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Shouldn’t Our Hospitals Be More User-Friendly?

If you have an old-fashioned dial telephone, you will have trouble doing business with a nationally respected Westside hospital.

A good friend named Patty Windom had been the recipient of some stitchery the day before at this hospital. I wanted to tell her that I was coming across town with some calves’ foot jelly and a stack of nightgowns. I have found after more than a few hospital pass-throughs that nothing is as good for the morale of a lady in an electrical bed as a great store of fresh, perky, lacy nightgowns.

They are mostly to raise the spirits of the patient. It also takes up some of the leftover time in that 48-hour-day hospitals have developed to struggle out of one gown and into another. Patty is an incandescent kind of lady who cares about her friends and knows that laughter helps everything.

I was going one day last week when the rain blew sideways and the fog sat right on the deck.

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I wanted to be sure Patty hadn’t left the hospital, so I punched the number I’d gotten from information. I think the voice that answered identified the hospital, but then it immediately went into its taped recitative. The voice was that of a woman who sounded as though she had a voice box that some smart Cub Scout had made out of a sardine can and dental floss.

“If this is an emergency, push 1, naaow.”

I said in the smiley voice I use for policemen and insurance claims adjusters, “Well, it isn’t really an emergency but, see, I have these nighties for my friend Pat Windom and it’s raining so hard, I don’t want to start across. . . .”

I stopped, wisely, because the lady was taped, of course, and she was clanking right along about which button to push if it were something else I wanted besides an emergency. There were “Patient Location” and all kinds of things. You apparently must have a push-button phone to get past this taped lady.

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I finally managed to get Patient Location and Patty’s room number, and then an authoritative male voice came on, telling me that I should punch in the room number, preceded by 805. I smartly did that and was rewarded with the sound of a human voice, telling me I had done it all wrong. I explained about the father figure who had told me to do just that.

Pretty soon she was gone too, and I was listening to a dial tone, which sounds the same whether you have been talking to Erector sets or people.

I started again and the first recorded lady came on and told me about punching 1 for Emergency again. I did and her sardine-can co-worker said, “All of our Emergency operators are busy; stay on the line and the next available operator will take your call.”

I hung up. I was still trying to talk to Patty and take her the nightgowns, which really weren’t emergencies. I waited a few minutes, grateful that it was not an emergency, and then I called again and talked to all my tin friends again. The final voice, which was real, spoke quite sharply to me, telling me that I had dialed my friend all wrong and that she, a real person, had listened to me do it.

See, what you do is hang up, dial the area code, the prefix and then the room number, and you don’t go through the mechanical group at all. I finally reached Patty and told her I was on my way.

When I reached the large hospital, I fished around in my wallet and found that I was without funds. Nada. Zip. When the man in the house at the entrance of the third parking lot that I floundered into started to punch me out a ticket, I said, “Stop. Please don’t do that. I have no money, but I have come from Pasadena in the rain with some nightgowns for my friend Patty Windom. Now, she is a pretty girl with a handsome husband named Bill, and she’s the light of his life and he has bought her lots of her own nightgowns, but there are never enough. Don’t you think I’m right?”

The man in the little house was a pleasant-looking man. He was looking at me as if he were listening to the tin troupe. I told him I could write him a check. He said, “Of course, lady. Come on in, please. And park.”

I did and schlepped through the rain and picked a building at random. Patty was in there, and I found her after only asking three people.

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I gave her the nightgowns, made small talk with this nifty, good girl, and walked back to my nice man. He smiled and took my check for $2. I told him he was a nice man.

He said, “And you are a nice lady.”

And he said it all by himself. I didn’t have to push one button.


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