Category Archives: Rants

You kids get the hell off my lawn!

Life in Customer Service Hell

Well, that was forty-five minutes of my life wasted.

I was online signing up for a retirement plan with a financial behemoth which shall remained unnamed. They have $219 billion in assets but the right and left hands don’t communicate and they apparently don’t have enough money to adequately staff their customer service department.

My first problem – (actually, it was Peg’s problem because her recent “retirement” allows her more time to do these things and I don’t have the patience for this shit) – was trying to set up the account. The brochure said I needed my Social Security number, date of birth and my temporary PIN: my height, weight and shoe size (not really). After several failed attempts, Peg called customer service…several times. The average wait was 20 minutes and when she’d run out of patience she’d hang up and try later. When she finally connected, the rep said, “Oh, yeah, that was the old way. We don’t do that anymore. We send you a PIN in the mail.”

“We haven’t received a PIN yet.”

“We send it within 30 days of enrollment.”

“It’s been almost 30 days.”

“Well, you have to wait 30 days and then, if you haven’t received it, please call us back.  Is there anything else we can help you with today?”

How about just giving me the damn PIN?

Two weeks later … three weeks later … no PIN.

So she called again, this time while I was home.

“We need your husband’s Social Security number, confirmation of his address and his date of birth.”

She gave him the information but the rep said, “No, he needs to tell us.”

“Honey, get on the phone so you can give this idiot the same information I just gave him.”

I did but wondered how he knew I was really me and not some random guy pulled off the street, or Peg just using a deep voice.

“I’ll get back to you in a day.”  Yeah, right. Another week wasted and still no PIN.

Then a different customer service rep called when I was busy and left a voice mail message. I called back. The phone didn’t ring; it just went to some cheesy, overly cheery music and the usual robot instructions.

“To continue in English, press 1.”

Done. I don’t have time to go through your menu.

“Please enter your nine-digit Social Security number.”


“Please enter your PIN.”

I don’t have a PIN, you idiots! That’s why I’m calling.

I hung up and called back.

“If you’d listened to the rest of the menu in the first place, you wouldn’t be stuck in this queue again, now would you? So, to continue in English, press 1. Para continuar en español, presione el número dos.  To speak to a real person, press 0 and cross your fingers.”

I did and the music changed to a two-chord electric guitar riff endlessly repeating.

“All of our agents are serving other customers. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order it was received.”

I put the call on speakerphone and waited… and waited…and waited. For the next forty-five soul-sucking minutes the queue cycled through these messages, slightly edited for accuracy.

“All of our agents are serving other customers. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order it was received.”


“Did you know you could access your account balance and make transactions on our website? Go to for more information – like it will do you any good. In the meantime, listen to this irritating two-chord riff played in an endless loop until your ears bleed.”


“All of our agents are serving other customers. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered in the order it was received. You can continue to wait or press 1 to be transferred to voicemail where you can leave a message that will go into an infinite void never to be answered. We’ll laugh our asses off because you’re so gullible.”

Music. Please, dear God, make it stop!

“All our agents are serving other customers. Please stay on the line and your call will be answered if we feel like it, which we don’t. We don’t have enough staff. John is boning Marsha in the broom closet and the rest of the staff is playing Solitaire.”

Music. I’m going to scream if I have to keep listening to this!

“All of our agents are “servicing” other customers – you get my drift – and you’re still on the line? Are you stupid or just desperate?”

Music. My ears are now bleeding.

When I finally got to talk to a real person she said, “Oh, your temporary PIN is blah blah blah.” Three quarters of an hour for a 15-second conversation.

Three days later I got a letter from them with a “new” temporary PIN: the original “temporary PIN” provided in the initial instructions.

I’m glad we cleared that up.

My Life as a “So-Called” Writer

I’m a writer. At least that’s what it says on the business cards I will get some day. Locum Tenens Physician. Writer. Curmudgeon.

I am a decent writer. I can put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and create cogent sentences and paragraphs. I’ve been writing since grade school; I’d won three essay contests by fifth grade. I can craft a well-reasoned argument. Sometimes I write a tale or two for my friends to read.

Am I a successful writer? That depends on one’s definition or criteria for success. I’ve a long history of writing letters to the editors of various newspapers, magazines and industry throwaways. I had an article, “Paving the Road to Hell,” published in a semi-prestigious journal for physicians who want to be administrators and get away from the daily grind. I would have had another piece published in that journal, but it called into question the very reason for the organization’s existence. They fired the editor after she’d accepted it and that was that!

I have a small following on a blog I’ve been writing for about 4 years. I started out writing political diatribes—which energize me—but my fan base wanted more introspective reflections of my past or heart-warming (and sometimes gut-wrenching) stories from my career. That’s where I’ve stayed. (I use Facebook for a political outlet but it’s not good for my blood pressure.)

Am I a commercially successful writer? Well, if I was going to make a living by writing, like my friend Wendy, I’d starve. The average writer makes enough to pay the bills. Very few hit the big time. I wrote one piece on rural practice for a recruiting magazine – gratis. It was OK but it felt more like a class assignment than something from my soul.

I long ago gave up the idea of being on the New York Times Best Seller list. I shot my wad getting through medical school and practice and I don’t have the stamina or creativity to write a best-seller every year.

I don’t have a classic writer’s persona. I don’t get up at 4 am and write for several hours. I’m not the bearded “writer” in that irritating Volvo commercial with the Walt Whitman voice-over (who is even more pretentious in the long version):

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road.
Healthy, free, the world before me.
The long brown path before me leading me wherever I choose.
Henceforth, I ask not good fortune, I myself am good fortune.
Henceforth, I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing.”
(“Song of the Open Road”, from Leaves of Grass, 1856)

I lack his rugged good looks and your average writer doesn’t make enough to drive a high-end car. I have an eleven-year-old Nissan Altima and my inspirational passage would be more like:

“Lead-footed and quarrelsome, I drag my sorry ass
Down another highway to another job
Shackled to the demands of the material world
Lead me not into temptation for I can find it myself
I ask just to stay alive long enough to retire
And tell the rest of the world to go fuck itself.”

I’ve no desire to be one of those desperate writers carrying around their Moleskine books, writing furtively while waiting at the doctor’s office or in a restaurant. I don’t want to fret about being rejected like one of the writers I knew from a local writing group.  You like it? OK. You don’t like it? OK too. I can’t please everyone.

I went to a writer’s workshop in October, 2016, hoping to get a sense that people outside of my circle would find my stuff interesting, intriguing and, most of all, worth publishing. Why? Because I’ve been reading writing magazines for several years trying to figure out what attracts publishers. I read some of their recommendations and thought, “This stuff is crap. What the hell did they see in this?”  Weeks after I couldn’t give you a summary of any of those books if my life depended on it.

So, I ask, “What do readers and publishers/editors want to read and am I writing that kind of stuff?”

I may never get a satisfactory answer as writing is highly subjective. I write best when I have something to say. I don’t write when there’s nothing about which to write, but that isn’t good if I want to create a “platform,” a term than makes me cringe. If I want mental exercise (read: procrastinate), I’ll play my Kindle game, play the piano, shuffle the pile of paper on my desk, or take my faithful furry companion for a walk. Maybe some idea will rear its ugly head, like this narrative or why is my desk never cleared.

My greatest struggle is just writing sometimes for no reason at all.

Memorable Memoirs
Mary Karr: The Liars’ Club, Cherry, and Lit. The Liars’ Club made my childhood seem positively idyllic. Despite a tumultuous life, Mary Karr is the Jesse Truesdell Peck Professor of Literature at Syracuse University.

Tom Robbins: Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life. A highly amusing and engaging memoir.

Tobias Wolff: This Boy’s Life. Wolff’s memoir of his adolescence with an abusive stepfather. A young Leonardo DiCaprio starred in the film version.

They write like gods!
Jim Harrison: Legends of the Fall. The first story in this trilogy, “Revenge,” is an exquisite story of love, betrayal and revenge. After reading it I was reminded of Tom Lehrer’s quip: “It’s people like this who make you realize how little you’ve accomplished.”

Hugh Howie: The Silo series (Wool, Shift, and Dust). A dystopian future in which humanity now lives in 100+ level underground silos but does not remember why. One woman is determined to find out.

Raymond Atkins: The Front Porch Prophet. A cast of quirky characters in small town Georgia augment the relationship between A. J. Longstreet and his childhood friend, Eugene Purdue, now dying of pancreatic cancer. One reviewer compared Atkins to Mark Twain.

Just damned good fun
Anything by Neil Gaiman: American Gods; Anansi Boys; Neverwhere; The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel, Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett).

Anything by John Sandford

Books on Writing
Stephen King: On Writing

Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd: Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction

Brenda Miller: Tell it Slant: Writing and Shaping Creative Nonfiction

William Zinsser: On Writing Well

William Zinsser: Writing About Your Life: A Journey into the Past

Adair Lara: Naked, Drunk and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay

The Harder They Fall

Doctors make lousy patients.

I spent half the summer extolling the virtues of adequate hydration to pregnant woman whose urine specimens were as dark as Granny’s sweet tea, but then ignored my own advice.

Every August our church holds an outdoor mass at a local farm and family activity center owned by one of our parishioners. Several of us arrived early to move picnic tables and set up stands for hot dogs, drinks and dessert. The guys hauled out the four rusty barbecue grills made from steel drum halves and filled them with charcoal. The farm donated several dozen ears of corn which we soaked in Rubbermaid garbage cans half full of water.

We soaked the charcoal with lighter fluid and lit the grills about a half hour before Mass. If the coals didn’t seem hot enough, someone would squirt more fluid onto them, creating a fireball.

“Hey, I heard you’re not supposed to do that.” *wink wink, nudge nudge* Another shot of fluid and another fireball.

We loaded the grills with corn just as Mass started, turning the ears with gloved fingers as they roasted. I had my trusty grill tongs, one in each hand, and my heat-resistant gloves, which last year I discovered don’t work when wet. The heat became so intense none of us could stand close for very long.

The sun was hot and the sweat slithered down my neck. My arms started feeling heavy after about forty-five minutes and I knew I should probably drink some water. I trudged over to the table our family had commandeered and sucked down the rest of my McDonald’s iced tea from a large Styrofoam cup.

Now, I travel a lot for my work and often miss church functions. I didn’t want to seem like a slacker so I refilled my cup with water and headed back to the grills. Everyone else congregated around the covered wooden corn stand, sucking down bottled water. One would have thought that was an obvious sign from God: “Get out of the sun, dummy!”

I was staring at the grills, watching the corn husks charring, the heat blasting my face, when the world faded to black, and I felt the ground sneak up behind me. I imagined the cup was a stationary pole and grabbed for it as I went down, crushing it in my fingers. I thought This is going to hurt…and you’re going to look really stupid.

I grazed my shoulder on the antique plow surrounded by flowers, hit the grass and decided this was as good a time as any for a nap…

I heard voices which sounded far away.

“Hey, are you OK? What happened?”

“I think Jimmy must have pushed him.” There were a few chuckles but their concern was evident.

“He’s pretty warm. Someone get some water and pour it on his head and cool him off.”

“Do you think we should call 911?”

A small crowd had gathered. I still had my eyes closed when someone doused me with a couple of bottles of cold water. It felt good but I was still pretty toasty and asked for another bottle which I poured on my chest. A woman’s voice above my head asked, “Does anyone here know his medical history?”

By this time Peg had arrived and said, “I’m his wife.”

The other voice persisted, “Does anyone know if he has a heart condition?”


Lady if you don’t back off Peg is going to hurt you. Don’t poke the bear!

I opened my eyes and was looking up The Voice’s blouse. She was leaning over me, holding a tablecloth for shade. I said, “I’m still pretty hot.”

Someone handed me an open bottle which I poured onto my chest. I reached out for another one and lowered it to my mouth, I took a few deep gulps but then, momentarily forgetting I was flat on my back, lifted the bottle straight up and waterboarded myself. I struggled to turn on my side to drain my nose.

“What’s happening? Is he having a seizure?” The Voice again.

No, you idiot. I’m drowning.

I rolled to my side, snorted a few times and lay back. The Voice said, “His breathing is labored.”

“No, I’m not in labor.” This got a chuckle from everyone who knew me, but she didn’t and said, “He’s delirious.”

“Do you think we should call 911? Do you have insurance?”

Peg said, “Yeah, we have crappy church insurance,” which is true. Every year the premiums go up along with the deductibles and co-pays while the coverage gets more stingy.

“No, I’m fine. I’m just hot and a little dehydrated. Let me sit up for a few minutes and I’ll be OK.” I mentally imagined the cost of an ambulance ride and an emergency room visit; the dial in my head was running faster than a gas pump set for five bucks a gallon.

I heard a familiar voice at my feet. “I’m a personal trainer and my sister is a lab tech! We need to get his legs above his head.” She grabbed my feet and started lifting.

Oh God, no. That is the LAST thing I need.

Peg said, “Don’t do that; he has a bad back and you’ll hurt him.”

Listen to the lady and get your hands off me.

She persisted despite my wife’s objections and I foresaw another rumble.

Peg said, “Put something under his knees if you want but don’t lift his legs up.” One of the guys grabbed a couple of empty charcoal bags and chucked them under me. The personal trainer dropped my legs but tried another well-meaning but ridiculous intervention.

“I’m going to put a couple of bottles of water inside your groin. That will help cool you off.”

You gonna do WHAT??? Jesus, just leave me the fuck alone!

“We really should call 911.”

I knew I wasn’t going to win, but I didn’t want to give in and muttered, “Let Peg decide.”

She gave the OK and later told me, “I did it because if I said no they would have thought, ‘Gee, what a heartless bitch; she won’t call an ambulance for her poor husband.’ You’re a physician and I play one on TV but they aren’t going to listen to either one of us.”

So the call went out and about five minutes later the local ambulance and fire truck pull into the grounds. I’ve never understood why a fire truck always comes along since there’s nothing burning.

One of the paramedics asks how I’m feeling and The Voice says, “He’s cold and clammy.”

No shit. I’ve had four bottles of ice water poured on me.

Peg intervened, gave them a brief history, and I crawled onto the gurney. I’ve ridden in the back of an ambulance with a patient but I’ve never been the one being transported. Once inside they started asking me the usual questions: name; medical illnesses; allergies and any medications.

“Ranitidine; enalapril; aspirin; antihistamine and something for my prostate. It’s…uh…that blue one.” I couldn’t remember the name; maybe this was more serious than I thought.

“Ok, we’re going to start an IV, put some pads on you and do an EKG and check your blood sugar.”

They took their time, for which I was grateful because there’s nothing worse than trying to start an IV on someone with collapsed veins in a moving ambulance that rides like a 4X4 over railroad ties. We finally started moving and I watched the picnic grounds recede out the back window which reminded me of riding in the rear-facing third row seat of a 1960s-era station wagon.

The firemen,  having nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon,  stayed around for another hour, feasting on roasted corn, sampling the desserts and socializing with the crowd. There’s much to be said for small-town life.

Peg arrived at the hospital long before the ambulance left and asked about me at the emergency room reception desk.

“We don’t have anyone here by that name.”

“Are you sure? I watched the paramedics put him in the ambulance.”

“Oh, wait. We had a call about a man who collapsed at a picnic. The ambulance should be here shortly.”

While she was waiting a man dressed in pajamas and carrying an old-time doctor’s bag walked up to the desk and said, “I’m Doctor Moore and I’m here to check into the hotel.” A woman behind him said, “No, I’m his sister and he’s here to see the psychiatrist.”

Just another day in the emergency department.

The ambulance pulled into the bay about ten minutes later. They pulled the gurney out and I shook hands with the paramedics before they wheeled me into an ER room. The nurse gave me a gown, asked me the same questions and said, “The doctor will be in shortly.” She hung a new IV bag before she left.

Someone brought Peg to my room; her sister showed up a few minutes later. They caught up on what happened after I left; I wondered where my barbecue tongs and gloves were.

The ER doc, a Denis Leary clone, came in a few minutes later and cut his spiel short when he found out I was a fellow physician. He ordered blood work and a 12-lead EKG, even though the one in the ambulance was normal, because there are protocols to follow and asses to cover. I’ve done the same even though I often think it’s a colossal waste of money.

Lab and EKG techs came and went. I dozed; they talked.

Then the woman who gets the insurance information entered. She may seem a humble employee, but she is the Most Important Person in the hospital since the hospital doesn’t get paid without her efforts. One would think the administrative suite would treat her like royalty, but to them she’s just another FTE, an interchangeable cog in the machinery.

My sister-in-law looked at the woman, paused for several seconds and said, “You look familiar.”

“So do you.”

“Do you go to Our Lady of Perpetual Trepidation?”

“Yes, I do.”

Suddenly it was Old Home Week and they chatted while I snoozed on the cart.

I was ignored for the next two hours.  The nurse was staring at the computer screen when Peg went to tell her my IV bag was almost out. About 30 minutes later I needed to go the bathroom. Peg went back to the desk, found the nurse reading a book and the doctor futzing on the computer.

“My husband needs to use the bathroom. Do you have his labs back so we can get out of here?”

The ER doc came in after my potty break. My labs and EKG were normal – big surprise. He asked if I had a primary physician and I just snorted. (I told you doctors made lousy patients). We talked about ER patients and how he had to work another 20 years before he could retire. We finally left with instructions to make a follow up appointment with the primary care physician on call that day, something I had no intention of doing.

It’s probably just as well. Peg did some online research and discovered he was a Family Practice doc with three judgments and a state reprimand in only 11 years of practice. But that’s a story for another blog post.

A woman called the church office on Monday.

“I heard Peg talking about taking her husband to the emergency room and she seemed really worried about the cost. Do you think we should start a GoFundMe page for them?” Our insurance may not be the best, but it is far better than being uninsured

I got the tab a week later:

Ambulance ride: $1047
ER visit:    $5681
ER Physician charge: $651
Humiliating yourself in front of a crowd: Priceless!

In Honor of Labor

Something to ponder on this Labor Day.

Bedford is a pleasant town nestled in the rolling limestone hills of South Central Indiana, about twenty miles from Bloomington, Hoosier football, and the site where Breaking Away was filmed. There are some good local restaurants—Smokin’ Jim’s BBQ is a must—along with every fast-food franchise known to man. The people are friendly, kind and they work hard.

I missed the Holiday Inn Express’s free breakfast Sunday morning, so I headed for the reliable alternative, McDonald’s. The Egg McMuffin is a decent, balanced breakfast: protein (lean meat, fried egg), fat (a slice of American cheese), and carbohydrate (a toasted whole-grain English muffin) totaling 290 calories. I get two, dump one muffin and one cheese slice, combine the remainder and I’m good for a few hours.

I pulled into Mickey D’s and counted sixteen cars in the drive-thru lanes. I thought the counter might be faster, so I parked and went inside. It wasn’t any better.

Seven people were in line. There were three trays on the counter waiting for orders and one take-out slip. The monitor above the product rack showed twelve drive-thru orders, and I could still see a line of cars through the window.

Seven people working their butts off behind the counter.  The man at the register was in his late 50s or early 60s, as was the woman who wheeled a couple of three-gallon iced-tea buckets towards the back.  Three young men were putting breakfasts together as fast as they could. One middle aged woman put orders into bags or on the trays while another manned the register at the window.

I got my order after about 10 minutes. There were fifteen more people in line and another sixteen cars in the drive-thru lanes when I left.

There have been a lot of smarmy comments about “Sally McBurgerflipper” wanting fifteen bucks an hour for doing jobs those critics think should be done by lazy, sullen teenagers wanting pin money.  But the average age of fast food workers is 29. Many of those people have more than one job and have families to support. In rural areas, Wal-Mart and fast-food might be the best options for those who aren’t college material. Those jobs are relatively immune to economic downturns, but that is little consolation when there are 30 applicants for one job.

I’ve done more than a few minimum-wage jobs. I was a busboy at a bowling-alley restaurant for 75¢ an hour; I got a raise to 90¢ after a month. I was an orderly at our local hospital when I was 17, making about $2.50 an hour. One of my jobs was digging impacted stool out of a neurologically impaired man. I was a stocker at the student bookstore in college.

Any honest work, no matter how menial or humble, is good work. Every job is worth doing well and those who work hard deserve to be treated well. I always kept in mind the advice my family doctor gave me when I told him I wanted to go to medical school:

“Whatever you decide to do, do your best. If you want to dig ditches the rest of your life, be the best damned ditch-digger that ever lived.”

I have more respect for Benny, the guy at the McDonald’s I go to every Sunday, than I have for some rich bastard on Wall Street who wrecked the economy and then had the balls to ask the Feds to bail his sorry ass out.

I respect one of my church’s parishioners who, after thirty years in IT became a casualty of the recession. He got a job at J.C. Penney and is far more reliable than many of the much younger employees. He interviewed for a job in his field when the market started to improve a couple of years ago, but the boss said, “I can hire someone right out of college and pay him a third of what I’d have to pay you.”

I’ve nothing but contempt for the CEO who, no matter how well the people actually doing work perform, believes “it’s never enough.”

Never make assumptions about the people in whose shoes you’ve never walked. You might find yourself among them someday, feasting on your own rhetoric.

Happy Labor Day.

Growing Old: A Warning

You’re young and you pray to God it will never happen to you. Like Pete Townsend, you think “hope I die before I get old.” Well, it’s not likely, but it isn’t all that bad. How you look at things changes as you get older.

  • You can blame being a cranky son-of-a-bitch on getting old when, really, you’ve always been a cranky son-of-a-bitch.
  • You lose all your filters and just don’t give a shit what anyone thinks. Except for your wife. You will always care about what she thinks because she is far more likely than your offspring to pick your nursing home. Be careful before you bite that hand.
  • You will finally understand that age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill and you won’t hesitate to use the latter, judiciously, of course.
  • That waitress may have bodacious ta-tas and a fine ass that make your loins stir, but she’s got Jell-O between her ears and your loins will soon be napping. Yes, she can ride you all night, but will she ride in the ambulance with you when you have a heart attack? Or will she be willing to wipe your ass when you are too old and feeble to do it yourself. The woman you’ve been married to for fifty years will do it without thinking.
  • Good sex is based on quality, not quantity, but a good night’s sleep trumps any sex every time.
  • You turned into your father when you asked your kids, “What is that crap you’re listening to?” But the music your kids and grandkids listen to really is. Whining coffee house singers pale next to Jagger, Plant, Daltry and Bowie. Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, Diana Ross and Grace Slick would eat alive those breathy waifs who sing as if they have chronic lung disease. So would Frank, Dino, Tony, Mel, Nat, Bobby, Sarah, Carmen, Ella and a whole bunch of guys and gals you thought you were too cool for when you were a teenager.
  • You suffer from CRS (Can’t Remember Shit) Syndrome because your brain is a sink with a broken garbage disposal. It’s filled with mostly useless crap that crowds out important stuff like: Why did I come into this room? Where’s my cell phone? Occasionally, flipping the switch stirs the garbage long enough for answers to filters through.
  • You will tell younger people stories they’ve heard several times before, even though you swore you would never do that when you got old.
  • You proudly tell everyone about your colonoscopy and think anyone who’s afraid to get one is a pussy. You really liked your colonoscopy, mostly because they gave you really great drugs and you can’t remember any of it. Kinda like living through the late ‘60s.
  • Everything has been aching for so long that you don’t notice anymore. You have little patience for people under 40 whining about a cold or a stubbed toe and growl, “Suck it up!”
  • You will look back on your youth with amazement and shame, pondering how stupid you were to think you knew everything. You’ll have far more questions than answers and discover the answers are far more elusive.

When you’re young you think you have all the time in the world. Make the most of it because the ticking gets faster and louder. You hit 35; you’ve got a mortgage, a family, and a mountain of debt. Then you blink a couple of times and find yourself on the downside of fifty, sitting on the couch watching TV, wondering what the hell happened to the last 20 years, and thinking, “Golden years,” my ass!