An Unhappy Misunderstanding

This entry is part 5 in the series Victory in the Valley

—Victory in the Valley – Chapter 4—

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . . 

woman praying

I hung up the phone after speaking to my mother. I looked at Rob. “I guess we’d better phone the medical aid for authorization for the operation. Do you have the number?

Phoning the Medical Aid

In South Africa, we pay a considerable monthly fee to belong to a medical aid. If we are hospitalized, they pay all expenses. For out of hospital requirements, they will pay out of what they call the M.S.A. (Medical Savings Account) which runs out all too soon. Unless we are hospitalized in an emergency we are required to phone in advance for their authorization which guarantees their full payment.

Rob rummaged through his drawer for his Medical Aid card. 

“Do you need to do this, or can I?” Again I felt a need to do things for myself.

Again I felt a need to do things for myself. Click To Tweet

“You can do it if you’re sure you want to.” Rob gave me the number, hugged me once more, and took himself off to the kitchen to make us each a cup of tea. 

I smiled as he left the room. Rob’s cure for all crises—a cup of tea.

I dialed the number and settled down on the edge of the bed. After the usual run-around between different departments and people, I at last arrived at the correct extension.

“I am phoning for authorization for an operation I need to have,” I began. The lady made a note of our medical aid number, Rob’s name, my name, and a whole host of other information.

She then asked, “What is the operation?”

I licked my lips. This would be the first time I had used the name to a stranger.

“A Mastectomy,” I said firmly. “I have Cancer.”

The voice on the other end of the phone showed as much compassion and understanding, as she would have done if I had said I wanted my toenails cut short. 

A nonsensical conversation

She proceeded to fire several more questions at me. Then she concluded, “Of course this will have to go before the Board for consideration. But in the meantime . . .”

“Before the Board?” My eyes widened in confusion. “When does the Board meet?”

“Next week,” replied the jaded voice. “But there are a couple of things you will have to do first . . .”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” I interrupted. “This cannot wait a week. I am seeing the surgeon tomorrow, and the surgery will probably be scheduled for the next day or so.”

“Oh that’s out of the question,” retorted the woman. “These things take time you know. Besides, no decision can be made until we have seen a set of photos.”

“Photos?” Did she say photos?  “Photos? Did you say you wanted photos?”

The lady sighed. “Yes, lady, I said photos! You cannot have an operation of this nature until you have submitted photos. Then the Board will decide whether it is necessary.”

“But there’s nothing to see!” I exclaimed. “I presume you mean X-rays?” I couldn’t believe my ears. This conversation couldn’t be happening. It had to be some sort of nightmare, and I would wake up soon.

“No I do not mean X-rays!” snapped the woman, obviously annoyed with me. “I said photos and I mean photos.”

The tensions and horror of the last few hours boiled over.

“Well if you want photos you can go and take your own!” I exploded rudely. “And while you are about it I’d like your name!”

During the pause that followed my outburst, I overheard muffled talking, and then another calmer voice started to speak.

A voice of sanity

“Mrs. Corder? What seems to be the problem?”

“What seems to be the problem?” I repeated. “I have just learned that I have to have urgent breast surgery and I am being asked for photographs! That’s what the problem is! I have never heard anything so crazy in my life!” Tears of rage and frustration started to well up, as the receiver was removed firmly from my hand.

My normally calm and controlled husband spoke into the mouthpiece. “What exactly is going on here? What is this talk about photos?”

He listened for a moment and then said in a tone of amazement, “What do you expect to see on photographs?”

Another pause then, “Look, may I please speak to the head of your department?” Pause. “You are? Well, I need to speak to someone else then. My wife has just learned she has Breast Cancer. She faces urgent surgery. And you want photographs? Don’t be ridiculous.”

All the calm of the past afternoon flew out of the window. I fought a losing battle with hysteria as I heard him say, “Well perhaps the person who answered the phone in the first place needs to learn to listen! And she had better learn some medical terminology if she is going to continue with her job.”

He listened some more and then, tight-lipped, he handed the receiver to me. “She wants to speak to you. Don’t worry—it’s okay.”

I took the receiver from him reluctantly.

“Hello?” I croaked.

“Mrs. Corder, I am so very sorry about this misunderstanding,” an upset lady said. “I didn’t realize you had just learned you have cancer. I thought you said you’d had a Mastectomy for Cancer. I thought you wanted reconstructive surgery, and for that, we have to have photos. Please forgive me.”

The “misunderstanding” was entirely her fault. I had made myself perfectly clear. I had also stressed the urgency of the matter, but I saw no point in making a further scene. I already felt embarrassed by the way I had reacted, and I felt I should have handled my side of the conversation better.

“It’s okay,” I muttered with as much grace as I could muster. “Mistakes can happen. But what do I do now?” She gave me an authorization number that I had to quote at the hospital and then with further profuse apologies, she hung up.

I collapsed in my husband’s arms in tears. Yet another lesson in the “No Easy Way” department, but I hadn’t expected problems when I elected to phone the medical aid.

I blew my nose and reached for my cup of tea. “Now to let the boys know.”  

Now read on: Getting out the news

These events occurred between 17 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

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8 comments on “An Unhappy Misunderstanding

  1. Gripping writing, Shirley. Can’t wait fòr the next episode. You’ve touched a nerve with your topic and made your blog really useful and interesting. Your book is going to fly!

  2. Thank you for sharing, Shirley. I’m sorry you had to face this conversation, stressed as you were with your health and the surgery to come. I’m certain that your story will help others.

  3. Oh Shirley, that’s so awful that your discussion went like that. Where is the compassion in people and this insurance business?

    • Thanks for the visit, Lori. Looking back, I can chuckle. But at the time, it sure wasn’t funny.

  4. Dear Shirley, thank you for sharing this story, I’ve been reading the four parts this morning and can’t put it down – I should be making school lunches and getting the kids ready but have loved reading this, it certainly puts life in perspective. I find it amazing how blunt and cruel the people are you have had to deal with, but I suppose maybe they have to be working in that kind of profession, to have empathy for patients would be impossible. What an incredible story of faith & courage… I look forward to reading more. Much Love xxx

    • Katie, thank you so much for your encouragement. Yes, I think if you work in the medical fraternity you do have to have the ability to not get too close. I’m a retired RN myself though, and I hope I am nicer to my patients than these two people were! Fortunately, they were the exception as you’ll see if you hang in with me! I plan to post twice a week (Tuesday and Friday) so I can get through the story, otherwise it keeps people hanging and they’ll lose the momentum. Many blessings!

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