Sunday, April 28, 2013

Irritating Customer Service

As soon as I entered the Hilton lobby, a young man approached.

“I’m the assistant front desk manager” he said. "I’ll take you to Mr. Frank’s room.”

“I know how to get there.”

“He’s a VIP. We want to make sure everything goes smoothly.”

We took the elevator to the penthouse. The manager knocked. When the door opened, he announced the doctor’s arrival, waved me inside, and walked off.

It seems a no-brainer that when a hotel provides good customer service it should (a) provide the service and (b)… there is no “b.” It simply provides the service.

But hotels can’t leave well enough alone. They feel the irresistible urge to (a) provide the service and (b) MAKE SURE THE GUEST KNOWS IT!!!

For example, when I phone a hotel I want to reach my party quickly, but I’m forced to listen to something like, “Good morning. Welcome to the Del Mar, the premier choice for business and pleasure in Southern California. This is Roxanne. How may I serve your every need?” (I’m not making this up).

I’ve never understood why businesses order employees to greet everyone who passes. It’s supposed to be a friendly greeting, but no one can keep up the cheer after greeting a few hundred strangers, so I’m forced to respond to a string of bored salutations as I make my way to a guest’s room. The poor housekeepers (whose English may be limited to “good morning”) don’t look up from their work as I pass but dutifully follow orders.   

Monday, April 22, 2013

How To Choose a Good Restaurant

My wife and I went to New York for a week; that’s the reason for the absence of blog posts. I moved there after college to become a playwright, thought better of it, and attended medical school at NYU before returning to California. Although much changed, New York remains a hellish but fascinating city.

We had a good time. We were especially pleased at the consistently excellent meals. This was not always the case in previous visits, and I’m writing to explain how we achieved this.

In the past we searched internet sites such as Urban Spoon, but reading opinions on food is surprisingly unproductive. Internet restaurant reviews consist mostly of suspiciously enthusiastic praise plus the occasional rant from someone who’s had a bad experience. Even choosing restaurants with high approval percentages is a crapshoot. I have discovered a better method.

I stick to $$$ ratings. As you know, sites label restaurants as $ (cheap), $$ (moderate), and $$$ (expensive). We decided that the eternal search for superb, low-priced meals is a waste of time. By sticking to expensive restaurants, we had a delightful string of meals.

I’m sure you can poke holes in this technique, but I defy you to suggest a better one. Ironically, evidence for my discovery came in one trattoria in Little Italy where prices on the menu were lower than we were accustomed to. I wondered if its $$$ rating was a mistake. That may have been true because the food was OK but not what we had come to expect.        

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Pantomime

"Buenos dias!”

“Hello. I’m Doctor Oppenheim,”

I entered the room and listened as she explained her problem in Spanish. Most Latin Americans speak enough English to get along; in any case they travel in groups, and there’s usually someone to interpret.

“It sounds like you have a cough. What are your other symptoms?....”

She waved her hand to indicate noncomprehension and continued her recital. She was elderly and alone, a bad sign. Most people hate to stumble along in a foreign language. If I’m patient they often reveal some facility, but this lady stuck to Spanish, performing the usual pantomime, pointing to her throat and head, waving a bottle of medication under my nose.

“How many days have you been sick….?”

Another wave. What to do…. I could call her travel insurer, but interpreting over the phone is tedious. I could phone the front desk. The clerk would cheerfully agree to send up a Spanish-speaking employee, but he or she might not appear for fifteen minutes or half an hour if at all. I looked out the door, hoping to spy a housekeeper but no luck.

My spirits rose when a middle-aged lady arrived, but she merely joined the pantomime, tapping various parts of her companion’s body. Finally, an adolescent girl appeared. She had undoubtedly paid little attention during English class but had no objection to trying her hand. Her English was terrible but good enough for my purposes, and everything worked out. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Stress Around the World

According to experts, half of our patients suffer a problem that also includes stress which a doctor must take into account. You may think this is medical science, but it’s really medical culture. “Stress” is America’s explanation for symptoms without a satisfying explanation. I rarely make the diagnosis, but patients make it for me. If a guest comes down with his third cold this month or a particularly stubborn backache or upset stomach, he’ll inform me that he’s been under stress lately.

Unlike most doctors I see patients from around the world, and it turns out that other nations don’t suffer much stress.

Germans suffer low blood pressure. It’s considered a genuine physiological disturbance. German doctors seek it out and treat it, often with medication. Long ago, I was puzzled when young Germans with fatigue, headaches, indigestion, or flu symptoms wanted their blood pressure checked. Then I learned.

The French ignore stress and don’t suffer low blood pressure. Perhaps because of the universal consumption of wine, French tradition teaches that subtle liver disorders produce many distressing symptoms. 

Constipation was once the great English preoccupation. This was thought to produce “auto-intoxication” from retained waste that leaked toxins into the body. Surgeons would occasionally remove a patient’s entire colon. They don’t do that today, but many laymen still consider it beneficial to undergo a “colonic,” in which a technician inserts a tube into the anus and washes out all those toxins.

Traditional healing in China emphasizes a medicine for every condition. I’m sure you would be insulted (and so would any educated Asian) if I were to suggest that you expect a prescription every time you see us, but doctors often get that impression.

I regularly explain to puzzled Chinese parents why it isn’t necessary to treat every symptom of their sick child. On other occasions, when I explain that an adult’s minor illness will go away without treatment, I see him exchange a look with his wife that clearly means, “What bad luck! We go on a vacation. I get sick. Then I see this foreign doctor who does not know the proper medicine!”