Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

In the days immediately following the embolism, Bill seemed so much calmer than I did. I asked him how he recovered so quickly. "I've been in similar situations so many times before ..." he replied. "But not with your wife," I interrupted. "No, but I know from experience that the memory of the event fades in intensity and frequency over time. All of a sudden you realize 5 minutes went by and you hadn't thought of it, then it becomes 10 minutes, then an hour, and soon it's no longer a part of your daily thoughts."

I decided to trust him on this and assume that the same would happen to me. Much to my surprise I started feeling better Tuesday. My appetite started to return and I was able to eat my usual small meals. Yesterday I went the whole day without Xanax. I felt happy again.

Then the doorbell rang. When I opened the door, the postman handed me the day's mail, including a certified letter from the home nursing agency with whom the infusion company had contracted to provide my care initially (We now have one of the infusion company's nurses instead). I knew Bill had spoken with the owner of the company and, to my knowledge, they had agreed that the company would assume financial responsibility for the ER visit and the related mental health visits. So, I assumed the letter was merely a formalization of that agreement.

When I opened the letter I found the following words scrawled on the letterhead: "Dear Dr. Steinbach, Who told you to change the cap?" It was signed by a nurse. I was confused and disquieted by the letter. I called the agency and asked to speak with the letter's author. I tried to be as diplomatic as humanly possible. "I received your letter and I am a little confused by it. Could you explain to me the purpose of the letter?" She proceeded to explain that it was just a question. I explained that the infusion company had told us they needed to be changed weekly but that her nurse had neither changed them nor taught us how to change them. Apparently there is a difference in policies between the infusion company and the contracting home care agency. I could have understood the mix-up had this woman spoken to me with even a modicum of respect and sympathy. Instead, she spent the entire call berating me. When I explained my concerns about her employee's nursing skills, she gave no explanation or offer to look into the situation. All I got was a steely silence.

At one point I gently expressed to her my feeling that the letter was unprofessional, inappropriate, and unsympathetic. "At a minimum it should have been typed," I explained, "and it should have begun with 'I am sorry for what you experienced last week.'"

"You cannot tell me what my letters should say."

I was stunned. "I'm sorry, can you tell me what your position is in this organization?" I asked.

"I'm the owner."

"Oh my. You have interesting ideas about how to run a business. Look, I know you are concerned about litigation," I began, intending to reassure her that we did not plan to pursue legal action. "No, I am not. We did nothing wrong. What went wrong is that either you or your husband decided to change that cap."

I felt like I had offered her an olive branch and she whacked me with it. I was incredibly startled by her words and tone and I immediately thought of Eleanor Roosevelt's famous quote, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Buoyed by Ms. Roosevelt's wisdom I replied, "I'm sorry. You are not a very nice human being. I don't wish to speak with you anymore."

I hung up the phone, shaking. I felt like a rape victim who just got told it was her fault for wearing suggestive clothing. I called the infusion company to report the incident. Thankfully they were apologetic and promised to look into the matter further. After I hung up with them, I didn't know what to do.

So, naturally, I called my mother.

She calmed me down and called the mean old lady a bitch. And she made me feel much better. Moms make even grown-up psychological boo-boos better.

I made dinner, took a Xanax, and watched movies with the kids while knitting. By bed time I was feeling much better. I was able to look back on the call and actually feel sorry for the woman on the other line. How horrible it must be to live life that way, incapable of sympathy and compassion. Perhaps she has the mistaken notion that an apology increases the risk of litigation when, in fact, research shows it reduces the risk of litigation. What patients want is a honest explanation of what occurred, reparations for the damage done, and an explanation as to how the mistake will be avoided in the future for other patients. I didn't want her to accept blame; I simply wanted her to recognize what I had been though and I wanted her to stop victimizing me further.

Today I feel ok. I am hanging out on my bed making a bunny towel for my nephew and plan to watch a couple episodes of Boston Legal. I think I am recovering well from last week's incident and I can feel hope creeping back into my psyche. It's nice to have it back.


KA said...

Hi there. I do read your blog whenever I remember to (although I barely even know what a blog is or how to participate – shows how old I am!). Please keep writing – I like to ponder your thoughts.


keith said...

michelle why don't you report the company to the better business bureau.....great utilization of the eleanor roosevelt quote, you were too kind on that you

Ruth said...

Dear Michelle,
I am Margaret Devetski's sister Ruth writing to you from Fort Wayne, IN. I have been reading your blog and wanted you to know that I am praying for you and have asked others to pray for you as well. 115 nuns at the Motherhouse of St. Katherine Drexel, 90 nuns up in Ann Arbor, MI at the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist Convent (the median age of these sisters is 24!) are praying as well and the prayer chain at my church here in the Fort. Lots of people who have never met you are praying. I hope you feel the peace, love, and anything you need coming to you NOW. I have a wierd thought that I would like to share with you. I don't have your email so I have to post it here. I had this thought about Adam and Eve the first time they got pregnant. Did God tell them about the process of becoming pregnant or did they just experience it on their own--finding their way, so to speak? They made love and then weeks later Eve is nauseous, feeling horrible, etc (we moms all know the symptoms). Eve probably thought she was dying. As time went on she probably thought she was growing some huge tumor in her belly. "What is going on? Nothing good can come from this!" --might be what she was thinking--and Adam, of course, stood by wondering "What have I done to her?"----for nine months they watched this thing grow and move and then it got worse---labor. I am sure they were horrified and beside themselves. What was waiting on the other side of this pain??? A beautiful NEW LIFE! Can you imagine the JOY of the relief of all that pain? I hope and pray that we can all face our dying in this way---with faith, hope and love--knowing that God has something beautiful waiting for us on the other side of all the pain of this life and NOTHING can separate us from it. I hope this makes even a little sense. Here is my email address: I would love to hear from you. God bless you. Love, Ruth