Doctor who?

18 Oct

After years of delaying, I recently decided to have my varicose veins treated. Years of summers in long pants and dresses, and mad dashes from the pool to the recliner to quickly grab a towel or sarong to cover the offending veins, were finally going to be over.  

I went about doing my (Google) research and found out that the doctor you’d go see for an operation to remove varicose veins is a vascular surgeon. These guys specialise in treatment of veins and arteries, and the lymphatic systems. Conditions treated by vascular surgeons include deep vein thrombosis, atherosclerosis and any other arterial diseases. I did searches like ‘worst varicose vein op ever’ and ‘worst vascular surgeon Johannesburg’. Not finding anything dramatic, I decided on a doctor who ran a vascular clinic in partnership with another surgeon, who had surgeries in two reputable hospitals. 

With all those very serious conditions being treated by vascular specialists, I was not entirely surprised to see that varicose vein procedures were rather at the bottom of the list in the world of vascular surgery. And from the word go, that was exactly the message I got from this particular practice.

First off, the doctor kept me waiting for an hour.  In that hour I saw him pass behind the battery of receptionists several times, munching on a sandwich. I kept wondering, did they schedule my appointment during his lunch hour, or had he decided to take his lunch hour during my appointment. Either way, I was annoyed by the time I finally got summoned to his office. 

I decided to keep calm, in order to get the best out of this appointment. So with a lot of deep breathing and counting to ten as I walked down the passage, by the time I entered his door, I was about eighty nine percent relaxed. We shook hands and sat across each other at his desk. That’s when I noticed warning sign two. 

A big fat ginormous booger was dangling from his left nostril. I should have just called it quits right then. I should have stood up and walked out of his office and found another doctor. But, because a dangling booger can’t be considered as an indication of competence or lack thereof, I decided to continue with the appointment. We spoke about the options I had, and he did a scan of the leg. He suggested that I went for sclerotherapy, where a solution is injected into the veins. This solution causes scars and closes the veins, and after a few weeks, they should fade. Thanks to Google, I knew that it could be done with local anaesthesia, but he suggested that I have general anaesthesia. When I questioned him about why I would need the general knock-out potion, he changed his tune somewhat and said that local would do. That should have been Alarm Bell Three.

I left his office with an appointment booked, and some paperwork to read through. The general gist was that payment up front was required for all varicose vein treatments. This message was relayed in bold, capital letters in font size 18 in about four different locations in my document pack. I am on an international medical aid, and they give treatment guarantees once they receive paperwork the doctor is required to fill in. As soon as I had the guarantee from the medical aid, I would pay into the doctor’s account.

And here is where warning sign four came in to play. I e-mailed the forms to the receptionist four weeks before the treatment date. Three weeks later, I was calling their offices to ask when I would be receiving the completed forms. The reams of paperwork required by medical aids are laborious at the best of times. They want all sorts of information not relevant to them at all, like whether it was full moon on the date of first onset of symptoms. I know for a fact that any forms from medical aid companies that need filling in are a pain in the ass for doctors – they keep telling me so. But the doctors know that if they want to keep shop open, they need to do the paperwork. 

I accidentally phoned the practice at the other hospital and the bossy-boots over there told me that my problem was that I’d sent the forms to the wrong person to be completed. Not entirely worried, because we still had time to get the forms sent in and the guarantee confirmed so I could pay, I sent the forms to bossy-boots who assured me that they would be completed.

  Four days of phone-tag, e-mail relays and a lot of passing the buck, the forms were ready. We somehow managed to push the medical aid guys to guarantee the payment by late evening the night before my treatment date. Fantastic, except I had no idea what time I had to be at the hospital, or whether I had to stop eating by a certain time. So I e-mailed the doctor asking for information. 

The response that came from his bossy-boots receptionist on the morning of the operation was a chastisement for contacting the doctor directly. This was followed up with a phone call where I was told that since I hadn’t paid any money into the doctor’s account, there was no chance of getting the procedure done that morning. 

My efforts to explain that it was her office’s fault that payment guarantee was only confirmed the night before were being ignored. For fifteen minutes her mantra was: “No payment, no treatment.” I persistently chipped away at her obstinance, repeating my own mantra of “no guarantee, no payment”. 

The idea that her offices might have been the reason why everything was delayed eventually started to take root. She was even slowly getting used to the idea that I, as the client, might have needed her offices to act quickly so that I had the guarantees I needed before paying the doctor. I was trying, despite all the signs telling me otherwise, to still get this doctor to perform the operation that morning. Once she told me that understood that they were responsible for the delay and the lack of payment, and not me, she hit me with this whammy:

“Well anyway, Doctor was working till very late last night and he’s too tired to perform your operation now. So we are canceling it.”

I took the phone away from my ear and looked at it. A queasy knot of unease settled in my stomach. I felt like someone who puts her name on the order list for a Birkin bag and gets told, just as it’s her turn to get one, that she’s not good enough to buy the bag. This is the strangest kind of inadequacy to feel because it’s not based on anything of substance. To this doctor, and his practice, I was just an account number and an amount of money that had to be in his account. Whether my needs were being met as a consumer was not this practice’s concern. Suddenly I was happy that my Internet was down the night before, preventing me from doing the transfer.

“I feel very uncomfortable now,” I said, more to myself than to bossy-boots. 

“You can make the payment and phone the other office to reschedule your procedure for next week,” she spoke as if she hadn’t heard me.

“I don’t want to do the procedure with Dr M anymore,” I declared. “If this is how his patients are treated before he’s even performed an operation, I don’t want him touching me. Particularly not with a scalpel.”

The insensitivity shown by his staff surely came from the top down, and I was not convinced that I’d be well taken care of by him. 

After more research I found another doctor, at another good hospital, whose receptionist filled in and processed the treatment guarantee application during consultation. He performed the procedure without insisting on payment from me first. I asked him about it in our first appointment, and his response was, “once we have the guarantee, the medical aid always pays out in the end.” The treatment was a success, and the medical aid paid without fuss.

So what could be learnt from this situation?

For the consumer:

Stop trying to force something that repeatedly shows symptoms of being ‘not meant to be’.

For the service provider:

Treating potential clients as if they are non-paying cretins right from the get-go, without knowing anything about them, means that they will look to more customer-friendly practices for the services they need. In this instance, the staff had been drilled to be so adamant about payment first, that they forgot that their clients had prerequisites that needed to be met too.

The Mystery of the Missing Phone Call Part 1

1 Oct

Mystery of the Missing Phone Call Part 1 – Believe me there will be more.

I get nervous when someone says the words, ‘I’ll phone you back,’ to me. I know for a fact that there is a 99.999999999999% chance that they WILL NOT call me back. Guaranteed. If I think back over the last 4 months I cannot think of one time where someone who has promised to call me back, actually has.

On a recent trip to Cape Town I rented a car from Dollar /Thrifty for one day. The price was good, the car was suited to my needs and overall the online booking, collecting and returning of the car was seamless and uncomplicated.

After I returned the car, I called a week later to check that the amount of money held had been released because I couldn’t tell from my bank statement if it had. I also needed a statement be e-mailed to me.

When I called a friendly lady answered and explained to me that I needed to speak to two different departments for my two different requests. Accounts and refunds. She’d put me through to refunds first. After listening to the same classical song played with pan pipes about eight times, I was told that I’d be put through to accounts as refunds was still busy on the phone. No problem. Am relaxed and patient. After a further eight times listening to the classical pan pipes I was told that accounts was still busy on a call too. And then the dreaded words: ‘Please leave me your phone number and I’ll get them to phone you back.’ Pause. Sigh. Contemplate. Will they be the ones to break the mould? Will they indeed phone as they have said? Will I believe her emphatic promises that accounts and refunds will call me back? Go oooorn, I tell myself. Have faith. Believe! The nice lady said she will get accounts and refunds to phone you back. She will.

Still waiting

Still waiting for them to phone me back.

I am still waiting.

Don’t take it lying down – trip to Baby City

3 Sep

I went to Baby City recently, looking for a camping cot mattress for my sister’s baby who is due any day now.

I remember being overwhelmed and intimidated by the vast array of goods on offer when I was pregnant with my first child. The thought of a trip to Baby City for necessary items made me uneasy and left me feeling nautious until the dreaded visit was over. Every decision I made, whether about bottle teats or car seats, was fraught with guilt in case I made the wrong choice. My husband and I deliberated for weeks on whether we should purchase a heart beat monitor for the baby’s cot.  We agreed that we should, but a kind-hearted shop assistant told us that we really did not need one. I looked at the information on the box I’d just re-read for the umpteenth time, and then looked back at her.  ‘But the box says I need one,’ my eyes must have said to her. Her eyes smiled back at me and said, ‘The box is lying and deliberately making new parents feel anxious so they unnecessarily buy expensive equipment.’ We didn’t buy the monitor.

Eleven years and two healthy kids later I’m a skeptic when it comes to anything parents ‘need’ to buy for their children. So when the salesman showed me the Anti-Allergy, Waterproof, Breathable 3-in-1 mattress that reduces the chance of cot death, and comes at a whopping price of R460, I raised my eyebrows. I was dealing with a ‘let’s start with the most expensive item, in the hope we don’t have to work our way down’ sales person. Ha!

A health alert on the packaging warned that ‘up to 50% of cot deaths may be caused by bacteria that breed in babies’ mattresses’, and the manufacturer therefore recommended that you use their product. The mattress had a removable cover with a zip that made for easy washing. This cover was in fact the magic ingredient that made the mattress special.  The piece of foam with the holes in was quite ordinary.

Not to scare you or anything...

Not to scare you or anything...

To the sales man’s irritation I asked to see cheaper mattresses. I didn’t flinch and I didn’t avert my eyes from his questioning gaze. It was then that I realised the difference between me and the newbie mom. My children had survived thus far despite sleeping on plain as you please mattresses as babies, and I had no illogical need to convince the salesman that I will be a good mother because I am buying the most expensive stuff in the store.  After a healthy round of question and answer, and show and tell, I left with the following: A mattress that cost R200, that promises non-allergenic foam, soft breathable fabric, holes at both ends for added safety, and comes with a travel size Mite Free spray. And. And. An Anti-Allergy, Waterproof, Breathable 3-in-1 fitted sheet of exactly the same material as on the first mattress I was shown. It cost R99.

To some the saving of R160 might not seem much, but for those who need to stretch their money to accommodate all the extra costs of having a baby, it helps a lot.

Banking on Business

16 Aug

I’m in the market for a business bank account. My own business is in the process of being registered but thanks to a recent change in legislation it is no longer possible to register new Closed Corporations in South Africa. One has to register a Pty (Ltd). This in itself is not a big deal but with the changes made there is an enormous backlog at the CIPC offices and I have been told that the registration process can take up to 10 weeks to be finalized.

I still need to conduct business. Normally, without a company registration number one cannot open a business account. However, I went to see what three of our banks are doing to help customers under these unusual circumstances.

Nedbank Epsom Downs Branch: Can open a Sole Proprietor account for me in the company’s name IF I HAVE DOCUMENTATION STATING THAT THE NAME HAS BEEN REGISTERED.  Once the PTY(Ltd) registration comes through they open a new account in the company’s name. The new account will have a new number. When I explained that my account number cannot be changed because most payments into my account will be via EFT and the account details will be posted on my website, the response was that there was nothing else they could do.

FNB: Can open a Sole Proprieter’s account in the company’s name and when the registration goes through this is added to the company’s profile. The account number does not need to change. I also get an accounting software program, earn e-bucks on my account, and the bank has services catering to businesses that run online shopping sites. This all sounds perfect and rosy but my South African instincts tell me that this is too good to be true. I will investigate the authenticity of these claims and keep you posted.

ABSA: Can open a Sole Proprietor account, but again the account number has to change when my business registration comes through. The strange thing about going to their Small Business centre at their Fourways branch is that there was a person sitting at the help desk who couldn’t answer any of my questions ,but dialed the call centre and handed the phone to me to so I could speak to a consultant. I’m not even going to comment on that.

The FNB offer sounds the best but I need to reconfirm if the information I was given is correct. The consultant at FNB who attended to my queries seemed to be playing solitaire or something on his computer while attending to me. I was having one of my ‘let it slide’ days so I didn’t make a big point of the fact that I did not have his full attention. In fact, I behaved quite admirably. I didn’t even roll my eyes when he couldn’t finish his sentences because he was distracted by what was happening on his computer screen.

The PropMan Cometh

12 Aug

Recently we had to have a wooden sliding door to the bathroom which is set into the wall, fixed.  It had come off its hinges. There was a special way you had to lift it, push your hip against it and pull or push very hard to get the thing to move. Going to the bathroom was being preceded with exercise warm-ups and it was getting annoying.

Someone from The Propman came out to have a look. He advised me that the wooden frame would have to be removed so they could get to the door properly. I started visualizing splintered wood lying all around the place, dust and bits of paint coming off the walls as they pried the frames from the wall.  ‘Of course, if we can’t get to the door that way we need to break down parts of the wall,’ Mr Propman continued.  Now I visualised a thicker layer of dust, the kind that creeps into your nose and waits for you to sneeze, cement pieces flying around, chunks of broken bricks all settling into the carpet. Maybe we should just use the broken door as an opportunity to gain muscle strength in our upper arms, I mused. It certainly would be less stressful.

We arranged for the Propman guys to come out and fix the door. Two friendly yet businesslike gentlemen arrived and spent almost 45 minutes discussing and analyzing the door. They spoke to each other in low, urgent tones, pointing and discussing, peering into odd spaces above the door and consulting with each other again. They were serious and focused and I lapsed into reverential silence, just watching them.  Back and forth they went between the door and their van, carrying equipment and continuing their serious discussion. After another 20 minutes or so, they came back and announced that the door was fixed! They only needed to remove one panel of wood, which had been replaced again, and needed re-varnishing once the glue was dry. That was it!  Not even a crumb of cement on the carpet!

I was impressed at their professionalism – they were as serious as surgeons discussing an operation and in the end they fixed the door with surgical precision. The next day I got a phone call from The Propman’s offices, asking if I was happy with the work that was done. CS Pita is impressed.

Afternoon at Monte

10 Aug

Phoned SACAB to book a taxi for our 7km trip to Montecasino. A rare afternoon off was taken to enjoy lunch and a movie with a good friend. The SACAB lady was friendly and efficient, and I liked that she calculated roughly how much the trip would cost. Mr Taxi Man arrived on time, and he too was friendly and efficient. The 7km journey cost a staggering R94! After reeling with shock I remembered that this was a small price to pay for enjoying a couple of glasses of wine with lunch – the reason we took a taxi in the first place.

I haven’t been to Monte since the world cup last year. During that time my husband went slightly mad and wanted to watch matches at venues that featured massive screens, with huge crowds of people. I couldn’t help but share his enthusiasm, and a visit to Montecasino to watch a game became par for the world cup course.

Today it was empty and a bit gloomy indoors, but out in the sun it was pleasant.Lunch was at John Dory’s. I’d eaten there before and not been impressed but we wanted to find out if they’d upped their game since they’d started advertising heavily on radio. Service was pleasant and the food was good. I am not a food critic and I’m not going to try to be one. But I think we all know if we have enjoyed a meal or not. This meal was tasty and enjoyable.

After the movies we stopped at Skoobs for a Starbucks coffee and dessert. Skoobs no longer serves Starbucks and has a brand called Coffee Republic instead. Now here is where I get annoyed. A Grande Starbucks Cappuccino used to cost R25. While I find this price extortionate I was willing to hand over my 25 bucks to have my Starbucks once in a while. The Coffee Republic cappuccino is the same price! Who and what is Coffee Republic and what have they done to earn the right to charge R25 for a cappuccino? It ticked me right off but I ordered an Americano to enjoy with some cheesecake. Cost of cheesecake: R34,50. Taste of R34,50 cheesecake: awful! It was grainy and crumbly and not worthy of its lofty price. The Americano was bland, though not awful, and in total I found the experience a complete rip-off.

I checked out Coffee Republic on the web. It’s a franchise chain of coffee shops, based in the UK, that’s been around since 1995. So what? I’ve not heard anything about them and there is nothing out there to suggest that they are worth R21 for a medium (why call it medium when you have two sizes – a big one and a small one) Americano. I’m certainly not going back there for coffee and dessert in a hurry. A book, maybe, but that’s it.

Lazy Day at 44 Stanley

10 Aug

44 Stanley is a pleasure to visit. Beautiful and tasteful art, furniture, pieces of interest, clothing and a host of other things are there for you to browse through and buy in a quaint afro-euro setting. Perfect for a day of doing not too much. Hubby and I went there together for the first time recently. The kids are visiting family so we were able to choose a place to enjoy a lazy brunch according to what we really wanted, as opposed to what would keep two kids amused.

We decided on Salvation Cafe and had a fantastic meal there. Fresh ingredients, excellent service, cheesecake to die for. I enjoyed the whole experience. In recent years (as I get older, you might say) I’ve found myself lowering my expectations instead of waiting, guns ready, to demand the good service I expect. It certainly is less stressful for me. So to have such a pleasant experience was refreshing.

After lunch we wandered in and out of various shops. One that caught my eye was a clothing store called Lunar. I recalled that they sold eco-friendly clothing and because this ties in with the work that I do I was keen to have a look. We entered the shop and browsed around. A lady was standing at a counter toward the back of the shop. She did not acknowledge our presence. I figured at some point she would. I was wrong! She walked right past us to close the shop door. Still not a hello! Needless to say, we left. What’s the point of being eco-friendly when you can’t be people-friendly?