Saturday, June 27, 2015

Fourth Saturday's Loneliest Liberal

In the end, which do I dislike more?

By James Knudsen

If I asked you to guess which of the following I dislike more, working in customer service or getting a colonoscopy, what would your answer be? We’ll get to my answer in the end – I mean, eventually.
    A jury recently awarded a Virginia man $500,000 because members of the team performing his colonoscopy said things that were “hurtful” – my word. The quotation marks are a tip-off that those really aren’t my true feelings. And, lest you think I’m not qualified to comment on this subject, I have experience in the customer service field and I have experienced a colonoscopy. If this story has been absent from your news feed, allow me to summarize.
    The plaintiff enabled the record function of his cell phone prior to the procedure to record the instructions his doctor was giving him, but he didn’t turn his phone off and it captured the operating room banter that took place during the procedure while the plaintiff was completely sedated. Among the more memorable comments uttered by the anesthesiologist: “After five minutes of talking to you in pre-op I wanted to punch you in the face and man you up a little bit.”
    Upon hearing that the patient had reported feeling queasy from watching the needle go into his arm, the same anesthesiologist said, “Well, why are you looking then, retard?”
    And finally, after being made aware of a rash on the patient’s genitals, the anesthesiologist warned another member of the team to be careful or they might get “some syphilis on your arm or something,” before adding, “It’s probably tuberculosis in the penis, so you’ll be all right.”
    Okay, those comments are lacking a certain professionalism. Or, as one reporter put it, “they were discussing matters beyond the scope of the colonoscopy.” (C’mon, that’s funny.)
    Turns out, “syphilis” and “tuberculosis” are $50,000 words. Each statement was determined by the jury to be worth $50,000. Another $400,000 was awarded for medical malpractice and punitive damages.
    Five-hundred thousand dollars, half a million large for enduring poor customer service, that’s what it really amounted to. It’s like overhearing the waiter complain about what a lousy tipper you are on the way out of the restaurant and then telling all your friends what the waiter said. Part of the plaintiff’s plaint was that he had been defamed, but by broadcasting the comments in court the patient played a role in his own defamation.
    Look, I am not a lawyer, although I have done a fair job of approximating one in mediation proceedings. On the legal issues I cannot comment with authority. Obviously, the plaintiff’s attorney was able to make a convincing case, so a legal underpinning exists. But, this touches issues beyond rule of law. We’re into the laws that rule the universe now – right and wrong, love and fear, joy and sorrow. This aggrieved patient has issues way beyond any alleged “embarrassment, anxiety, or loss of sleep.” I do not back up this diagnosis with some lofty degree in human psychology from an exalted university or even with my low-brow MFA in theatre, insightful as that field may be. No, I learned about this guy and his ilk the hard way, on the job in customer service.

All told I’ve worked at least half a dozen jobs that involved dealing with the public. I can’t say I liked any of them. I’m sure I could recall some good times from most of them, but I know I can recall instances of pure disgust in all of them. It was the early ’90s when I first encountered the acronym PITA. No, it doesn’t refer to the Mediterranean flat bread. It means Pain In The Ass. I first saw it scrawled across the top of a work order in the files of an auto repair shop where I worked. If someone providing a service – auto repair, consumer electronics, anesthesiology – labels you a PITA, you’re annoying. I know what you’re thinking, a person you want to punch in the face after only five minutes? “Surely that’s an exaggeration,” you say. It is – sometimes it takes less time.
    Take as gospel my years of experience dealing with the public. If someone says the things that were said in that operating room about you, you’re annoying, really annoying. You’re fishing for something: validation, sympathy, answers. And complaining about your myriad neuroses or the orange peel in your paint job isn’t going to make that longing for validation or sympathy or answers go away.
    My baseline colonoscopy was performed at the end of April at the VA hospital in Fresno, California. My anesthesiologist was an Air Force veteran. She was polite, engaging, and at times funny as she explained what would be happening in a few minutes. And the whole thing was over in minutes with a good result. Retail jobs? The shifts go on for hours and the bad memories...they never go away.

Author’s note: I usually try to include photos with my column. For obvious reasons there are none this month.

Copyright © 2015 by James Knudsen


  1. I'm wondering how he got the cell phone in with him. And what he had to record in the first place. They give you good dope and you float away, After you have shit your brains out there is not much left for you to do or remember.

    1. Yes, Ed, I too wonder about the phone – and whether the patient violated any law by not informing the physicians he was recording them at work. Whenever I've had a colonoscopy, I have completely undressed and donned one of those open-in-the-back hospital gowns, leaving all of my belongings in a locker. And indeed the "dope" is good; I remembered only lying down on the table and waking up in the recovery room.
          I wonder how good the defense attorney was. I can't quite comprehend how the plantiff's case was even allowed to go forward. (Of course, I haven't read any published accounts beyond James's summary.)

  2. thanks James...i always try to make my customer service reps helps us both remember we are just humans..and its hard on the phone, because laughing is not in the script they work from...and i bet i am a PITA from time to time...the other...i have had both the awake and the asleep, find them no problem...dont know what all the screaming is about