Two Tales About Respect

One – Self-Respect

I’m trying to help someone hard of hearing fill a prescription for her asthma inhaler. First, I call the pharmacy to see if the refill order we submitted several days ago has been filled. The pharmacist tells me the inhaler is ready for pick up, so I send S off to the pharmacy to get it. She returns and says that the inhaler costs $50 more than it did the last time she refilled it; insurance has refused to pay for it, and the pharmacist recommends calling the insurance company. I sigh because this has happened before, and sorting it out has not gone smoothly, but I make the call.

The customer service representative tells me that, oddly enough, for this script, the brand inhaler is less expensive ($50) than the generic, and the doctor has ordered the generic, which costs $100. Still, he says, there should be no problem because he can see on S’s record that the pharmacy placed a claim yesterday for $50 for the brand inhaler. So why I ask, is the pharmacy now trying to charge $100? He says he doesn’t know; I should call the pharmacy back.

I do. The pharmacist says the insurance company is wrong; the doctor prescribed the $100 generic, but the patient refused to accept it, so they canceled the order. The calm tone in my voice deteriorates, and its pitch rises. I am frustrated. The insurance company is saying one thing, the pharmacy another. I try again to explain what the insurance agent has said and ask the pharmacist why a claim was made yesterday for $50. The pharmacist denies this. Why can’t they just give us the brand version, I ask. The pharmacist repeats, slowly, as if talking to a child, that she can do nothing more to help except call the doctor’s office on our behalf, or I can call instead. I ask her to stop and listen to me. I say I’m not stupid, and she responds that she didn’t say I was stupid. I counter, “You are talking to me like I am stupid.” Suddenly, a light goes off in my head, flashing neon red – DISRESPECT! 

Now I am angry. I snap at the pharmacist, “Never mind. I will call the doctor’s office and sort this out myself.” We hang up, and I do so. I try to explain calmly to the medical assistant that I’m frustrated and need to talk directly to a human being about a prescription refill—no voicemail, no leaving a message. This is an emergency. The patient has asthma and needs her inhaler right away. I explain the cost differential between brand and generic. The assistant gets it, takes the matter in hand, puts me on hold for a couple of minutes, then returns to say it’s all set. They have sent a script for the brand inhaler to the pharmacy. I hang up and feel relieved. Then S comes to me holding her phone, which transcribes voicemails into texts. She shows me a text from the pharmacy, received while I was on the phone with the doctor’s office, saying they have sorted everything out, re-run the prescription for the brand version, and it’s ready for pick up. No apology and no recognition that there had been any previous confusion. “OMG! Why didn’t they do that in the first place?” I scream.

Later, I reflect on this incident. First, I am embarrassed and ashamed of my childish and rude behavior toward the pharmacist. Second, I realize that the moment I felt disrespected, my controlled frustration turned into boiling anger. Then I ask myself why feeling disrespected disturbs me so much. Suddenly I have a flash of insight; someone else’s disrespectful treatment triggers my lack of respect for myself—my deep-rooted sense that I am stupid, inadequate, and unacceptable. So, besides working on breathing and calming down when disrespect provokes anger, I must also work on respecting myself. And that is a really tall order! But, if I can do that, perhaps it will help me genuinely respect the others I encounter in pharmacies, doctor’s offices, insurance companies, and everywhere. 

Does this ring a bell, touch a nerve, or resonate with you?

Two – Other Respect

It’s 11:00 a.m. on a hot summer day. I pull into the parking lot of a memory care facility where I am visiting a patient. When I exit my car, I notice a small dog in the car parked next to mine. Alarm bells go off in my head as I remember all the warnings about leaving children and animals in closed-up vehicles in hot weather. The driver cracked all four windows about two inches, but it must still be sweltering inside the car. What shall I do? I decide to go inside and ask the receptionist if they know who owns the vehicle. They don’t. I’m pretty worked up by this time, wondering what to do, so I go back to the car and try the passenger side door. To my great relief, it opens. The little dog, looking forlorn but okay, lays on the front passenger seat and looks up at me with sad eyes.

The dog is no longer the problem, but I know the owner will be one. So I decide to wait until they return and confront them about leaving the dog in a hot car. I wait about 10 minutes, petting the dog on the head, talking soothingly to it, and looking around for the owner. I worry about what to say to them but can’t settle on anything that feels comfortable, so when he arrives, I haven’t decided what to say, and I’m not ready.

I begin badly. “This is terrible; it’s too hot to leave a dog in a closed car!” His back goes up immediately, and he defensively explains that he is taking care of an elderly father who lives in this facility; he takes excellent care of this dog and doesn’t need my interference to add to his stress load. Besides, it’s not that hot, and he’s only been gone 15 minutes; the dog would have been fine. He slams the passenger door, gets in the car, and drives off. I’m angry and embarrassed and know I have handled the situation poorly, but I try to put it aside and visit the patient I’ve come to see.

Later, as I reflect on the incident, still feeling uncomfortable about my reaction, I try to rationalize my behavior. Probably the dog would have been okay, but how was I to know how long the owner had been gone or when he would return? What if the door had not been unlocked? Would I have called the police? That would have made an enormous scene. Should I have suggested that the next time he leaves the dog in the car, he should leave a note on the window saying how long he would be gone? Should I have expressed sympathy about his stress? However disrespectfully I behaved toward the owner, I still did not regret my intervention on behalf of the dog.

After more self-examination, I realized that I spent the entire ten minutes waiting for the owner’s return stewing about how to confront him. Instead, I could have paused, identified the roots of my feelings and calmed them, opened my mind and heart to the owner’s perspective, and chosen a kind, non-aggressive approach to intervention. One takeaway—if you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. I knew nothing about the life of this dog owner, but I chose to judge him and find him unworthy of respect.

I still don’t believe he should have left his dog in the car, but I hope I will respond less self-righteously, more courteously, and skillfully in similar future situations.

Does this ring a bell, touch a nerve, or resonate with you?

5 thoughts on “Two Tales About Respect

  1. Hi Moriah! I plan to read your two blogs, again, with more time. My first impression is that you are too self-critical. The first situation was frustrating, a very concerned individual dealing with an unconcerned entity. Your responses to both incidences were justified…more important, they were spontaneous and genuine. I don’t think you should have allowed lack of self-respect for yourself to enter the equation? Interesting thought. Interesting dilemma! Need more time to think about it. Thanks for sending! I hope you and Sarah are having a lovely summer! Marcia >

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  2. Oh my. I can relate to both of these (I’ll bet lots of us can!). The first–because I’ve been there so. many. times. with insurance/pharma/providers. It can quickly become a full-time job. I also relate to the closing of that tale–isn’t it powerful to ‘follow the bread crumbs,’ as I call it, to find the source of our responses? (That’s something I probably could do this afternoon, come to think of it. Maybe that’d help me out of a challenging space I’m in this week!)

    The second–though. I was actually on the opposite side of this coin in April. I had a medical emergency, we werein
    temp housing, Troy + my best friend were both traveling, and I needed to pick my kids up from school. I barely made it to the school + back; in fact, I had to stay at the school for 45 mins before I was able to drive back home. (Dizzy. Beyond dizzy…) As soon as I got back, a man from across the street walked over and lit in to me–relentlessly. I couldn’t even stand up–I was literally in the grass with my dog–whom he said I’d severely neglected, as she was crying in distress while I was gone. And I’m sure she did cry. But that was a decision I had to make in the moment–and I knew when I left that she was safe and in the shade and soft grass, if displeased. I was the one in distress. I was in such bad shape I could not stand up–literally. Or stand up *for myself*, figuratively. I finally said to him that if he could have shown compassion for me the way he had shown my dog, I could have used his help an hour and a half ago!

    I’ve thought about that incident since then. I try to remember it when I have a knee-jerk response to someone or something. (So easy! That knee-jerk response!) I understand the complications, though. Especially when it involves pets. Their vulnerability leaves very little wiggle room, very few excuses. (But there are good *reasons*, sometimes.)

    I wonder why the man visiting his father didn’t leave the windows down lower…? Hm…

    So much food for thought here, Moriah. Thank you.

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