Friday, January 18, 2008

Ordinary life skills I do not possess

If Miss Bender comes across as worldly and sophisticated, you may need to get out more. Like those super geniuses without any common horse-sense, Miss Bender knows a great many things about a great many things, but lacks experience in a great many other ordinary daily life events that others can do without thinking.

I expect this could become a series of its own as I confess to stumbling through these events rather late in life, like buying men's shirts and clipping a cat's toenails, but then some readers in this room can't pump their own gas.
So I know you will be nice to me as I report how I did not know the finer points of how to get a prescription filled. I say finer, because I did know where to do it. After that, I was Fiona in the Timbuktu souk. (see, these are the kinds of things Miss Bender would know. Or how to obtain a strong physic at the apothecary's, followed by lashings of beef tea. But not how to work the CVS)

It started as post-program collapse (see aforementioned worked on my %^&#$!* birthday) then turned into an achy cold, then Wednesday morning had turned into an actual noise when I breathed. That didn't seem right. So I contacted my doctor and asked if she could give a listen, since I was likely to have consumption or the croup, or something equally Victorian. I can take a cold, and a little sinus pressure, but should I whistle like a radiator?

She could not see me, but her partner, Dr. Nick Rivera, was available. I can spend an entire post on that visit, but I think we want to get to the part where I play stranger in a strange land. Dr. Nick (after looking in all the orifices of my skull and asking me to cough) determined I had "little bit bronchitis" and gave me a twenty second film strip lecture on winter ventilation, and working closely in enclosed spaces. During it I was thinking that I didn't remember him washing his hands, and I know he didn't take my temperature. Instead, he had asked me if I happened to have taken it. Lately.

He typed out a little prescription that was somehow official even though it looked to have been made by MSWord's RX template. And as I took it, I knew I was in for trouble. All I was sure of was that there was a CVS down the block. After that, I had nothin'.

Here's what I knew: the pharmacy is in the back under the sign. It's sort of like a deli, but with different signals and jargon which would prove mysterious. The sweet young thing nametagged Shawn greeted me nicely and I said, "How ya doin'?" like I know how this works. I figure he wants the printout I have, so I treat him like the airline counter (a ritual I know very well, by the way). He starts looking me up in some system, where I am not, of course, and this takes some time. Then he just sort of stops and...looks at me.


I said, "I don't know what you want." because why pretend?
He says, "do you have a card?"
picka card, any card. Oh. insurance card. I hand it over confidently. He swipes.
Now he stares at the screen. "Do you have like, a deductible, or something?"
Hm? I dunno. Do I? Maybe. I know what that is. When my mechanic asks me, I know. Sometimes, when I am working my taxes, I know. But I suddenly don't know.
All right, not so suddenly. I don't really know. Know what I say?

"I don't know."

"Day pass on Aisle Four."

I'm counting on the fact that the line at the pharmacy is a cut stranger than any public line, and that he is used to odd behavior. But what I'm really thinking is what I used to tell people who couldn't figure out the Boston bus system (another ritual I know in depth), I would say in a dropped voice, "Retarded people can do it. It's not that hard." Which sounds like a mean thing to say, but it is quite true that the city bus is full of children, old people, immigrants, and people with disabilities, all of whom can get you from Kenmore Square to Salem on the North Shore without missing a transfer. And the look of the people waiting around for their salves and whatnot is that this can not be that hard.

Shawn says (remember Shawn? he's still there), Shawn says, "well you must, because this is ringing up at $119.00." He waits for the screaming, but I figure this is my fault. It's just because I don't know the secret tricks to make it free, like it was when I grew up in the army. So I say, "well, yeh, I can't pay that."

"Did you want to call them, or..." I like when people do the "or..." and then don't offer another choice. I like to wait until they list one, and appear more interested in it. But why be mean to Shawn? So I say "I don't know," because by this point he is sure I am a meth-head with a raging case of something only $100 of antibiotics will kill.

The real reason I was stalling was that I was considering how essential an antibitotic could be when what I have is "little bit bronchitis." It says right on the box, "It will not work for viral infections." Dr Nick wants to prevent any secondary infection in my weakened viral state (and get his kickback, one assumes). But what if I don't? What if I go right back home to my tea and soup and bedrest and Vitamin C and wait the 8 damn days for this thing to pass? Or what if I don't, and get Streptococcus pneumoniae? I did not take Shawn into my confidence; I just said "I don't know."

Shawn: "do you want me to fill it? And maybe you can call them?"
Me: "Yeh, go ahead and do that, because I am going to have to go outside and call them." What did that mean? You'll have time to get your mortar and pestle out and make the 10 precious gold tablets?

I will spare you the story of trying to reach Sh***y Healthcare and navigating their IVR system. That's really more of a customer service story anyway. Down at the Mill, we have 3 kinds of healthcare: teenage salesboy, families of 10, and middle ground. I used to have the Teenage Salesboy plan, but got tired of arguing about whether mammograms were preventative care, so I moved to the Middle Ground, which I understand slightly less, but am realizing I had better learn.
Tasha, at customer service, gives me the full on heebie-jeebies by saying "Is this the prescription at CVS you're calling about?" {{shudder}} I wait for her to say, "Are you in the green Toyota, Miss Bender, because I can send a representative out to you."

"Tasha," I said, "I don't understand why I always seem to be paying an outrageous fee for something with this insurance. can you explain that to me?"

Tasha had several options she didn't take, like "You live in America," "Your company is a cheap bastid," "You ought to read your pamphlet," or "No, ma'am, I really can't." She said, "I could transfer you to a benefits specialist who could advise you on some other options." Damn you, Tasha, but you're good.

Sitting in the car is when I remember there was a debit card of some kind -- and I am meant to use that for things like this, and where is that, anyway? Certainly not in the glove compartment, so something must be decided before my next move.

I go back in, to the Pick Up area of the deli counter where a woman comes over and asks me how it's going. I still think there might be a secret handshake, so I say "Shawn was helping me before." And I can tell from the looks that everyone behind the counter already knows I'm the infected meth-head. "My insurance company said I should ask if there is a generic brand of that medication." Shawn says, "there isn't of this, but there is another kind that is used to treat something else."

Come On Down! It's time to play... Second Guess the Doctor!

Today on Second Guess, our contestants are... Jr Pharmacist Shawn.... His Skeptical Supervisor... and returning champion Carrie, the Girl with the Suspicious Cough!

I cop to not being able to afford my medication, and she rips the label off of Shawn's hard work of putting 10 pills in a bottle. I'm Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment; "She doesn't have enough money! Can I have the register key!?" Supervisor says sternly, "You'll want to call your doctor right away to work this out." ("before you INFECT THE TOWN" is what I hear her telepath)

Look, even if I had $120 lazing around in my pocket, I wasn't going to drop it on something I wasn't even sure I would need, or that should cost that much. And neither would you, so admit it.

On the drive home (another skill I do have: not getting lost in Boston even when I am) I figured I would just go back to my doctor -- my REAL doctor -- and tell her to show me something from a lower shelf, thanks all the same.

My doctor has an email system, which I like a great deal, and since I surround myself only with other workaholics, we were able to work this out at 6:30 this morning. She agreed that was a "costly" brand, but wouldn't play Second Guess on Dr Nick, so she called in something new to the CVS by the Mill. I go down at lunchtime, this time with my cards already out (including the debit card I found neatly filed under "medical" in my closet) and now I know to say things like "called it in." I don't say "scrip" or "meds" or anything. You don't want to get cocky.

Oh, but no, we don't have anything for you. Sorry. Trudge back to the desk. More customer service nonsense. Voice mail left. Email left. I don't even feel sick anymore, I lie to myself.

The story speeds up from here. On the way home I stopped again, hollered over the counter like I'm in Dunkin Donuts and as they are ringing it up, I say, "What's the total on that?"


Now, because I have been to this counter 4 times in one day, I already know she wants me to sign her little notebook and verify my address.
"Do you take this medical card?" Why yes. Swipe.
"Hope you feel better."

well I do already.



  1. We've had the SAME insurance through my husband's SAME job for 10 years and I still don't understand the game. The biggest problem is that they keep changing the #$%^%@ rules! Different formularies, different pharmacies in network, different co-pays, etc. So, I have given up. I've concluded that I never want to be sick enough to actually understand the system. I will forever be confused when ill. You, Miss Bender, are not alone!

  2. CVS is the antichrist. I hate them. Try to find a little pharmacy that will talk about you behind your back. OR wait - the little ones probably don't take your freakish insurance. All insurance sucks. Did you get your health ins tax statement yet? Oh yeah now we have to have that sucker to file taxes. When I die I'm betting a health ins COMPANY will be holding the office of POTUS. Cause it seems they all have us by the.... well you know.

    Hope you are truly feeling better. I spend so much time at CVS they just ask "which O'Neill this time?" or they would if they had a personality. Did I mention I don't like them?

  3. Miss Bender -
    Yours is not the only case with doctors and CVS. Let's remember the recent incident in which Shawn was transfered to a small town near NYC, carefully put the incorrect medication (anti-psychotic) into a bottle with Mr. Baroness's name, typed careful directions to take 3 within 3 hours and requested to be paid. payment was issued courtesy of that company debit card. And then the circus came to town. That's right, instead of the antibiotic taken in large amounts and often prior to surgery, it ended with the Baroness in the emergency room next to her husband and doctor, as both were slack-jawed, and one was drooling.

    The baroness has taken her business to a lovely place called Drug Fair - where while you are waiting you can check email, use wireless, and confirm that you are indeed being handed the proper ingredients.

  4. I. Cannot. Believe. You. Have. Never. Filled. A. Perscription.

    You are so cute! And so generally healthy!

    This post was fabulous, since I could picture you completely, at every stage of this journey.

  5. Wait until you read my post on Monday!

    Love you!

  6. Dear Caroline,

    Congratulations on successful medicating! If only I had your experience to file after my "visit to the private women's college infirmary (AKA Fred Flintstone Memorial) post theater set deconstruction screwdriver up-the-nose episode" freshman year! It would make for the perfectly well-rounded medical experience.
    Here's to gettin' well!


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