Patience strained in all aspects of life

Never has our capacity for patience been so frighteningly tested as in the pursuit of vaccines. I have written about finally connecting and getting my first shot. (Fingers crossed for the second shot.) Examples abound of others still being thwarted, especially in Charlie Baker’s Massachusetts. Consider my friend Tony. Having failed repeatedly to get an appointment online, he tried by phone, without success. On the morning his cohort became eligible for an appointment, a recorded message put him on hold and said his wait time was 33 minutes. After 33 minutes, another recorded message came on to tell him his wait time was 33 minutes (again), and then, for a third time, a recorded message said his wait was 33 minutes. About ten minutes later, a recorded voice came on to say his wait was one and a half hours. He hung up. I can only begin to imagine the impact on his blood pressure.

And then there were the computerized messages on the Massachusetts website, sweetly telling the would-be applicant “your wait time is 65,640 minutes.” The pandemic could be over by then! That website has been a disaster, as I have written before. To give Charlie Baker a little sympathy, he finally explained that every week the demand by health care providers and the state mass vaccination sites is for 450,000 vaccinations. Yet, every week, the feds are providing just 130,000 doses. Demand is outstripping supply nearly four to one. Despite that lack of vaccine, there’s no forgiving the administration’s failure adequately to communicate the facts or to rationalize the process for signing up for appointments, even if it takes a while actually to get vaccine into arms.

Baker’s experience as a health care executive, most recently as CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, coupled with his managerial experience as former Secretary of Administration and Finance and also Secretary of Health and Human Services, surely should have put dealing with this vaccine distribution challenge right in his wheel house. Despite the state’s somewhat improved performance in the last ten days, that presumed sweet spot for our Governor was chimerical.

During the pandemic, many of us have relied on the internet for purchasing food, medical supplies, and other necessities. When I needed to replace my printer last fall, I had to wait months due to increased demand from home offices. Trying to identify providers and equipment availability and successfully place an order was an exasperating experience shared by millions during this pandemic. Getting the printer and getting it to function properly with uneven tech support were further tests of my patience.

Obtaining replacement toner cartridges proved an equally epic challenge. My printer said I had ink left for just 50 pages. Amazon had none in stock. On January 12, I ordered a package of toner cartridges directly from HP, which they promised would be delivered by January 25. When the cartridges didn’t come as promised, on the 29th I called HP again, only to be told they would come the following week. They didn’t, so I called again on February 8th, when they could no longer provide any date when they would be available. Each time I called, of course, it took up to an hour and being routed from one department to another, and back again. On February 9th, with my print capacity rapidly reaching zero, I found out the cartridges were in shipment, and I’d be receiving a tracking number within three days. The tracking number let me learn that the cartridges had arrived in the Fedex hub in Memphis, but the ice storm was delaying shipment from there. Compared to the existential importance of vaccine distribution similarly disrupted by the weather, my printer/cartridge concerns are trivial. I can accept the vagaries of Mother Nature.

Then, on February 19th, even though no cartridges had arrived, I discovered duplicate payments charged to my credit card on two successive days. This error was worth heading off, so I plunged back into the nightmare of HP’s customer support. I was transferred from one department, the Laser Ink Jet Team, to the billing department to Customer Service (which disconnected) to another “dedicated team” back to Laser Jet Team (who didn’t know why I was transferred there for the second or third time) to another “special dedicated team,” who said, “thank you for patiently waiting.” Each of the many calls was at least an hour. I was bounced from one department to another, each requiring me to go back to Square One in providing the case (or transaction) number and to recount the entire saga – step by step by step. The final department tried to persuade me that the second charge was pending and would be removed when the cartridges arrived. The cartridges arrived on the 22nd, but the extra charge didn’t go away. So now I’ve engaged my credit card company in the dispute process. So it goes…

Now, I know that this isn’t the life-and-death urgency of lining up an appointment for a COVID vaccine. But I find myself wondering why the pursuit of immunization is as frustrating as garden variety failed Customer Service, why the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should treat its “customers” with the same cavalier attitude of HP or your local cable or phone company. Do state officials assume that they can treat groups eligible for vaccine with the same disdain as a Microsoft or Verizon? Must they disrespect people’s time, disregard people’s stress level, discount their humanity?

It’s now almost exactly a year since we went into virtual lock-down. The quality of our patience is sorely strained, and we are among the lucky ones. I think often of the others.

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