Let’s say it’s Saturday. You wake up, and, what’s this? Your throat, it is scratchy! Your glands are swollen! You’re running a fever! Your voice is gone! But it’s Saturday, and you can’t go to your doctor, can you? What do you do? What do you do?
Well, if you’re like me, you suck it up, you wuss, because it’s just a damn cold, and most likely won’t kill you, but if you’re like the hundreds of people I talk to every Saturday, you call your on-call doctor and you get me, or one of my co-workers, at the answering service where I work part-time.
Now, I know, based on my intense 6-years-and-running research into the subject, that most people (by most, I mean the people that call us; I assume that’s most, because those phones will NOT STOP RINGING, seriously, there are times I’m courting a damn bladder infection because there’s no time to run to the bathroom) assume that a. their doctor (or lawyer, or heating/air-conditioning tech, or apartment complex maintenance person, or locksmith, or limo driver) works 24/7, because they are often shocked when they get the service, even on a weekend; and b. most people assume that humans = machines, because the #1 question I get asked is, “Is this a machine?” Yes, after I’ve answered their questions. They still think I am a machine. No, I don’t know. Don’t ask.
So I decided, because I think it is important, to give you all a primer on what to do when calling in your emergency on an off-business-hour time. These are important tips. It wouldn’t be wrong of you to take some serious notes, here. Go get a pen and paper. I’ll wait. No, not THAT pen. Seriously, that thing has green gel ink. People still have those? What is this, 1997? A real pen. Real paper. No, not a Post-It. A Post-It is not paper. You will lose a Post-It. It will get stuck to your shoe and end up in some bathroom somewhere. Are you finally ready? Good, I was about to lose my patience with you.
Very Important Tips to Remember When Calling in an Emergency Off-Hours
1. You are talking to a person, not a machine. There is no need to ask the question, “Is this a machine?” in a very suspicious voice. Technology is not that advanced. I can assure you you’d know if I was a machine. You’ve all talked to those automated systems before, right? Where they tell you, “Please state the nature of your problem,” and you say, “My cable is out and Toddlers in Tiaras is starting in ten minutes and I’m going to MISS IT!” (ok, maybe you say something classy like Masterpiece Theater; don’t judge my choices and I won’t call you a dickhead) (I might still call you a dickhead if you watch Masterpiece Theater when Toddlers in Tiaras is on) (I don’t actually even watch Toddlers in Tiaras; it was a metaphor for all horrible television ever; replace it with Rock of Love if you’d like, can I get on with this now?) and the automated woman, who remains calm throughout, says “I see, you’re having a problem with wanting to order pay-per-view-wrestling?” And you scream “No! No! NO! TODDLERS! IN! TIARAS!” and then she sounds slightly put-out and says “I didn’t get that. Returning to main menu” and then you have missed your program so there’s no point in going on, really. Do I sound like a machine? I shot the shit with you a little, earlier. I asked your name and the spelling and we talked about the weather. Odds are good I’m not a machine. OR AM I?
2. There is no need to be pervy. Someone who will remain nameless, but she’s got a blog that’s totally the most awesome sparkly unicorn kitten rainbow and you’re reading it RIGHT NOW, once talked to a caller who was calling to order a catalog of, I think, baseball cards or some such thing, and then he started being a perv. But we have to be professional. So I couldn’t hang up. Our conversation went something like, “May I ask who’s calling?” “Uh, uh, (these are masturbatory sounds, not stalling ones) what are you wearing?” “That’s not really of importance. Your name, please?” “I bet you like to screw. You like to screw?” “Yeah. So, was that your first name, or your last?” “Uh, yeah, baby, you’re a dirty whore.” “Sir, I honestly don’t get paid enough for this. If you don’t want a catalog, I’m going to hang up now.” “You’re an EIGHT DOLLAR HOOKER!” Then he hung up, affronted. Honestly, the most perplexing thing about this was the dollar amount. It was very random. Eight? Not ten? I’m really undervaluing myself, I think. I should rethink my fee schedule.
3. Why so angry? I get it. You’re pissed. You’re sick on a weekend; your kid broke his arm screwing around with a potato gun; you’ve been arrested for DWI for the fourteenth time this month; you lost a nickel in the candy machine; the dryer has locked up with your special weekend dainties trapped inside; your furnace made one final rattling dying clank and now it’s 34 degrees in your house; you miscalculated and you’re out of birth control pills and Bubba’s in town from his big rig job and you gotta get you some. I GET IT. However, yelling at me is not helping things along at all. I didn’t do these things to you. I don’t work for the company that did, either. I work for the company that works for them. All I do is answer the phones, and get your message to them. It behooves you, as a matter of fact, to be nice to me. I tend to work a little harder getting the nice people’s calls to the on-call person. If someone called me an, oh, I don’t know, “useless bitch who has no pride in herself, her job, her country, or her life” (I mean, just as an example, no one would ever say that, of course) (Note: someone totally said that) I’m not going to really work my useless, pride-free ass off getting your message delivered in a more timely fashion than the person who was weeping because her child hasn’t had a bowel movement in three days and is turning blue.
4. Some things are emergency-room worthy. Examples: chest pain; suspicions of a stroke; broken bones that are sticking out of your skin; inability to breathe; dropping your child on its head when you were changing it and now it’s unresponsive. Do not call your on-call doctor for these things. You will wait up to an hour for a call back. This is TOO LONG. You will be dead. Please, use your head on this. I hate the ER as much as the next person but for the love of all that’s good and righteous in this world, it is there for a reason. USE IT.
5. Get in, get out, get gone. I don’t want to know all the details. I want a quick, maybe one-to-five word description of what is wrong. Examples: no heat; fever; possible strep; eyeball rupture. I don’t want the details of your last two years of bowel movements. I know you think it’s important the on-call has the “whole picture.” He or she will – when they call you back. You can tell them then, on the phone, when you are talking to them. Also? Some things don’t bear on the situation in the least and I don’t need them at all. You start talking about them and I start doodling. I don’t want to hear about how your son visited last night and you made ziti and it was so, so delicious but maybe more oregano next time? I don’t want to hear about how one time, your aide showed up and she had dreadlocks, and that seemed unsanitary, don’t I agree? I don’t want to hear about the price of gas or groceries or the weather outside. I’m sorry you’re lonely, I truly am. That’s what the Internet is for, though. I have a million other callers with a million other needs. What’s wrong? Your name? Callback number? Good to go. Bye now.
6. I have no medical training. I don’t know! I don’t know why your elbow is making that noise. I don’t know if you should wait for a callback or go to the emergency room. I don’t know if beer before liquor never sicker is true or an urban legend (I wish I was being facetious, but someone actually called their on-call doctor to ask this.) And even if I have an educated guess (and by that, I mean, “a guess anyone with half a brain could come up with and why aren’t you using yours?”) I could get fired for giving you medical advice, and I need this extra money. I’m not going to do it.
7. Back away from the phone, slowly. If you are crazy, please don’t call me. I know, you don’t think you’re crazy. But listen, if you’re calling from the psyche ward, where you’ve been involuntarily committed (“I’m being HELD AGAINST MY WILL BY THE MAN!!!”), or if you think you saw something that obviously doesn’t happen outside of the movies (“And I was in my hospital bed? And the doctor and the nurse came into my room and danced and laughed at me? Then a man came in and punched my neck?”), or if you call the Social Services line to know if you’re going to get arrested for beating your child, you are officially a lunatic. You don’t want me. You want professional help. And, as stated in #6, that’s not me. Put the phone down and go to a professional.
8. You are not more important than everyone else in the world. This isn’t just a rule of thumb when calling in an emergency on a weekend; the world could use this on a daily basis. But it’s important here. Calling in your emergency, then calling back every five minutes to berate, louder and louder, the operators about how VERY IMPORTANT YOU ARE? Rude. Calling in the heater in your poolhouse being out, so you couldn’t swim, when people had the furnaces in their houses out, and when the on-call couldn’t take your emergency because he was overloaded with real emergencies, calling and screaming “I’ll have his job for this! Don’t you know who I am?” Rude. Calling in, then putting the operator on hold while you take another call, when you’re the one who called me? Rude, and douchey. (Also, we didn’t “lose the connection.” I hung up on you. Sorry. I have other people waiting who aren’t going to put me on hold; I can’t be waiting while you deal with your personal shit. Call back when you can give me your undivided attention.) Calling in, refusing information that’s asked of you, and saying “He knows me. He knows what it’s about. Just call him. That’s your JOB, isn’t it? Can’t you do your JOB?” Rude, and one time that happened, and the on-call said, “Who the hell is that? I don’t know him,” and then we looked like jerks. Your emergency is no more important than the hundreds of others who are calling in right now. Humility is required here.
9. Hearing aids are your friend. I get it. People get old. I will, someday. But if you can’t hear, why wouldn’t you get a hearing aid? Why would you call places, and not be able to hear the person on the other end of the line? A sample conversation: “May I ask who’s calling?” “What?” “Your name, please, ma’am?” “What?” “Your name? May I have your name?” “I see Doctor Taylor!” “Ok, great, but your name?” “That is his name!” “I know, but your name. Who should I have him return the call to?” “What?” “Ok, let’s return to that at a later time. Your number?” “174-91-” “No, ma’am, I think that’s your social? And I don’t want that, because I could be an identity thief, so don’t go giving that out, ok?” “What?” “Is there anyone there that could talk to me that might be able to hear me better? Maybe we have a bad connection.” “What?”
10. Be prepared. You know you’re calling somewhere that’s going to need your information. So, like the Boy Scouts say, be prepared. Know your name, phone number, address, date of birth, basic things that we all know. If you don’t know them, do a little research before calling. “I don’t know my number! I never call myself!” stopped being funny two shifts into my time here. That was six years ago. Make a cheat sheet, if you must, but have that shit at the ready. What are the odds I’m NOT going to ask for it?
11. Stop prank calling; this is never funny. Calling the big 24-7 lawyer in town and pranking them, over and over, isn’t funny. You are wasting time I could actually be doing my job. You know what is funny? That your number shows up in the caller ID and sometimes I call it back, just to make you shit your pants with fear. Although kudos to the kid who called last week and when I asked his name, asked me if I had any chicken nuggets. Way to prank, kid. Way to know your audience, too; a lawyer’s office is just bound to have chicken nuggets. You’ve got greatness in you. I can feel it. Also? Where are these children’s parents? My parents did not leave me alone, unattended, with huge blocks of time to bother people. I feel like there’s a huge window of missed opportunity for CPS workers out there. Children with phones are running rampant with no adult supervision!
12. Don’t act surprised we’re not the receptionists in the office. “What? They’re not open?” No, no they’re not. Not at 5:30pm on a Saturday. Why would they be, exactly? Please explain. Are doctor’s offices often open at this time? Why the shock and awe that the service is answering on a weekend? No. They’re NOT OPEN. Name. Phone number. Problem. Thank you.
13. Answer your phone when someone calls you back. Probably 20-30 times a day, we get a second call from a caller who missed the call back from the on-call. Excuses range from “I had my phone off” to “I was in the movies,” “I was taking a shower,” “I didn’t want him to call me that quickly,” etc. You placed the call; now you wait for the callback. I don’t understand why this is difficult. I tried to get a one-strike-and-you’re-out system instated, in which if they missed the callback, they were banned from calling again, but for some reason my employers thought this was “inappropriate.” Fine. Stand in the way of greatness.
By following these thirteen basic rules, you, too, can have a good experience when calling your on-call in off-business hours. Oh, and one last tip? There’s only so much abuse a human being can take from another one before they snap and start reacting to you. So if the person you’re talking to suddenly starts “copping an attitude” and you’re a “very important person” and “you’ll have their job for this,” take a step back and think about your behavior. How could you have handled this differently? Oh, what’s that? You couldn’t have? You shouldn’t have to, because you’re a very important person and your TIME is MONEY and is this a machine?
Yes. This is a machine. Please leave your message after the beep and try to pull your head out of your ass.