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Dysfunctional Bureaucratic Phone Madness

After Xy left for school this morning, I discovered Persephone had a fever. She also seemed to have a rattle in her chest, quite loud, every time she breathed.

So I called our doctor. It was early, and her clinic wasn’t open yet. The voice message instructed me to hold the line, if the matter was urgent, and I would be connected to the answering service.

I held the line. I was connected not to the “answering service” but to the “call center.” The woman at the call center could hear Persephone’s rattly breathing over the phone. She accessed some sort of data that allowed her to observe that our doctor was not in the clinic today. OK. So should I just call back later, or is this a matter of some urgency?

I was transferred from one person to another throughout the Tulane Medical System. Eventually I was transferred back to the call center, where I waited on hold for ten or fifteen minutes. Then I spoke to the same woman again, and she sent me off on another round of transfers.

We repeated this little game three times, wasting the better part of an hour. Finally I had the good sense to hang up. It was almost 8:00 AM, at which time the clinic would officially open, and I could just make an appointment.

So at 8:00 AM precisely I called in, and got a slightly different phone message. I was instructed to “press two” if I wished to make an appointment. I pressed two, and was transferred — not to clinic staff, not to the “call center,” but to the “answering service.” The woman I spoke with theorized that the clinic actually maybe didn’t open until 8:30. Or perhaps, she speculated, they were just running a little late today. It happens to the best of us. She suggested that I call back in a few minutes, which I did, at which time I spoke with her again. I didn’t ask what function the “answering service” was supposed to serve. I just called back a little later and finally made the appointment (with an alternate doctor) for that afternoon.

Oh, as for the girl? She’s got an viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, otherwise known as a common head cold. I stayed home from work and took care of her. It was kind of fun, actually. She had a healthy appetite and was generally in good spirits, but running a low fever all day. I fed her a full serving of carrots and a full serving of prunes — more non-milk food than she’s probably ever had in a day. Her poop is starting to stink now, alas. But mostly we had a good time. She kept me busy, but I even managed to sneak some work in. Tomorrow, Xy’s staying home with her, and I’m headed back to campus. We’re keeping an eye out for any worsening, but this is probably minor. I’m counting this as her first real sickness. I’m pretty sure what she had two weeks ago was probably just teething.

I shared my early morning telephonic experiences with the clinic’s office manager. By the time I was done I think she was ready to ream someone a new asshole.

I can’t think of an appropriately sardonic title for this post. I considered “Marvels of Modern Medicine” and “Wonders of Telephony” but they seemed to miss the mark. What strikes me is that, as I reflect this day, the first day the girl was ever truly sick, the first day I ever stayed home to take care of her — it’s that little escapade on the phone that really stands out as the most salient aspect of the day. There’s something about the experience of being caught in dysfunctional bureaucratic phone madness that seems emblematic of our moment in history.

Published inFamilyMiscellaneous


  1. lemming lemming

    Then there’s the time that the doctor’s office simply didn’t answer their phone, not even the ER red phone hot line. i simply showed up. The office manager read me the riot act about not having called ahead. I informed the (insert swear word) that she didn’t have a leg to stand on in that regard. I really hope she lost her job – so did most of the office staff,

  2. Tim Tim

    How about “Sickening calls for a doctor,” or, “Press any number for futility.” Or perhaps, “Are you sure we don’t have socialized medicine in this country already?”

    The wonderful thing about the human body is that every time she gets ill she becomes stronger in the long run. When ours was still a baby, we hoped she would catch as many viruses as possible!

    And finally, you’re a good dad, B, finding the joy even when you stay home with a sick baby.



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