voice piece about that experience, but several commenters responded negatively to my article, and were concerned about my admission that, while in a state of extreme anxiety, I had yelled angrily at a nurse and tried to use her for a sounding board to bounce my frustrations off of.
I didn’t personally insult her, but rather shouted out things like, “Why can’t I have just one damn pill!,” while trying to prove to them who I was, with my picture ID and the empty, but current, prescription bottle bearing my name and the name and number of my pharmacy (which would not open for business until the next day)—While I continued expressing my anger in the ER, Consequently many people who read my article totally missed the larger point I wanted to make about how our finger pointing, don’t blame me, system, sometimes denies patients the simple respect and dignity they need.
If anyone thought I was attempting to attack a single person or a particular group, in order to assign convenient blame, that person is mistaken. Rather, Because of the many ironclad procedural protocols, designed to avoid liability and prevent inappropriate actions, blame is represented by the narrow insistence to avoid consequences at all costs—by anyone. No doubt the entire situation with my elusive medication was not helped at all by it happening to occur during the busy Fourth of July holiday. Normally an online nurse would have been available, but none was accessible on that night.
During the time that this former guest post of mine was on TMV, I and several other commenters criticized each others ideas as well as trying to analyze each other’s motivations. Accordingly, many of our posts were deleted and we were given a polite warning from Dr. E about the appropriateness of our comments. But the reason I wrote the article in the first place, was not to dis many hard working nurses, or other health care professionals who genuinely give their all to bring relief from pain, and ensure good health for the many patient that they encounter each day. I know that many of them are stressed by, and have received flack from, many angry patients like me. But, I don’t want to dwell on that old wound by rehashing these misunderstandings.
I just want to say clearly and upfront, that, because of the many legally defensive postures so automatically employed by so many businesses and other organizations, I feel that I should comment about this cautious and defensive posturing which describes many businesses and organizations who have concerns even about the remote possibility of being accused with willful neglect, and/or other faults. I don’t have any definite ideas as to how our present finger pointing paradigm came into being, nor do I know for sure what will cause it to end. I just want to point at the problem, and encourage others to be aware of its consequence—including the knowledge that they might sometimes be able to change the ways that they respond to angry and upset patients.
The PBS speaker that I mentioned as I began this article, realized that, to get anywhere at all towards launching effective complaints and receiving effective responses, one’s efforts should involves a dogged attitude and the willingness to remain persistent when communicating the same questions and concerns over and over—without even getting any attention.
If I had passively remained quiet about my own abuses at my gym, my own story would also not likely have been heard or responded to in ways that others can’t completely understand. I would hope that Doctors, Nurses, and other health care professionals also know that there are many hurt feelings and blows to the pride and self-esteem felt by their patients, especially when they just need plain and simple human understanding—which they seldom get.
The larger point I am making is that, in our, “I’ll sue you, before you sue me,” culture, the application of simple compassion is often overlooked due to all the fears we have of being blamed for disobeying the rules.
I remember one older gentlemen living in the nursing facility where the gym that I worked out was in. This man (probably in his 80’s) simply needed to use the gym’s bathroom while away from his private area. He was not a regular gym member, and, probably rules existed about anyone but gym members and PT patients using the privy (or something like that) but still, while only needing to relieve himself, the poor man was angrily rebuked and told to go use his own bathroom which was on the other side of the nursing home. When he became angry at an employee who continued to refuse him, this employee continued to deny his modest request and, began treating him like a child–scolding him for even asking the question.
In the interest of fairness, this employee had many fine qualities and had often gladly helped others. But why was she, a mere thirty something, able to lecture this man like a small child for simply getting angry over a completely frustrating situation? This old man may have lived a life which included several wives, many children, or may have been forced to choose between being killed, or killing others, as a small player in a major world War. He may have also survived bouts with major illnesses and traveled all over the world, or, he may have survived during the more than 12 years of the Great Depression, etc…etc. So why should a young upstart insist now, that he cannot even take a crap, when being near a clearly available and unoccupied bathroom? It would have been so nice if the employee could have explained that she sympathized with his problem very much but that, it just wasn’t her place to permit him to use that particular bathroom.
Perhaps, if he had continued to complain, she then would have been wise to put her foot down, or else find someone to help him quickly to another bathroom. The older gentleman was cognizant enough to know what the argument was about, and why he felt frustrated, so shouldn’t he also have had his dignity and self esteem spared? Instead he was impatiently rebuffed by a young 30 plus upstart who still had a large part of her young life ahead of her. Or perhaps, she may have known little or nothing about real suffering and pain. Why should he be scolded like a little child and told to essentially to “behave,” while not even being satisfactorily told why?
Many employees may sympathize with the hurts and tribulations felt by their patients but are still dominated by the threat of unwanted consequences if they were to disobey the rules. This is not their fault, but it does say something about the dehumanization that many must suffer because those at the reigns refuse to take chances that involve bending the rules even a little bit.
Of course many of us have had plenty of positive experiences at the hands of dedicated and compassionate health care professionals, but these rights do not justify the many small wrongs, that happen in the course of doing business (and come from owners and authority figures alike).
I understand how helpful and caring many health professionals can be, and all the good things they provide for the world and those in it. And usually it is these people who will continue caring for the feelings of patients and clients, even if the system often discourages the outward expressions of that concern. I know their jobs are difficult and that I couldn’t do them better and also, that I have no definite answers other than beginning to shine a spotlight on this problem.
Because I was raised with the belief that being an American included being a rightful inheritor of the means to seek justice in the world, as well as personally, I know that a large Part of this freedom involves the ability to receive beneficial health care, both mentally and physically. And these kinds of commitments are becoming more difficult to come by, in a world that often turns upon the avoidance or sacrifice or the simple refusal to being held responsible or to be blamed.
As for my problems with the facility that wouldn’t allow me to use a simple table fan—I was persistent, like the advocate for Native Americans suggested we all should be, and I wrote to several different organizations at least once a year to complain about the injustice that they dealt me. Eventually the new head of the agency, that I had first contacted, called me after reading the long back-log of my complaints, and decided there was really something to them. He actually apologized to me over the phone—something almost unheard of being done by any Bureaucrat who wants to cover his back in today’s world!—a rare sign of professional integrity.
The recent July ER visit, where I was summarily denied just one simple pill—even after presenting a sufficient photo ID, as well as an expired prescription bottle, and asking for only that one more dose, speaks volumes about just how screwy our system has become. I have reached the conclusion that, had I gone to any other health care facility outside of the ER which I usually do go to in my home town, another hospital or clinic might have encountered some understandable problems involving the lack of records.
But when one’s own locally, often frequently used clinic, keeps every bit of the personal data relative to my health treatments and the various visits I have made to all of my Doctors, so that this data is completely accessible on the very computers that are used to admit me to triage care, I cannot understand why merely accessing my digital records and noting my valid illness, along with the fact that I don’t abuse medications, is not enough? With such information an RN should be able to contact a Dr. and allow him or her, to quickly OK a refill, allowing me to use it immediately, and, soon be on my way.
If the argument is that I might have been suffering from something else—that point is essentially moot, since, if I would have had the same disturbing symptoms at my home, I would have taken the same required medication anyway—if only there had been any of it left! So, there is by far, much too much ado about nothing–especially in cases like mine, and those which are similar to it.
In today’s world simple admissions of fault and the acceptance of responsibility for them, are avoided as if they were the plague. But thank God there are still many other people who are willing to listen to and respect the physical and emotional well being by others! And, let me repeat that, I am not trying to lay blame on the many skilled and caring medical workers who continue to give their all to their patients, while also being bound by strict rules of protocol, and who must deal daily with frustrated patients who scream at them in anger. What I am trying to do is point a finger at something which I think is a negative in regards to human dignity, and, asking why we must be so enmeshed in this hyper avoidance of blame which unfortunately exists in our culture and often hinders compassionate responses so unnecessarily .
Is it beyond our ability to change, or, are our rationalizations written in stone? Or, do we still have the power to help make simple changes just by changing our attitudes? Patients do not have the right to verbally abuse those who care for their health, but, those who care for their health should also not be intimidated by those who are concerned—which so often prevents our acting in a dignified and loving manner!
Peter Johnson is a senior citizen who has become much more interested in what is happening in America and the world, than he was as a young man. He’s interested in poetry and expository writing, and has had letters to the editor published in Time magazine, Newsweek and Playboy magazine. He is concerned about ignorance and indifference that has been circulated concerning the significance of man made global warming and is dismayed dismayed by the way political lies and corruption are being used to influence the public (apparently free from any penalties or adequate culpability). He frequently writes letters of opinion to the editors of his local newspapers.