Insurance and Technology

NOTIONS: The faulty presumption of perpetual accessibility

August 15, 2005

I was in pain.

I lost lots of blood. My blood sugar skyrocketed (I'm diabetic).

In the wee hours that Friday morning, nurses pumped me full of morphine, injected me with insulin and watched my vital signs while doctors pressed and squeezed, pushed and prodded, and talked it all over in hushed tones.

An hour before surgery, an anesthesiologist visited. He asked lots of questions about allergies and dental work. Then he warned me of potential doom-perhaps even death on the table. I nodded through the haze and signed his consent forms.

I signed lots of consent forms.

Lying in the darkened emergency room, laced with anxiety, drugs and pain, I had a long, heart-to-heart conversation with the friend who'd brought me to the hospital. At one point, she asked what I loved about each member of my family. I told her. And I knew that if I didn't make it, she'd tell them what I'd said.

Late that afternoon, when I came to, they rolled me up to a hospital room. I talked for a while with my parents and my friend. The doctors stopped by to see how I felt. I slept off and on.

About 6:30, I decided to check my many phones for messages. Because I'd been hospitalized in the middle of the night, then doped with painkillers and hooked up to monitors and IVs, I hadn't gotten to tell many people-including folks at my office-where I was or what had happened.

On one phone, there was a message from the hospital's business office. The caller said she needed my insurance information right away. Apparently, she couldn't tell from her computer that I was being operated on in the hospital she represents at the very moment of her call.

On another phone, there was a message from a woman hoping to change careers. She said she wanted to do what I do for a living. She said she wanted my advice on how to make the transition from her job to mine. She said she'd called me two days earlier and hadn't heard back from me. She said she really wanted to talk right away.

On my cell phone, there were two messages from a friend and prospective client. In the first, from that morning, he said he needed to talk right away because he was going out of town and wanted me to handle a project while he was gone.

In the second, from that afternoon, he said, "I'm getting desperate here, Bruce," and provided home and cell numbers so I could reach him that evening.

I called him from my hospital bed and accepted the job. (Hey, I'm running a service business here.)

When I got home Saturday afternoon, I hobbled downstairs to check my e-mail. Every step hurt like hell. The climb back up hurt even more.

Amid hundreds of new entries was one from my desperate friend reiterating what he'd said in his desperate voice mails.

There also was an e-mail message from another friend. In that one, he forwarded a message he'd sent six days earlier. I hadn't responded, so he was sending it again.

In the first message, my friend said his wife likes to write. He said he and their friends like her stuff. So he wondered if I knew of a women's publication editor or op-ed page editor who might take a look and render professional judgment. He attached a sample so I might weigh in, too.

In the second message, my friend said he and his wife were leaving for vacation soon and hoped to hear from me before they left.

They didn't, and I feel bad about that.

On Monday, the post-op pain persisted, so I stayed horizontal as much as possible. But I'd phoned some colleagues to delegate assignments and expected occasional progress reports. When none came, I phoned the office.

"Well," a colleague said, "We didn't want to bother you, so I sent an e-mail."

"I'm sorry," I said, "I know you're used to me being online all the time, but I can't get to the e-mail right now."

"Ah," my colleague said. "That explains why we haven't heard from you!"

So in a novel approach, we had a conversation instead of exchanging electronic messages.

We're blessed with technology designed to make our lives more convenient. But we're also cursed by the presumption that merely having these toys means we're perpetually tethered to them, that they dictate our priorities and that we'll promptly respond.

My friend who asked, in the ER, what I love about my family has more than 1,000 e-messages backed up in her inbox. She says she'll get to them when she's dealt with what really matters. I tell her that would drive me insane. But down deep, I know she's saner than any of us.



Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bhetrick@ibj.com.
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