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What started as a normal, quiet Saturday morning would soon become the most difficult situation we have ever dealt with.
Anthony Chong, Rafik, Nika and I are on duty this Saturday morning. Its quiet and uneventful in here. Anthony had said that he will work till 1:30pm only today, because he has to leave early to attend to some private matters. That keeps us positive all morning. We don’t attend to patients when the optometrist on duty is away, so we’ve booked patients till 1:00pm only. The rest of the afternoon is open for whatever. I’m looking forward to a pleasant, chatty pizza afternoon.
We’re expecting Mrs. Ngozi Smith and her husband to step in any moment from now. They’re booked for the 12:00pm and 12:30pm appointments. At about 12:30pm I see Mr. Smith peering through the glass door to see if his wife is with us. I recognize him, because they came in last week to look at our selection of frames and book their appointments. I wave to him and he comes in to ask if his wife has arrived. Since she hasn’t, he decides to go ahead with his exam now, so she can take his time slot, when she arrives.
I take my time in conducting Mr. Smith’s pretests. He needs rather more attention than other patients and I don’t want to stress him. Ngozi Smith steps in at about 12:45pm. I ask why she’s limping and she explains that the brace in her leg is causing her some pain. Its something to do with the change in weather. Nika and I finally get Mr. Smith through his pretests and ready for the doctor’s exam. As Dr. Anthony Chong leads Mr. Smith to the consulting room, he tells me he’ll see our 1 o’clock appointment before he sees Ngozi. Doesn’t sound good. Something nasty may hit the fan this afternoon.
Hannah steps in at exactly 1 o’clock to keep her appointment and is welcomed by Nika. I complete Ngozi’s pretests and explain that the doctor will see Hannah first, because Ngozi was late. “That’s fine,” she replies. We seem to get on well; Ngozi and I, perhaps because we’ve visited each other’s country of birth. We made that connection last week, when I told her about my early years in Nigeria and she mentioned how much she’d enjoyed her visits to Ghana. I’m relieved she doesn’t fuss, so I thank her as I move on to complete Hannah’s pretests. Rafik has taken off for lunch and Nika is filing some lenses in the back.
Anthony comes out with Mr. Smith a few minutes later and leads Hannah in at about 1:10pm. I invite Mr. Smith to pick the frame he prefers. Ngozi joins in naturally and after they’ve been through a few tries, they settle on a designer frame and we sit down to do business. I work out the pricing and take the necessary measurements to custom fit his lenses. He decides to wait and pay for both prescriptions after Ngozi completes her examination.
We’re chatting about living in Vancouver when Anthony steps out of his consulting room with Hannah at 1:30pm and leads her to Nika to fill out her prescription. He walks over to Mr. and Mrs. Smith and tells them he has to go. “What? Are you kidding me?” I only just keep myself from yelling.
“What do you mean you have to go?” Mrs. Smith asks combatively.
“I’m sorry, I was only taking patients till 1:00pm today. I have some important matters to take care of now.” Floors don’t give way when you need them to; they’re not very user-friendly, so I have to brace up for the nasty something that’s about to hit the fan. Husband and wife look at each other and then there’s an awkward silence. Mr. Smith asks how long the tests take. Dr. Chong tells him it’ll take fifteen to twenty minutes.
“Can you reschedule? Do you have time to come in next week?” Dr. Chong asks.
“No I don’t have anytime during the week. I’m working all week.”
After a short pause, Dr. Chong asks, “How about the weekend? We’re open next Saturday, but not on Sunday.”
Ngozi says she can’t do anytime next week. “I’ve already paid for the exam, so if it’ll only take fifteen minutes, can’t you just do it now?” Ngozi asks earnestly.
“But I have to go, I’m already 10 minutes late,” Dr. Chong replies with a smile.
“I’m sure you can spare me the few minutes.”
Anthony looks at his watch and walks back to his office. I assume he’ll come back with an answer in a few seconds. Nika completes Hannah’s prescription and promises to call her as soon as her new glasses are ready for pickup. As we wait, Ngozi complains to her husband and somewhere in there, she says I shouldn’t have collected money and performed the pretests, if I knew Anthony wasn’t going to see her. I tell Ngozi that I didn’t know he’d refuse to see her. Anthony had only mentioned that he’d see Hannah first before her. Ngozi agrees it’s not my fault. I begin to feel very uncomfortable after about three minutes with a no-show from Anthony. I decide to go and see what he’s up to. His office is empty; the lights are turned off!
Oh No! I look for Nika in the back and ask her where Anthony is. She says he’s talking on his phone just outside the back door. I check and find he isn’t there! Now that thing is definitely going to hit the fan and there wont be any place to hide. “Nika, he isn’t here,” I tell her in a deathly calm voice. I’m mortified.
“What do you mean he isn’t here?” she replies.
“I mean just that; he is not here.”
“Wait, that doesn’t make sense. He just left? @>*#! OMG how can he do this?” I’m too shocked to speak. She’s shocked too, which explains the swear words.
“Oh dear, what do we do?” I ask.
“Where the hell is Rafik? Call him to come in right now!” I get on the phone in the back room and tell Rafik that we have an emergency; he needs to come in right now! He insists on taking his full lunch break and will come in in 10-15 minutes. I’m absolutely mortified! I squat, perhaps in the hope that I will become invincible. Who’s going to break the news to the Smiths? Nika refuses to. She says they’re my patients, so I must see this through. I get up and walk reluctantly towards them.
“I’m sorry, the doctor has left,” I tell them with trepidation. I want to cry and laugh at the same time.
“I don’t understand; you mean he’s not in his office? Where did he pass?” Ngozi asks me with some anger in her voice.
Nika replies from behind me, “We have a back door. I thought he was speaking on the phone to reschedule his after hours appointment, but he left. Sorry, can we reschedule your appointment with him?” And then the stuff hits the fan.
“This is unbelievable!” Ngozi shouts.
“I’m sorry,” I say to both of them.
“No don’t apologize. I know how you feel right now, but it’s not your fault,” she says. “This is very unprofessional! How can he do this? Exactly what impression are you giving of yourselves? Oh no, this is very bad! Very, very bad!” I’m sorry is all I can manage. Mr Smith again tells me not to apologize, because it’s not my fault.
“I know, but we work as a team, so we’re accountable for each other. Dr. Chong has never done this before; there must be some emergency he’s attending to.”
“No, don’t make any excuses on his behalf. This is shameful and I’m going to take it up with your head office. I mean, how? Is it because I’m black?”
Oh please! Let’s keep it monochrome. I know race does count out there, but here in UN Optometry, we’re race neutered. Nika is quick to refute the racist charge, but she’s stumped when asked to explain Anthony’s bizarre behaviour. The Smiths have had enough. Ngozi demanded her money back, which is totally reasonable. I hope she doesn’t cancel her husband’s order too. Nika and I are not authorized to grant refunds, so we’ll have to wait for Rafik.
“Call him and tell him to get here now, I’ve already wasted enough time here,” Ngozi tells me.
“I have; he says he’ll be here in about 10 minutes. Again, I want to say how sorry I am …”
“Save that; I refuse to let you take the blame for this. I am going to report him to your head office. How can he do this; just walk out on a patient? How long has he been a doctor?” she asks.
Nika chimes in “Ten years.”
“Ten years? And he can behave like this? I doubt it, this is shameful!”
“That’s why I say it must be something very important,” I try to tell her.
“I don’t accept that.”
Rafik walks in; thank God there will be an ending. “I hear something dreadful has just happened. Let me apologize as the manager …”
Ngozi just cuts him off. “Don’t waste my time. You have already wasted enough of our time. I’ve told them that I’m going to report this to your head office. Just refund the money I paid for the exam.”
“Right, sure I’ll refund the exam, or let me offer you a discount …,” Rafik begins to say.
“So I have to come back here? Are you serious? I’m not stepping in here again and I’ll tell everyone I know not to come here. I mean how can you treat a patient like this? I saw some good reviews on this place online, but really, you guys are so unprofessional, I’m disappointed. I know I was late; it was because of my leg injury. Yes, I could have called to tell you, but I didn’t have your number. In any case you should have told me he can’t see me, as soon as I came in. You know what, just refund my money.” You’d think that marked a unilateral ceasefire, but hostilities continued all the while Rafik was processing her refund.
Mr. Smith chose an expensive frame. I wonder if we should offer him a discount to placate them. Or will he cancel the order? I really don’t want to ask. Thankfully, Mr. Smith pays for his order without questions. I’m so relieved; I apologize again. He understands, he says and turns to Rafik, “This is sad, I mean even if you’re working as a team how can he do this? Look at her,” referring to me, “she’s so embarrassed she doesn’t even know what to do. Your doctor is not a good team player.” I process his payment and tell him when he can collect his glasses. They leave very disappointed. I’m devastated. The experience leaves me wondering where I went wrong and what I should have done to avert, or make up for this disaster.
It takes a slow morning, a culturally diverse city like Vancouver and some artistic talent to pull this one off. Don’t try it if you have great talent; you’ll miss the ball and make a fool of yourself.
“Want anything from Starbucks? I’m going out to get some breakfast” Nika says, as she grabs her purse from her bag.
“A bottle of water, thanks.” I’m never big on breakfast. Matthew thinks I didn’t exactly understand Nika’s question and nominates himself as official interpreter on this occasion. Get lost.
Nika does better. She stares at me for a moment as if to make certain I’m not separated from my senses and then; “Since you’re out of ideas I’ll get you a muffin.”
Matthew stops Nika as she turns to the door. “I’m very offended Nika, how come you didn’t ask me what I want?”
“Dude, because you’ve already got your coffee.” Why do they insist on poisoning themselves with all the stuff they drink instead of water? Nika meets a young lady at the door. She holds the door open for Alice to enter and heads off to Starbucks, just round the corner. Wilma greets our prospect warmly, introduces herself and concludes with the inevitable, “How may I help you today?”
It turns out Alice is a patient of ours. She’s dealt with the Surrey outlet in the past, but happens to be in town and wonders if she can have a pair of contacts, since she’s run out of supplies. Wilma explains that she’ll have to call the Surrey outlet for the prescription and proceeds to do that. She returns to Alice after the phone call and asks, “Which brand of contacts do you want?”
Wilma explains, perhaps without enough flourish, that Alice has already had 2 free trials and will have to pay the full price of $40 plus tax, for the pair we issue. With that, she unwittingly provokes a display of pure drama; live, indoor, in the intimate space of our clinic, and with no special effects. Just drama in its pure form.
“You’re going to make me pay for them?” Alice asks with surprise.
“Oh yes; do you think they are free?”
“But I don’t have any money right now, and I thought you give out free trials?”
“Yes we do; 2 free trials and then you have to make up your mind. Surrey told me you already had 2 free trials, so you have to pay for this pair.” Oh great help, Wilma.
“But I don’t have any money,” Alice repeats, as she begins to cry. “You don’t understand; I’m a struggling artist. I don’t have any money. I don’t even have money to do my hair, look at this mess!” She raises both hands to her hair. Now this may require a Security Council resolution. Where’s Rafik?
“I’m sorry I can’t help you. Its company policy.” That’s Wilma for you anyday, not just on a slow, rainy morning. Rafik. And why is it taking Nika so long to get the breakfast from Starbucks?
“I’m a struggling artist; I’ve no money and I can’t see, because I lost one of my contacts.” Wilma looks away and tells Alice she should have been more careful. I go to Alice with a box of tissues in a bid to calm her down. She takes 2 tissues alright, but continues pounding at us with sobs, “Struggling artist” and “No money”. I’ve half a mind to demand that she replace the tissues, but how do you collect in such cases?
After a barrage of sobs, “Struggling artist” and “No money”, came a seemingly innocuous “All my money is online. I’ll pay by Paypal, if you want. That’s all I have. I just need to be able to see!” Yeah, thanks. Wilma takes refuge in the Staff-only toilet, as the bombardment continues.
“I’m sorry Alice, you can’t use Paypal for this purchase,” I explain as courteously as I can. She’s unrelenting … and the roof continues to hold; let something give! Rafik joins us from the back-end of this room that serves as our all-in-one clinic. He has a pair of contacts with him, which he offers to Alice. They’re a courtesy pair, he says. They are free, but not a courtesy pair. They aren’t Harmony brand. We’ve had so many customer complaints on the brand he’s offering Alice, that we’ve stopped issuing them altogether. Security Council resolutions are … well, Security Council stuff.
Alice is happy to leave with the “courtesy pair” and promises to bring us one of her paintings. I picture a van Gogh on our wall, facing the entrance; the first thing you’ll notice when you enter our clinic. And then I begin to wonder. How would we have responded if Alice had that stature when she walked in this morning?
Nika returns with our breakfast. “Where’ve you been, Nika?” Matthew asks, “We just had a classic patient!” No; where have you been, Matthew? Vincentia van Gogh just walked out of here.
“I’m sorry, but the voucher isn’t intended to cover your whole purchase; these glasses cost more than the voucher provides for,” I heard Nika say for the nth time today.
“What do you mean it can’t cover my purchase? So what exactly is the voucher for? The advert stated clearly that a certain amount goes to the eye exam and I have a credit towards frames. Why won’t it cover this purchase?” Mr. Bobka, our 11:00 o’ clock appointment, is clearly upset. I know the answer to his question very well. Its one we have given repeatedly, in recent days. I feel like a broken record each time I hear myself repeat it, but thankfully, it isn’t my turn to respond this time. Nika gives me the silent “Oh my God, just kill me” look. I turn away; its the best I can do to avoid bursting out with laughter. Nika has clearly reached her limit for the day, as far as the promotional vouchers were concerned.
“Okay sir, but consider this; you have $150 only for the frames and …”
“No, it says complete eye-ware in the advert; what is eye-ware?” he asked.
“I can only answer one question at a time sir, so let me finish.” I wince. I see Mr. Bobka’s shoulders become tense and can tell he’s gearing up for a face-off. “Yes, it does say eye-ware, but lets do the math. You have $150 towards eye-ware, but you’ve selected a designer frame which costs $299, so there’s no way to avoid paying extra. You’ve already spent … where’s the calculator?” I watch Nika pick up the calculator to compute the the charges.
Mr Bobka is faster. “$149,” he says.
“Yes, $149.” Nika raises her head from the calculator. “See? You already know it, so what’s upsetting you?” Mr. Bobka ignores the question and piles on more complaints about the promotional voucher.
“So what you’re saying is I can’t get complete eye-ware for $150? Then this is false advertising!”
Nika simply sighs and stares wide-eyed at him. “I understand why you feel that way. I agree that the advert didn’t explain this fully. It could have been worded more concisely, but you must understand that we really cannot accept the voucher to cover all costs. You may want to take it up with the voucher issuer.” (Bomb head-office for screwing us up). Mr Bobka had contacted the issuers and was assured that it is possible to get a pair of full prescription glasses for $150. Nika smirks at that. “Well yes; it is possible, if you pick a frame from the section I showed you earlier.”
He turns toward the discounted section and then back to her. “But there’s nothing good in that section,” he says in exasperation.
“Well I’m sorry then, you’re going to have to pay the difference, if you insist on keeping this frame. Please understand that we didn’t offer to alter our pricing with this promotion.” Mr. Bobka isn’t having any of it; he’s here with a voucher in hand and intends to walk out with the glasses of his choice. Unfortunately, Nika is not quite the pick for a fight. If only the world had responded when Kosovo screamed for help! There’s such beauty in her character; I find her candor especially refreshing in this city. And she’s remarkably efficient at what she does, but you must avoid a fight over what is just, if you can help it. I almost feel sorry for Mr. Bobka.
Rafik steps in to enforce an immediate ceasation of hostilities. “Hi Mr. Bobka, I’m the manager, have a seat and lets talk.” He points to a chair and moves over to the other side of the counter. The counter forms an effective DMZ in such situations. Now what?
“I’m not interested in talking with you crooks anymore; I just want my money back.”
Rafik gives a nervous chuckle and affirms that we’re not crooks. He attempts to differentiate our job from the voucher issuers. Nice try. He launches into a spaghetti explanation of why Mr. Bobka can’t have a refund. He has already redeemed half of the voucher value with the eye exam and prescription from the doctor. Needless to say, Mr. Bobka isn’t happy. He feels tricked and trapped.
“No one explained this to me when I walked in here!” He sounds a decibel, or two higher than he did with Nika, so I reach for my protective helmet; the earphones in my pocket. I always keep my flak jacket in place, of course. Its the attitude, “Hey, the customer wants the best deal he can extract.”
Rafik negotiates a truce. “Look, I want to keep your custom and the frame does look good on you. Why don’t you keep it with a 15% discount? That’s not what we offer customers, but I’m willing to take the flak, to make certain you walk out of here satisfied.” I wince again; it is what we offer customers who spend more than $300. Mr. Bobka’s facial expression is on longer one of despair. He looks like a boy who has just received a loonie from the tooth fairy and I’m happy for him. I’m happy for us too. This truce will hold. The voucher stinks, but hey, don’t leave the client without a dignified exit; why ruin your day and his?