Rules for the sake of having rules can be extremely annoying. Sometimes I laugh and shrug it off. Other times, I go to war.
For example, when the library calls my home phone number to inform me a book is being held. An automated voice asks for my security code before relaying the information. This top secret number is the last four digits of my home phone number - the number they just called! I find it humourous more than anything else.
I'm not as forgiving when it comes to dealing with people whose inability to reason is less developed than an answering machine.
For the last few months the government has been touting the new Healthlink 811 service. My experience with it began when Lydia cut her finger. As mentioned before, she has a thing about tetanus shots, and immediately began wondering if she needed one. It was a Saturday morning, our family doctor was not available, and Lydia did not want to go to a walk-in clinic where she feared picking up some exotic disease.
So she called 811.
The operator took her information and assured her someone would call back in half an hour. Lydia gave permission to relay any information to me if she was unavailable. Two hours later, with no call, Lydia decided to chance the walk-in clinic. Minutes after she left the phone rang.
"May I speak with Mrs. Toal?" a nurse asked.
"Is this 811?" I asked. "Are you calling about the tetanus shot?" I could still contact Lydia's cellphone and save her a jab if necessary.
"That's confidential," I was informed.
"No it's not," I said. "I was there when my wife called." I gave her every detail of the call, trying to prove that I was in on the secret.
"I can't discuss that with you," the caller told me.
"We just want to know if a tetanus shot is needed," I said.
"I've told you, I can't discuss this with you."
"Okay, hypothetically, let's say someone hasn't had a shot in about seven years, would they need one if they nicked their finger on a knife?"
"I can't discuss this with you," was the reply. "When do you expect her back?"
"That's confidential!" I hung up and then called 811 for an explanation.
For several minutes I got the same spiel. Eventually, a manager called back when Lydia returned home - after getting her shot. It turned out that the call centre employee had improperly marked the original call as confidential. Later, the nurse called back with an answer to the tetanus shot question.
I fumed at the bureaucratic stubbornness of it all. Would it have killed them to supply an answer to my hypothetical question? What should have taken less than a minute ended up taking almost an hour of their time - and mine. Perhaps a portion of our tax money could have gone into training some commonsense?
Next time, I'll just have Sylvia pretend to be her mother.
Confidentially speaking, Kevin Toal is a freelance writer.