The doctor wrote the prescription in that Sanskrit that pharmacists are fortunately familiar with, and I took it immediately to the drug store. The swelling on my nose had been pre-cancerous, and I didn't want to delay.
“Your insurance is no longer valid,” the pharmacist's assistant said, emerging from behind the walled counter separating chemists from the public.
“How can that be? You remember me, surely, over the past dozen years?”
“Yes, indeed, but, if you want the medicine immediately... well, we could possibly put it on your credit card,” she said – adding “I'm afraid it's expensive.”
“Oh? How much is it then?”
I decided I didn't want to play around. “OK,” I said. The glitch had to be something to do with a forgotten email, or I'd failed to click on something, or one insurance company buying out another one, for example – something like that, and I would sort it out later and get refunded.
The tube I received was the size of an ordinary toothpaste tube, labeled “METRONIDAZOLE”. Whatever extensive Nobel prize-earning science and/or platinum-rated ingredients might be inside the tube I didn't know, but I read that each gram included Ceteth-20, edetate disodium, methylparaben, phenoxyethanol, and – I was strangely relieved to see – purified water.
At home, I looked up Metronidazole and decided to print the result, so I could struggle through its pros and cons while safely in a chair.
It was then that the 2nd problem arose – as they do with all of us – my printer was showing an error message on its little screen. “Remove right hand cartridge and re-insert.” This I did 5 or 6 times. When I put in the old #74 black right-hand cartridge all was well, except for the obvious faintness, but whenever I re-inserted the new #74 the message reverted to “remove right hand cartridge and re-insert ...”
Back at the computer store the manager wrote down an 800 number for me to call.
At noon I got through to a person – Raoul, who asked asked me for last name, first name, home address, email address, phone #, and so on – all things we are becoming warier of, on account of identity theft. In the back of my mind I wondered, what is to stop Raoul, or whoever was at the end of the line, from imparting all this to someone in Russia who would then make up a fake Visa card...? But it had been the manager who had given me this 800 number, and trust has to start somewhere. When Raoul asked me about my printer I said “but Raoul, I'm only asking about the defective cartridge.”
“What is the type of printer, sir?”
OK – and all his other questions on where I bought it, and when. Then,
“I need the serial # of the printer, sir.”
“You must be kidding,” I said, “it's only the defective cartridge – the old one doesn't give me this problem.”
“I'm sorry, sir, but it's protocol.”
I managed to unplug the printer, turn it around, and with a magnifying glass read him the correct numbers.
“Could you please hold, sir?”
The same music ensued. When he came back he said, “what is the serial ID on the new #74 black cartridge, sir?"
Again, with magnifying glass, I located it. “Please hold, sir.”
The music went on and on. I wanted to make my sandwich and an hour had elapsed, so then and there I hung up. I would live with being out of pocket.
Five minutes later my phone rang – the same 'unavailable' type of number. Should I pick it up? Turned out it was Raoul again.
“I'd like you to speak to my supervisor,” he said, “please hold.”
“No!!” I cried.
But the music returned. I resolved yet again to give up. Let me lose the $18. During my sandwich it rang again – but I didn't bother.
Some time in the afternoon I did actually pick up for the 'unavailable' #.
“My supervisor's here”, said Raoul. Some clicking. Then a new accent caused me to say “I think you are calling from India”.
“Thank-you very much,” he said pleasantly, if irrelevantly.
“I'd prefer the refund,” I explained.
“I'm sorry sir, protocol. We will send a replacement #74 black cartridge. If you can hold – ”
But thus it was, and the cartridge has actually already arrived.
Dr. David Nightingale is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the State University of New York at New Paltz, and is the co-author of the text, A Short Course in General Relativity.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.