[sub]Did I do the right thing?[/sub]
I’m an audiologist. Yesterday I saw an 85-year-old woman who I fitted nearly a month ago with digital behind-the-ear hearing aids. I worked for nearly a month trying to perfect the programming in the hearing aids in order to give her the benefit she was looking for, but she simply couldn’t distinguish the difference between these new, very expensive hearing aids, and her former conventional hearing aids. (This does happen sometimes…some patients who are accustomed to the conventional mode of amplification, never really adjust to the digital forms.) She decided today to return the digital hearing aids, and ordered a pair of conventional in-the-ear hearing aids.
On the way out, she said that she “put a little gift for me under my water cup.” There was a cup of water on my desk in my office, which I often drink from over the course of the day. But thoughts of the gift soon went out of my mind, for I had to see a patient immediately afterwards, a hearing evaluation, which put me in a different room entirely for over an hour.
During the lunch hour, I was in my office at my desk catching up on chart notes for the patients I had seen so far. I reached for the water cup at one point, and my eyes spotted what she had left behind.
A crisp, folded, one-hundred dollar bill.
I was stunned. Then I was horrified. Surely there had been some kind of mistake. No patient had ever given me a gift before, and I certainly was not expecting one of this value. I was thinking something like a chocolate bar, or maybe a card.
I made a phone call to the woman who had left the money.
“I wanted to talk to you about what you left behind at my office this morning,” I said.
“Yes?” Surprisingly coy.
“You left some money. A rather large sum. Are you sure you intended to leave that much?”
“Well, I just wanted to thank you for all of your hard work, and for how you’ve been to me. I’ve never felt so comfortable with someone about hearing aids before.”
I was flattered to hear that. When we first met, she had told me some stories about how she had tangled with a very unpleasant hearing aid dealer years earlier, an incident that put her off considering hearing aids for a long time. (Hearing aid dealers are not audiologists…they are essentially non-salaried salesmen working exclusively on commission, and the only educational requirement to be a hearing aid dealer is to have a high school diploma. Almost anyone can be a hearing aid dealer by the end of next week if they chose. Audiologists, by contrast, must have at least a master’s degree and go through an extensive period of internships and a clinical fellowship before they are even certified. Takes about seven years. And audiologists are typically paid a salary, no commissions, and so have a fundamentally different approach towards hearing aids. It literally makes no difference to me financially what kind of hearing aid a patient obtains.)
Thanking me is one thing. But a hundred dollars?
I told her that it was not necessary to give me this kind of gift. She insisted, saying that she had plenty to spare, and that she wanted to give a little something to “someone who was so dedicated to helping her.” She also said that she would be disappointed if I declined the gift. I thanked her profusely, and reminded her that I’ll be seeing her in two weeks for the fitting of the new hearing aids she ordered, and that she should expect a check for the difference in cost within a week.
A hundred dollars. A nice little bonus that will help cover the cost of an expensive brake job that my car had earlier this week.
I told the clinic’s main secretary (let’s call her Susan), about what had happened. To call her a secretary is a gross understatement of her role. She is, quite simply, the Supreme Being of the Clinic. As I have done with secretaries in all of the other clinics where I’ve worked, I’ve learned to get on her good side as quickly as possible. Because of that, secretaries have saved my ass from more blunders than I care to count.
But now Susan was not saving me from a blunder. She was giving me a shock. My boss (let’s call her Kerry), the director of audiology, would likely want me to give the money to her. The reasoning was that I was already paid a salary, and that “gifts” from patients to an audiologist could be interpreted as a gift to the clinic. Susan said she would mention this to Kerry, and that I should be prepared to part with the money. It would be regarded as a charitable donation to the clinic.
My first thought was, Shit.
My second thought was, Next time this happens, I will keep my big yap shut.
My third thought was actually the first thing I said out loud after hearing this: “Well, I’ve already called her and thanked her for what she gave me. If Emily ends up taking this money from me, I sure would hate having to call her up again to explain what happened to it. Oh, by the way, she’s coming back in two weeks to be fitted with the new hearing aids she ordered today.”
Susan froze. I was delighted with the reaction. I could imagine what the patient would do next if I had made that call. She might call up the Institute and ask for an explanation of why her gift to me was taken away. She might even cancel her order of the hearing aids ($1500) out of sheer annoyance. It would look bad, the word of mouth could be ugly, and Kerry always tries hard to project a positive image of the clinic.
Susan said, “I’ll be sure to tell everything to Kerry.” I then relaxed, knowing that Kerry wouldn’t dream of taking the money way after worrying how the patient might react.
Sure enough, about an hour later, I got a message from Susan on my office voicemail saying, “Kerry says you can keep the money.”
Was I greedy? Selfish? Your call. I know that I was definitely annoyed with the idea of Kerry taking away what had been given to me by a patient.