Saturday, February 22, 2014

Where is the Love?

We had one up-scale grocery store in our little rural county in Northwestern Washington.  It was a family-owned business.  For discretionary purposes, let's call it Merlin's Market.

Everything cost more than at the local Safeway or Super Wally World, but we loyal customers felt the premium we paid was worth it.  The produce was the best within miles.  One of the young produce guys could pick out ripe melons like a magician.

Their freshly baked products were outstanding, especially their hamburger buns, which were made with the same sweetened dough they used for their dinner rolls.  Even the grand kids said they were the best burgers they've ever had.  Some of us love sweet things in any form.

And the meat department.  Oui!  The butcher is a very cool woman who can select and cut a prime rib roast with the precision of a brain surgeon.  It not only exceeds my expectations in sheer beauty, but also when roasted as instructed by her, it is a meal fit for a queen.  Why would anyone buy their meat anywhere else?

The rest of the store staff were outstanding as well:  friendly, courteous, knew where everything was, and talking to the wine steward was an education in itself.  A true Sommelier.
Then ... one bleak winter day I noticed that the store sign was a bit different.  Instead of Merlin's Market, it had been changed to Merlin's Mediocre Market.
The tall good-looking manager, who was a member of the Merlin family, was gone; replaced by a man who spent time on the roof of the store and looked more like a longshoreman who was lost.
And one by one, my favorite employees began to disappear.  Transferred to a different store; wanted to live in another county.  These were the stories we were told about their absence.  The best one was, "She asked to be re-assigned," they said about the excellent wine steward who was now working as a checkout person.  What a "challenge" for someone of her caliber.  I bet she could do the job and make up funny scenarios in her mind at the same time.
And the quality of the produce plummeted.  Now the "fresh" stalks of the organic cilantro and parsley I buy for my bunnies were downright flaccid.
Click on Read More if you want the rest of the story.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Black Magic

Down the street from me lives a family with two little boys who were adopted from Ethiopia  They are not natural brothers, but are brothers now.  The older one is very special to me.

They are "children of the world" the parents say; but they are also black and living in a country that sometimes discriminates against blacks -- even if that black person is the President of the United States.

I thought his election in 2008 made us a country of "better people."  But all it did was enable all the ugly racism that lurked beneath the surface to bubble up in very public ways.  Ways that made me ashamed of my countrymen at the very same time that I was ever so proud of my president.  A strange place to find oneself.

The younger brother of the family down the street selected a book at the school library to check out.  He's little, so he selected the book because of the black face on the cover.  It turned out to be the true but sad story of a little black boy who grew up in the South and was not allowed to have a library card.
One of the parents read the book aloud as the family gathered around the fireplace to listen, and "my" little boy got very upset.  He did not know much about how things used to be in the South (and other areas) when Jim Crow prevailed.  His outrage was right on; it was outrageous, unfair, cruel, inhumane.  But it was also true, and part of our American history -- although a shameful part.
The bottom line is the parents lamented the fact that there were obviously too few books at the school library where black or Hispanic kids had a lead role in fun stories.  Not just books about Civil Rights or Slavery or the suffering of oppressed races in our country ... long ago and still today when it comes to Latino illegals who keep our economy going by doing jobs no one else will do for less money.  (In my humble opinion ... but also in fact ... if one does the research.)
Click on "Read More" if you want see know what Tia D, aka the Caped Crusader, did about this.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Corporations are People

Mitt Romney got creamed for making that statement at the Iowa State Fair in August of 2011.  However I need to borrow his blooper for tonight's blog post.

In our little corner of Washington State, a corporation such as Skagit Valley Hospital is daunting.  It's big and getting bigger every year.  Hospitals have a corner on the market of life and death for our county's residents.

Whether you're sick with something scary like cancer, or you've fallen and broken a hip, or a grandchild has a big gash on their body from sliding down the barn's shiny roof.  Ultimately you  end up in the local hospital; in our case:  Skagit Valley Hospital.

Outside, the walls are thick concrete; inside the hallways are maze-like and confusing.  Expensive art adorns the walls of the spacious, carpeted lobby; the areas for patients are crowded and noisy; the rooms are sterile cells with beds and equipment.

If you call the main number with a question or concern, it takes infinite patience to deal with the computerized answering system, and then you have to remember which of all the options was the right one.  Sometimes you can luck out and get a real person by hitting "0" but not always.  It takes real determination and much luck to achieve anything close to success.

Some people give up trying to fight the system; others spend so much time on hold, listening to ads for "a more youthful appearance with ..." that they forget their question.  Many corporations and even government bureaucracies count on what they call "citizen fatigue."

My approach in dealing with any issue with any corporation has always been to start at the top.  Call the CEO's office.

Or better yet ... write a letter to him (or her) although it's usually a him.  Then, as in the case of a large medical facility, also write to a couple of key member of the Board of Directors.

In most cases, using this approach allows you to bypass the impersonal computer as well as avoid being passed from one clerk to another.  Those at the top know that bad publicity is not a good thing.  And even the hint of the potential for malpractice?  "Not on my watch" is usually the attitude of those at the top.

About 3 months ago I had an appointment with a doctor in this enormous medical labyrinth.  He looked young enough to be my granddaughter's prom date.  Three months out of medical school.  But he was a nice guy who actually talked "to me" once he overcame his natural inclination to impress me with the complexity of the medical jargon he began using when describing the nature of my issue.

In fact he was cute, referring to my Asics Running shoes as "sneakers." And he actually did prescribe a potential solution that will probably help once I have time to acquire the thing.

Since I always like to read the reports of doctors I visit -- believing that it's MY body that is generating their cash flow -- I had some difficulty getting the one from Young Dr. Kildare.  And when I did get it, there were some "inconsistencies."

Inconsistencies in any part of the medical arena concern me.  Those folks in the white duds deal with life and death issues.  There is little room for inconsistencies, let alone mistakes.  We've all heard the stories.

So, as the local Caped Crusader, I wrote a compelling letter to the CEO and a couple of Board Members.  And lo and behold, in less than a week, I got a nice letter back from the CEO himself telling me that someone in Patient Relations would be helping me before the end of the week.

That's when things went sour.  When I ended up talking to one the of clerks at the bottom of the org chart I always tried to avoid by going to the man at the top of the org chart.  After listening to her blathering for 30 minutes, we both agreed the issue was out of her pay grade.

Then I lucked out by getting the name and phone number of the CEO's assistant ... one of those people who actually keep the organization running.  And in this case, she was exceptionally capable and caring about me the person.  It was impressive.

Within 30 minutes she had scheduled a meeting with me and three key staff members of this sizeable health care institution.  In fact we'd be meeting in the CEO's conference room.  Sweet.

I always arrive early and was ushered into the empty conference room where I sat in my favorite chair:  the one at the head of the table.  Power point is far beyond my abilities, so I had a nicely typed 2 page paper presentation:  Page 1:  The issue(s).   Page 2: What I wanted.

When the august members of the Corporate Board of Directors came in, my cane was prominently displayed and after introductions I asked if I could possibly go first, since 5 minutes would be all the time I required.  They were gracious and attentive as I covered my "issue" points quickly and then moved to why I was there.

That meeting turned out to be one of the most enjoyable "confrontations" I've ever had with an institution.  In fact there was no confrontation at all.  There was no posturing on their part.  Instead the primary speaker for the hospital helped me understand that the nature of half of my complaints were simply communication issues.  It was analogous to both sides having expectations that are not stated and thus not understood.  What married person doesn't have years of experience with that?!

At the end of our 30 minute amicable dialogue, all of us learned how we could have avoided every aspect of my issues.  And over half of the responsibility for the problem was mine -- in not understanding their procedures and not clearly stating my expectations.

It was such an amicable meeting that I actually hugged one of the board members.  I left happy, and the others left relieved.

Corporations are indeed made up of people.  People who are educated and trained to do their jobs; people who care about the work -- especially if it's in the medical field where they actually save lives.  And people, who need to be allowed to speak candidly and act compassionately, rather than having to be so careful and defensive that their humanity gets lost in the shuffle of avoiding saying the wrong thing.

When I arrived that morning and secured the last parking spot for blocks, I swore I would never again go to any doctor in that massive organization with its relentlessly aggressive tenacles choking the last of those who wanted to retain a private practice.

And when I left the building, having achieved the one thing I wanted as a gesture of Good Faith on the part of this Goliath of an organization, I knew that I would feel perfectly safe and comfortable using their extensive medical services, should I ever require them.

It was a good day.  A win-win for both sides ... topped off with a hug.  How can you possibly do better than that?  Except by receiving an especially nice letter from the Chief Medical Officer of that massive organization, Skagit Valley Hospital, as I did yesterday.

Corporations are built on the abilities and integrity of the people in those corporations.  And there is still power in the pen.  Speaking up for your beliefs -- or better yet -- writing a letter to the guy at the top of the heap, still works.

It's the American Way ... where we are all, indeed, equal. I'm so proud to be a citizen of this country.  Now, if I could just meet President Obama, I'd feel like the year was off to a truly good start.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Faces of Fear

Last Saturday, a rare lovely January day here in rural Skagit County:  50 degrees, sunny, blue sky, whispering breeze.  The perfect day to walk 2 miles with my new cane, which I carried until it was needed.

After stopping to chat with a cute little girl who lives with her dad, I walked on ... only to hear an awful racket.  Stopping in my tracks and listening, it sounded like a cow giving birth to twins or a bull losing the family jewels.  I felt so badly for the poor animal.

Just then, the biggest brown bull I've ever seen in my 12 years of walking these country roads, came charging out from behind a thicket of tall shrubs, around the corner of a fenced pasture for sheep, and headed right towards me.  We were separated by a 3-wire fence (thin wires) and I had my cane.  But I couldn't do anything but stare at him, because my feet were so paralyzed with fear that they would not budge.

 His cries of agony got louder as he approached ... close enough so I could see he was "intact."  In fact, he had the biggest pair of family jewels I'd ever seen on any animal.  And right in front of those ... was ... well ... it was so long and distended it almost dragged on the ground.
He stopped just short of the fence and began pawing the ground as he cranked up the volume of that terrifying sound he made.
I was scared sh**less!  Or, more seemly ... scared to death.  A beautiful day, trying to walk 2 miles for the first time this year, and about to be trampled by a big bull.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that being trampled by a mad bull would be the cause of the end of my life.  Especially now when I'm so healthy and happy, and have the next segment of my life all planned.
After keeping my eye on that monster pawing the ground, I sidled my feet to the left -- out of his line of vision -- and spotted a Latino man in a knit hat and a sheepskin jacket. 
"Help!" I called to him.  "The bull is after me!"
It's another long one, folks.  But the perfect thing to read while waiting for the Super Bowl to start.  If you're up to it ... take a chance and click on "Read More" and see what happens next.