Sunday, May 21, 2017

Customer service phone calls in the chemotherapy suite

Friday Teresa and I were at Sloan Kettering for my biweekly chemotherapy. All went pretty quickly in the morning (things slowed down later, but that’s okay), and so quite soon we found ourselves in our chemotherapy area. As I think I’ve written in past posts, each patient has his or her own space. They’re not very big, but big enough for the patient’s reclining chair, two chairs for guests, a computer terminal for the chemo nurse, and the stand on which the chemo drugs are hung. These spaces are separated from each other just by curtains, so you can basically hear everything that goes on next to you. The most awkward part of that is that you hear your fellow patients discussing their chemo side effects, often digestive – but the awkwardness is eased because they hear you too, so everyone seems to just get on with it.

But this time, from next door (that is, across the curtain, to my left) we heard very little from the patient, whoever he was. Instead we heard a lot from someone – I never laid eyes on her – who Teresa says was the patient’s daughter. This woman was combining her being with her father (something I admire) with her work as a customer service agent. At first we heard not only her side of the conversation but also her customers’ side, because she had them on speaker. When I said loudly, across the curtain, that I didn’t think we should be hearing these calls here, she didn’t apologize or even say a word in response, but she did pretty much stop using the speaker. I didn’t pay close attention, but it certainly sounded like she was fielding calls from a series of unhappy customers, some of whose grievances sounded pretty acute.

Teresa and I like to spend the chemotherapy time very quietly: yesterday Teresa was doing emailing and I was reading a research book for my biography of Arthur Chaskalson (which I’ve been working away at all this time that I’ve been in treatment). Not everyone has the same approach, and if the people in the treatment area next to us want to have a loud family conversation, we sigh and say nothing. But customer service calling inside the chemotherapy suite? That seems to violate the basic ground rule that we’re all supposed to be focused here on health, our loved ones’ first but also that of the people getting treated in the next treatment area over.

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