One day last week I was enjoying a midmorning nap in front of the television when the phone rang. Caller ID indicated – for the fortieth something time – that the call was from my Medicare Advantage Plan insurance provider. I had let all the other calls go to the answering machine, but it occurred to me if I didn’t take a call soon they might send someone to see if I’m still alive, so I took the call.
When I picked up the phone a sweet young voice on the other end began her scripted speech, “Good morning Mr. Brown. I’m with your Medicare Advantage Plan insurance provider.” I could tell from the chirpy tone of her voice that she was excited to have someone actually answer the phone. “Do you have a few minutes to take our health and wellness survey?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said, still half asleep from my nap.
“I’d like to begin by asking what you were doing just now when I called,” Miss Chirpy said.
“I beg your pardon,” I said.
“I don’t mean to sound personal Mr. Brown. It’s just that when we call our male program participants we often find they are watching television, and maybe even napping.”
Miss Chirpy paused. Apparently her script called for a pause to give me an opportunity to defend myself or confess my sin of inactivity.
I hesitated, trying to think of something clever to say, but before I could speak Miss Chirpy took my hesitation as an admission of guilt. “Mr. Brown, have you heard of Silver Sneakers?”
“No, I don’t have any silver sneakers, but I do have a pair of brown boots,” I said, trying to ease my guilt with a little humor.
“Mr. Brown, it sounds like you could benefit from participating in our Silver Sneakers program at the Clermont YMCA. Let me tell you about it,” she said.
With the TV on mute I flipped through the channels looking for something interesting to watch while Miss Chirpy spent the next minute and a half extolling the physical, social, nutritional, intellectual, spiritual, and general life saving benefits of participating in the Silver Sneakers program.
She finally ended with an evangelical plea that stopped just short of intercessory prayer, imploring me to sign up as soon as possible. I was so moved by her supplication, I said, “Ok, I’ll sign up for Silver Sneakers, if you will promise not to call again.”
Oh, that’s wonderful, Mr. Brown.” There was a smile in Miss Chirpy’s voice that made me suspect she receives a bonus for each person she persuades to sign up for Silver Sneakers.
“Mr. Brown, I promise we won’t call again. But if you will bear with me, I have just a few more questions to complete the health and wellness survey.
“Okay,” I said, as I continued flipping through the TV channels. Miss Chirpy launched into a series of questions, pausing after each one for my answers. “Mr. Brown, are you able to feed yourself, (yes); dress yourself, (yes); walk without assistance, (yes); groom and bathe yourself, (yes); go to the bathroom by yourself, (yes)…”
I interrupted, “I can do all of those things, but isn’t asking me about going to the bathroom getting a little personal?”
“I know these questions sound personal Mr. Brown. I’m just trying to determine your functioning level.”
“Functioning level? You’re not going to ask me about ED or Low T, are you?”
With a bit of a chuckle in her voice, Miss Chirpy answered, “No, Mr. Brown, those topics aren’t in the survey. Now where were we? Oh yes, if you were unable to perform these activities of daily living, do you have someone who could help you with them?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I have a wife, but I don’t know if she would help me with those things. Would you like to speak with her?”
“No, that won’t be necessary. I’m sure your wife would want to help you,” Miss Chirpy said. “Let’s move on to another topic that is often a concern for senior citizens. Do you every feel confused, Mr. Brown?”
“All the time,” I answered.
“Let me be more specific. For example, do you know what day this is?”
“Sure,” I replied.
After a long pause Miss Chirpy said, “Well…?”
“Well what,” I asked.
“I’m sorry, maybe you didn’t hear me,” she said. “I asked if you could tell me what day this is.”
“Who is this?” I asked.
“This is Mary with your Medicare Advantage Plan provider, Mr. Brown. Are you okay?”
“Yes, how can I help you Mary?”
After another long pause Miss Chirpy, who was becoming less chirpy by the minute, said, “Do you have a calendar handy to see what day this is?”
It was obvious Miss Chirpy was trying to determine whether I was too confused to follow simple instructions.
“Hmmm, I don’t, but let me ask my wife,” I said. Holding the phone so Miss Chirpy could still hear, I called out, “Honey, there’s a lady on the phone that wants to know what day this is.”
“Who is it?” she called back.
“She said her name is Mary Kay Sandwich, or something like that, and she wants to sell us some insurance.”
“Tell her we already have insurance,” my wife called back.
I put the phone back to my ear, but before I could say anything Miss Chirpy began to speak – slowly and distinctly, dragging out each word and placing a heavy accent on each syllable. “Mr. Brown, I’m not supposed to give you my full name, but this is Mary Kay Donaldson, and I’m calling on behalf of your Medicare Advantage insurance provider.”
Then, returning to a normal voice, she said, “Mr. Brown, may I ask – you’re not confused at all, are you? You’re just pulling my leg, aren’t you?”
“Well, maybe just a little” I said. Then I added, “Yes, I do know this is February 27, 2013. Do you have any more questions?”
“Yes, I do,” Miss Chirpy said, sounding a little exasperated. “The last question is about your medications.”
But before she could ask the question I said, “Oh, I don’t take any medications, except for those little blue pills my wife gives me for my heart. Did I mention we have matching bathtubs in the backyard where we sit and watch the sun go down?”
I could tell Miss Chirpy was struggling to maintain her professional composure.
“That’s nice, Mr. Brown. I believe I have all the information I need for the survey. Thank you for taking my call, and don’t forget to sign up for Silver Sneakers.”
“Okay, and remember not to call me again,” I said as I hung up the phone and hit the mute button on the remote to turn the TV sound back on.
Well, it has been a whole week and Miss Chirpy hasn’t called back, unless she called while I was at Silver Sneakers and Yvonne didn’t tell me she called.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.