“Sir, don’t worry about it,” I say. “You’re doing everything you need to be doing. At this point, all you can do is wait. And I realize that’s really tough, but this is where we’re at, that’s where you’re at, and we’re working our way to you. I realize it’s frustrating, but right now, this is what you do, and this is what we do. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help.”
I say this all with a bit of a grim smile which I’ve tailored through hours upon hours of giving parents excuses as to why their kid with a fever of over 40 degrees has been waiting 6 hours like every other kid. What can I tell you? This is an emergency department– if you come in here, you’re triaged, and that is judgement decides whether you get seen in the next hour or half a day. It doesn’t seem fair to most parents, but fairness isn’t necessarily why we’re here. There is a sytem in place, there are policies, and this is how we roll.
Nonetheless whenever a parent comes up to me and asks me that golden question, “how long before my kid’s turn? We’ve been waiting for X hours?” I always give them my sincerest apologies for the wait time, and try to console them not only that we’re doing the best we can, but that they’re doing the best they can.
It’s a trick. I’m manipulating them, in a sense, because when I parent comes up to me they’re genuinely worried about their kid. Really, the most problematic parents are the ones who care a lot about their children– they’re the ones who are constantly wondering why their family isn’t getting VIP service.
Who decides how important a child is in this hospital? Essentially, from a legal standpoint, it’s the triage nurse. She decides if you’re a priority 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. My job is to trust that nurse. So no matter how much you tell me a sob story about how your kid missed school, how you have to be out of here in 3 hours to pick up your other kids, how you have to pay for more parking, how you’re using your cellphone because you really need to talk to your husband, how you’ve been waiting for 4 hours already–
I don’t care.
… but as a professional, I will certainly convince you that I do.
It’s what I’m paid to do, in part. And I’m not misleading you about anything to do with the services that we’re providing– I don’t tell you that you’re going to be seen any sooner than you will be, I don’t give you any false hope. I don’t tell you anything that isn’t true. But the way that I tell it to you is going to seem sincere when in reality, I don’t care.
I will treat you like a human being and I will listen to your sob story as much as I have time for, even though you treat us like shit all in the name of love of your child. But you know what? I don’t care.
Most of the time, you will return to the waiting room, even thanking me for my understanding.
It’s a dualism within me I think because in most cases I’m pretty honst about when I do and don’t give a fuck about something, but as a professional, I do my job with a great deal of craftsmanship. I’ll tailor my apologies on behalf of the hospital to your unique circumstances (at least, what you‘d like to think are unique circumstances). To me it’s a game. There are techniques and tactics to preventing an uprising of parents.
It’s really similar to managing a classroom full of children actually, it’s something you sorta just get the feeling for. Children always ask you questions for which there is no easy answer– regardless of your answer though, you’ve got to package it in such a way that prevents the collective confidence in you and the system from reaching critical levels.
Work is one thing though.
What about friends and family?
Say I go to a store to buy something. Best example: say I need tech support. In the not too distant past, I wanted to set up a network bridge in my house using two routers, because I wanted a direct cable connection from DSL modem -> router -> Xbox in the basement, and I wanted a secondary router upstairs to serve the computers upstairs. I only had one router though, and not all routers are capable of bridge mode, so I went to a store and asked people which model they had on shelf that could best serve my purposes. The technical bits of this anecdote don’t matter– what upsets me continuously is that as salesmen, or as technicians or whatever, there is no sincerity, fake or otherwise.
See, when I’m paying money, I expect you to dance for me. I mean, what is a salesperson’s job, really? To tell me about the product? Yes, but also, showmanship, and sincerity, no matter how fake. Be nice to me. I’m not even giving you attitude, so try a bit harder before that comes out. I don’t usually give attitude, but when it comes to computer parts, god I will so go postal on you and the rest of your Geek Squad if you don’t know your shit– because it’s unprofessional!
I understand that sometimes nothing can be done, and that you’ve probably heard questions like mine before, but it is your job at least to be courteous and to seem sincere about not being able to help me. You are being paid to go the mile to making my shopping not just a chore, but an experience.
On the other hand,
friends and family, I don’t want any of that fake shit. If I ask someone to go do something and they give me the runaround, I don’t want to have my feelings spared. It’s not your job to protect me. If I ask a favor and you don’t want to do it, give it to me straight up. On the other hand, when our situations are reversed, I will tell you what I think.
Because I think that friendship and family surpass the need for social conventions that keep society together. We can operate on a higher level, one of honesty and WYSIWYG. If we were to deivide life into public life and private life, friends and family go in the private life category and there, things need to be kept real.
Excuses, insincere apologies, beating around the bushes…
I’m always hearing about people here or there making excuses for this or that and I think that when people say “alright, this is enough. We’re done” I feel a bit glad, because coming to the realization that we simply can’t be friends with everyone is the first step to treating yourself with respect. As professionals, we have to put up with a lot of shit, and we have an obligation to do so with a smile in most cases.
But with friends, not only shouldn’t we accept insincerity but we shouldn’t propogate it either.
The thing about lying to someone is that sometimes, is that I think it’s severity changes on what about the scenario you’re lying about.
When a patient’s parents come to me, I lie about caring about them sometimes. Because, like I said, I don’t. But, what I’m not lying about is the services we’ll receive, the situation we and they are in, and any information they need to have that I can provide. I don’t consider this an issue, therefore, because they’re not in the hospital to have a relationship with me– they’re here for a service which I am still providing, and if you really want to rationalize, it’s a service they’re going to receive more likely than not if they’re not dragged out by security for getting aggressive. We clerks are, in a sense, working for the overal efficiency system by quelling unrest with our white lies. I’m not even joking– this is really true.
On the other hand, with friends– we engage in friendships because of the relationship. We’re not trying to get services out of eachother explicitly (although that may be a benefit), we’re trying to find companions. People who will walk beside us or watch our backs. That’s all about the relationship– and this is why we shouldn’t be insincere in the way we deal with friends, because the sincerity is all that there is to keep the relationship going, isn’t it?
We chose friends based on who they are. And how does that work, really, if people are making excuses, deflections, are trying to ‘spare you’ or whatever? Then you just get remembered as the person who can’t get their shit together or the one who’s always being ambiguous. Everybody hates that fucking guy.
Why do people do that anyhow? Because nobody will like ’em if they don’t tell people what they want to hear? The irony.