Like any self-respecting artist who needs to buy things like food and shelter, I work in customer service. I interface with the public. I solve problems. I apologize. A lot. I let people feel that they are appreciated and necessary. It’s the pits, but I’m good at it.
It all started when I put on a bright red polo shirt and took drive-through orders at a Hardee’s Restaurant in my hometown. Since then, it’s been a dizzying spiral into customer service-land that has seen me at zoos, aquariums, skating rinks, museums, theaters, and even the Army.
What? Customer service in the Army? You silly kitten – what the heck are you yappin’ about?
I’m talking about being a medic.
Really, a medic is not all about running around on the battlefield with a tourniquet. Sure, that’s the origin of the job. And that’s what really gets most guys’ blood pumping. Sometimes I’ll be monitoring a firing range and I’ll get to hear the cry of “Medic!” and I’ll have to hop to it. But most of what I do as a medic is sitting around in a clinic doing this:
After I wait for a bit like this, someone comes in with a cold. This person tells me they are dying. They have an upper respiratory infection. They cannot go back to the cold, rainy field, they say. They must stay in the barracks all day and sleep.
It is with this person that I must use the same skills I have perfected with Mid-Western families, with cranky New York City tourists, and with overly-entitled elderly theatre subscribers. I must be an ambassador of customer service. Somehow I must explain to this person that they’re an idiot, they’re not dying, and they’re going to have to go back outside and it’s going to suck a lot.
This is what I go through one weekend a month and two weeks a year. These past two weeks I’ve been up at Fort Drum, NY, doing this every single day. Here are some choice conversations from that time period:
(While out getting lunch, the medic cell phone rings. This usually signals an emergency.)
PATIENT: Hey, I think my hand is broken.
MEDIC: Your hand is broken? What happened?
PATIENT: I fell on it and now it’s broken.
MEDIC: Is it bruised or swollen?
MEDIC: Is it bleeding?
MEDIC: Is it bleeding?
PATIENT: I don’t know.
MEDIC: What do you mean, you don’t know?
PATIENT: I can’t see.
MEDIC: You can’t see if your hand is bleeding?
PATIENT: No, how would I be able to see that?
MEDIC: Do you see any blood?
MEDIC: Do you see blood?
MEDIC: You know that red stuff that’s inside your body?
MEDIC: Is any of it on the outside of your body?
PATIENT: Oh! No.
MEDIC: Ok, you’re fine for the moment. We’ll be there after lunch.
(In the barracks, showered and changed and ready for bed, the medic cell phone rings. Another emergency?)
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: Hey, do you guys have any of those asthma inhalers?
MEDIC: We do… But what’s going on?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: I have a soldier who needs one.
MEDIC: What’s happening with them?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: She can’t breathe. She needs an inhaler.
MEDIC: Ok, but why can’t she breathe? What does she look like?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: I don’t know. She’s coughing a lot and she says she needs an inhaler.
MEDIC: Does she have asthma?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: I don’t know.
MEDIC: Has she ever been prescribed an inhaler?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: Jesus, I don’t know. Here, I’m going to put her on the phone. You can talk to her.
MEDIC: Wait, she’s ok to talk on the phone?
PATIENT’S SERGEANT: Yeah, hold on.
MEDIC: So she can breathe?
MEDIC: Hey, what’s going on?
PATIENT (in perfectly normal voice): I need an inhaler.
MEDIC: Ok, are you having trouble breathing?
PATIENT: Yeah, I’m coughing a lot.
MEDIC: Do you have a cold?
PATIENT: I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve had bronchitis for three years and I need an inhaler. I used to have one but I don’t have it here. It’s been awhile.
MEDIC: Ok, well it’s pretty impossible for you to have bronchitis for three years. Do you have asthma?
MEDIC: Have you ever been prescribed an inhaler?
MEDIC: Ok, well for us to give you an albuterol inhaler, you need to have been prescribed one.
PATIENT: Oh, that’s a prescription thing?
PATIENT: Well, no I don’t have a prescription but I’ve used one before. And I’m coughing a lot because these barracks are stuffy and it’s cold in there at night.
MEDIC: Ok, so there are a few things happening here. One, you don’t have a prescription for an inhaler. Two, you can’t have had bronchitis for three years. Three, you’re speaking perfectly fine and haven’t coughed at all since you’ve been on the phone with me. So go to bed and come in to sick call in the morning if you still feel like you’re having trouble
PATIENT: When’s sick call?
MEDIC: 5:30 to 7:30.
PATIENT: Oh. Nah, that’s too early and I don’t want to go through all the trouble. I’m fine. I’ll just have my mom buy me an inhaler on line and have her send it to me.
(During sick call)
PATIENT: I have a lump on my ovary.
MEDIC: And what makes you say that?
PATIENT: That’s what it said online.
(This patient had an ingrown hair on her crotch.)
(Also during sick call)
PATIENT: I’m pregnant.
MEDIC: Ok, when was your last menstrual period?
PATIENT: Years ago. I’m on the birth control where I don’t get periods.
MEDIC: When did you stop taking it?
PATIENT: Taking what?
MEDIC: The birth control.
PATIENT: I haven’t.
MEDIC: Then why do you think you’re pregnant?
PATIENT: Because I had sex about two weeks ago and now I have really bad cramps and nausea. I’m pregnant.
MEDIC: Ok, but you never stopped taking birth control?
MEDIC. Ok… Let’s take a pregnancy test.
PATIENT: I don’t need to. I know I’m pregnant.
MEDIC: Let’s just do one for shits and giggles.
PATIENT: Ok, whatever.
(The pregnancy test comes back negative.)
MEDIC: So, it doesn’t look like you’re pregnant. What else is going on? Has your diet changed at all?
PATIENT: That test is wrong.
MEDIC: Nope it’s not. Do you have any flu-like symptoms?
PATIENT: No, I told you – I’m pregnant.
MEDIC: Let’s just pretend you’re not for a second. What else is going on?
PATIENT: Well, I haven’t pooped in a few days.
(This patient was constipated.)
(Out to lunch. The medic cell phone rings. Must be an emergency.)
MOTOR POOL GUY: You have to get back to the motor pool right now! Someone just broke their leg!
MEDIC: Ok, what happened?
MOTOR POOL GUY: She was walking around the motor pool, and then she fell into a big hole, and then her leg was broken. She says she can’t feel her leg!
MEDIC: Ok, is it bleeding?
MOTOR POOL GUY: No, but she’s on the ground screaming in pain! I’ve never seen anyone like this!! Oh my god!!!
MEDIC: Ok, we’re on our way.
(After we leave our lunch, the phone rings halfway back to the motor pool)
MOTOR POOL GUY: Hey, don’t worry about coming. Her leg just fell asleep.
MEDIC: Her leg fell asleep?
MOTOR POOL GUY: Yeah, her leg fell asleep. She’s up and walking again now.
MEDIC: You’re sure?
MOTOR POOL GUY: Yeah, she’s fine. It’s never happened to her, apparently.
MEDIC: Awesome. And how old is she?
MOTOR POOL GUY: I don’t know. 40’s?
MEDIC: So of course her leg has never fallen asleep before…
And there were so many more.
But don’t worry, folks. No matter how stupid the customer, no matter how inane the complaint, I shall always be there, using my customer service skills, standing tall, and looking studly like this guy:
HAPPY VETERAN’S DAY, EVERYONE!!!!!!