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Silver Threads: Answering to real people

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

This morning a doctor came to our house to give my husband and me medical checkups. I got to thinking that it had been almost 60 years since I’d had a house call. I’d gotten scarlet fever while working at a newspaper in Jackson, Miss., and called for help when it became obvious that the ailment was more than just a garden variety “bug.”

The young medical man who drove up today is a newcomer to New Orleans, working with our insurance company, which for the first time since we’ve been on their rolls decided to check us out and do it at our home. Maybe it’s because we’re 80 and 85.

Anyhow, this reminded me again of all the things we’ve lost during my lifetime when it comes to service with a smile. When this column had been only a few weeks old on nolavie.com, I wrote about things like having to park your own car in CBD garages, having to pump your own gas, etc. But now things are getting more serious.

You’re required to go online in some big stores to file returns and apply for refunds. And look up online catalogs for classes when you’re going to college, get homework assignments via your computer when you’re in high school — and, yes, I know the student, tech-savvy generation can handle it, but when their moms and dads find a look-see warranted, perhaps to pay the bills, it can be somewhat confusing.

A state of mind I’ll leave to my 50-something daughter; I am, mercifully, not involved. But I do have to cope with the absence of those kind folks who once helped you accomplish things over the telephone.

I’m talking about ro-bo calls, which we seem to get almost every other day, most of them in regard to the medications that come by mail to my husband from the above mentioned insurer.

The robot assumes that when you answer your phone you are sitting down, pen or pencil and paper in hand, bottles of pills lined up in front of you. If you are not the patient, it rattles off the phone number the patient should call back, the number of the extension he will need, and a long list of both letters and numbers that will identify him to the insurer when he does return the call.

If you just hang up, as I do, because no robot has ever mastered an east Texas accent, tell your husband about the phone call and he returns it to a previously stored number minus the extension once he’s assembled all the necessary equipment, then you have to listen to him deal — loudly — with any remaining problems. And there are always some. This company has not hired a real person to work for it since goodness knows when — with the exception of the nice house-calling doctor.

I don’t deal with robots much, unless one calls to remind me of an appointment with the eye doctor, and just asks me to punch the number one if I plan to be there. But my husband persists in putting himself through this agony. His latest problems have been with his investment service, and the other day he had so much trouble that he hung in there until — miracle! — he managed to reach a very nice and caring woman who said she deals with 15 or 20 old, hard-of-hearing people every day.

It’s wonderful to know help is available! It’s even better to know folks like this empathetic person still have jobs.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]