Kind words from an unexpected stranger

The other day I made a phone call to one of Ellis’ healthcare supply office. We’ve been their customer for seven years and never questioned their bill. They became a part of our family through the years.

I signed the contract, a scroll-like document, for all the supplies we needed at home when Ellis got discharged from the hospital at one-month-old. I led the way holding a baby carrier and the hospital volunteer pulling a red wagon filled with medical supplies to help load into the car. Here’s my list of supplies: feeding pump, pole, tube feeding lines, bandage tape, dark glass jug of MCT oil to mix with formula, gauze, scissors, IV bags, syringes, charger, oximeter machine, weight scale, pole, and a thick binder of instructions and phone numbers. I felt like I had undergone a super accelerated and condensed nursing program to bring my kid home.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, Ellis quietly sat in her car seat looking around at the outsides for the first time.

Something about that first month and going through traumatic situations together, we have been two peas in a pod. Since the time I held her on my knees looking at me in the ICU, with wires and tubes coming out of her, I have been lost in love as a protector and mom. We stayed together always. Even when admitted to the hospital, she would freak out if I was not on the bed with her. Nurses, exasperated with her crying, would just get an adult bed and have me lie down with her. It was better than the chair, but even a small baby takes up a lot of bed space. I always had cold butt as it stuck out to make more room for her in the middle.

That’s the backdrop for my story. Needing to reorder supplies monthly, it became an unquestioned part of our lives. We ordered religiously for the first 5 years of her life, but it’s been sporadic for the past 2 years. Lots of changes in diet, routine, and stomach upset that made us reconsider supplemental night time feeding of extra caloric formula. Also, to hear the whirring of the pump throughout the night keeps me in a state of half awake/ half asleep mode. Then, if you don’t follow close instructions, you end up with formula spills, stomach upset that leads to throw up, beep sounds from the pump, extension line wrapped around the kid during sleep, changing all the bedding in the middle of the night, wiping the carpet with damp towel so floor doesn’t smell like vanilla milkshake, or washing face and hands from the throw up debris.

Current goal: get all of her nutritional needs by oral eating. This is a lot to ask for these heart kids because their heart works overtime in pumping blood, burning calories quickly. Weight gain is painfully slow. When she says “I’m hungry,” I panic. I feel that if she does not eat something right at that moment, she will pass out. I see that as a reflection of myself as a good parent. It’s irrational, I know.

Well, it just came to my attention that I was not aware of the fine print from the company. We receive lots of hospital bills, insurance company letters, packets of Explanation of benefits, and duplicates of hospital bills that are overdue, insurance pending, or payment not processed yet. The paperwork is confusing and interpreting the deductible, out of pocket, maximum, OMG, it’s baffling for lay people like me who do not fully comprehend the billing terminology.

Anyways, last week I received 10 separate bills in one day from the collection agency. It was kind of funny as I handed Elliot the empty envelopes to recycle. I didn’t realize our bills were this overdue. I assumed that we weren’t being charged for months we didn’t order supplies, which were quite a few months. Well, I forgot that we were renting the pump. Fine print: If you have the pump, you pay for the monthly supplies whether you order or not. Had no idea.

Spoke with the customer representative, billing department, blah blah blah. All the same thing. I don’t know where my anger was directed: me or this company. I couldn’t believe my oversight and complacency; I couldn’t believe their fine print and the continual repeat that this is their policy. It seemed unethical to not update parents of this billing practice from time to time. When your kid has a chronic illness, a lot of things fly straight through your head and forgetfulness runs rampant. You’re too tired and too worried.

I was exasperated and asked to speak with the supervisor. The lady asked me, “for what?” and I got majorly pd off. But there’s Ellis looking at me as I’m talking on the phone; she knows it’s about her because these phone conversations begin with confirming patient’s name and date of birth. Ugh, can’t get too mad on the phone or she may think I’m mad at her. She may think she’s to blame for my frustration.

All these things are going through my mind, and in the middle of it, Elliot calls “Mommy” like 5 times asking me if he could eat the peanut butter-jelly sandwich on the counter and Ellis announcing that says she needs to poop. Adult reality and kid reality; my mind felt like mush.

Ok, I’m taking too long here. I didn’t have the bandwidth to carry this conversation further. I called the collection agency to settle the debt. I needed to be over with this or it’ll hang over my head the rest of the day, the week.

I’m so mad that I’m sobbing on the phone as I tell the collector our account number and all that confirmation info. The guy must’ve thought I was nuts or either being dramatic to get a lower settlement. I explained the situation and asked what final settlement amount he could offer. I thought he may assume I’m not sincere with my story, so I had to explain that I was going to pay the bill but that this whole situation upset me tremendously.

I never expected to hear words of comfort from a debt collector: Don’t be too hard on myself.; It’s understandable how I could’ve not known in the middle of all this medical drama with your kid.; It’s a shame I wasn’t notified about this during a service pause.; He apologized that I was going through this but that now I know and can decide whether to continue business with them.

I cried more thinking how God comforts me through unexpected people. He knows the big toll caretaking has on me emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But when I feel the day is too long to bear, He sends surprises in is perfect timing. Knowing that He cares so much to convey affirming words to me made me sadder with gratefulness and humility that He acknowledges a flawed person like me.

It was a surreal conversation. You don’t usually think of a debt collector showing this kind of thoughtful understanding to a collectee. His kindness made me cry more. Settled the debt, cancelled the account, and cried because I felt relieved to have this behind me.

The kids asked me why I cried. I explained that I was mad at myself for a stupid mistake of mine. I apologized to Elliot that I was short with him when he was just asking about a sandwich. Ellis shakes her head side to side like a grown up, saying “Mommy, it’s ok. Everyone makes mistakes.”

p.s. I am posting this without further edit. It takes so long to edit that it may keep me up through the night. I’m not upset anymore and have made peace with the situation. The medical supply company is just doing their business and I have the choice to change providers. No hate…I’m over it now.

30 thoughts on “Kind words from an unexpected stranger

    • Thank you P!! You love and encourage me each time I go out on a limb. Can I tell you the same? I am grateful for your honesty, humor, and details. Always friends and always rooting for each other. Love much!

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  1. I am such a softy I am crying reading this. Not only at your frustration and anger which I totally understand especially given the extensivity of this contract…..they should have at least called once a year to go over plan and ensure your needs are being met. But the fact that this man took time to reassure you and talk you down is awesome. And kids are so forgiving. We as parents are so hard on ourselves…..you know mountain out of molehill…..so what kids are blase about we are freaking. I am all over Tember about not eating. I panic buy all these easy lunches and snack foods and yet I come home and he is eating yogurt and fruit all day. Smoothie. Yop. Which now that I have written it out actually does look like a lot…..but I still believe I am not feeding him enough. When he looks at me and says mom I am full and in my head I think I am starving him. As for bills we all get caught. Things get away from us. You are doing amazing. Do not be too hard on yourself love please. Easier said than done I know…….you are talking to the Queen of Being Too Hard on Oneself……. πŸ™‚

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    • Thank you Jae-lyn for your thoughtful and heartfelt comment!! I loved reading what you said. I’m not alone in feeling this frustrated about this medical supply company, and I agree that they should’ve updated their customers. Oh well…lesson learned. A very expensive and frustrating lesson.
      I couldn’t believe this guy’s nice words. His kindness was unexpected and that conversation was the only redeeming thing out of this thing.
      It must be a mom thing! We are always worried about our kids not eating enough. Always ready with that second serving even before they’r’e done eating their first serving. That’s what makes moms special and how we show our love. Don’t worry…you’re not starving Tember. You’re doing a great job too! Let’s keep going and thrive as moms and do it with sass and attitude. πŸ™‚ Hugs…have a great weekend.

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  2. How nice that someone personalized the conversation with you instead of just being an automaton on the other end of the telephone line. And your kids are wise beyond their years sometimes!

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    • Thank you for your kind comment!! My kids surprise me with their maturity at unexpected times, but on a regular basis, they are silly and full of shenanigans. Not too long ago, they used to pretend they were T-Rex’s and jump on me.
      You don’t think that a debt collector would be that nice. They probably are good people in real life, but in their jobs, they may need to be curt and aggressive to collect the debt. ugh…I feel for both parties.

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      • Ha ha – I’ve never had kids, nor been around them (I never had siblings and only met my cousins who were around my age) at my grandparents’ respective funerals. My mom and her brother were estranged from years before. He borrowed money from their mother and never paid it back. My mom said it was wrong and he said “don’t tell me what to do.” Never spoke again until the funerals – just cordial. I never even babysat. One time we were visiting a friend of my mom’s. She used to board babies for the Children’s Aid Society in Toronto. She had a tough time parting with them when they were adopted as she had them as newborns. She ended up adopting four of those kids. Anyway, she had a boarding baby and we were visiting her from the U.S. She and my mom were talking and she asked me to hold the baby – I said “no, Mrs. Gibbs – I never held a baby before … I might drop it.” She plunked it in my lap anyway and said “here, give her the bottle” … did that and she spit up milk in my brand-new purse that was open and sitting next to my leg. I was aghast and Mrs. Gibbs and my mom thought it was funny and said “it’s milk Linda – really?!” First and last time around a baby or child.

        I just thought your kids sounded mature – likely they were scared something would happen to you and the idea of their security gone in a minute. I think they are more mature anyway given Ellis’ condition – they are more careful, less rowdy and the fact they are home schooled and not interacting with other kids, most who have no manners or consideration for others. I see them in stores – no not all of them.

        There is a young woman who followed me about a year ago. She writes poetry, a different poem almost every day. I’m not big on poetry but I’d read it and try to comment. Then she disappeared for six months. That was odd. I sent a message to her and said “you okay?” Turned out she is only 18 years old – thought she was much older and some of her poetry is dark. I think there is a reason she is homeschooled … maybe medical limitations though she has never said this. Just a feeling. Anyway, she told me she had always been homeschooled and didn’t get out much into the world. I told her I wondered as she was mature for an 18-year old … most are flighty or immature at 18. Perhaps the debt collector had someone in the family or a friend who lost a lot due to the pandemic … lost their job, can’t pay their bills/obligations.
        I am thinking that is just it. Lots of people are hurting right now. I feel sorry for people who have lost everything due to this COVID crisis,

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      • Linda, your story of the baby spitting up on your new bag is unfortunate, but so comical too. πŸ˜‰
        Getting used to being comfortable around kids take time and experience. You learn something new everyday when you’re with kids and become slightly immune to gross things. I wish I could write down how many funny and gross situation I encountered raising these kids…like poop flying out of a diaper when I dramatically threw the diaper in the air to get the kids to laugh. Had no idea there was a solid nugget in there. One time Ellis got really sick at a restaurant and she was sitting on my lap facing me. My MIL was with us, and if she saw Ellis get sick, she would want to leave right away. Get this, Ellis barfed in my shirt pocket. It was warm and yuck.
        Babies spit up as much as they eat.
        Thank you so much for your kind compliment!!! I appreciate it. I really wish my kids would be mature, responsible, and develop their faith. It’s a very slow work in progress, but I reinforce by telling them how to respect themselves and others.
        The debt collector was gracious. You have a great point: maybe he knows someone who went through a hard time. It’s great that instead of turning that experience into resentment of why bad things happen, he has empathy. It is a sad situation with COVID…feeling stuck and helpless for so many.

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      • Gee, I thought my story was pretty horrid – you have me topped there. I think it is a good thing I never had kids – not a good candidate for motherhood. πŸ™‚ Yes, it may have been the debt collector was touched by your story due to similar circumstances – that made a camaraderie with you and he showed empathy. Empathy is hard to come by these days.

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      • Thank you! I have more stories but I won’t bore you with them here. They’re kind of hilarious. You begin to speak in language kids love to lighten the mood or break through a funk: poo, pee, booger, farts, etc.
        I know what you mean about empathy being low these days. It makes a big difference in how you interpret other people’s experiences an gives you a softer heart.

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      • Having never had siblings makes a big difference in interacting with other kids aside from friends, I mean when you are in your own home. Funny. Yes, empathy is important these days – customer service people and how they deal with your problem can make/break your day sometimes.

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      • Empathy is a wonderful trait to cultivate. Makes you more personable and likable and gives you a better perspective on life. I think it can diminish misplaced anger too.
        Sibling relationships are complex and competitive. But I think they’re learning a lot together and they have a fierce bond. My little one is much smaller than her brother, but she will stand up to him. War ensues, as well as tears.

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  3. Thanks for sharing your story because I hi k so many of us can really relate!!
    I have a few stories – like a hotel that we cancelled on time and did not get our credit – and I was pretty fatigued and tired from other things that years and so shed some tears on he fifth phone call –
    β€”
    But we all have different experiences and you did show lost of β€œgrace” with your response – and I know the company had any right to do what they what – but another thought I have is what I hate about medical and health stuff in the United States – it is horrible that it is big business here and the truth is we do not have the best health care system in the world – we need an overhaul –
    A medical system that is β€œfor-profit” is problematic
    β€”
    Anyhow – hope you are doing well his weekend

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    • Hi Yvette! I know what you mean about making those frustrating phone calls. If you happen to talk with a helpful representative, it makes the ordeal much better But If you talk with a grouchy person, that’s a whole other experience. I tell myself that being nice will make for a better experience overall, but it’s hard when the person keeps saying the same thing over and over, like this is the policy or there’s nothing we can do. They’re like machines.
      Thank you for your encouragement! It wasn’t pleasant. But this isn’t the first time I’ve made these phone calls. So many doctor’s offices have different policies and you never know what bills you’ll get. Health care is in need of positive changes and to provide say on the bills. It’s ridiculous what they charge. I’m sure they have their rationale, but it’s kind of insane if you see the numbers.
      It’s great to hear from you! I hope you are doing well and having a good Sunday. πŸ™‚

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  4. This is the first time I’ve read your blog. What a wonderful post this is, a challenging situation with a beautiful ending:). I love that your kids were able to be part of that blessing and that your daughter had such lovely words for you!

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    • Thank you so much for your kind comment!! I’m so glad that you came to visit and read my post. Really appreciate it.
      It was a challenging day for me, but it was cathartic to share my experiences on my blog. Writing it out helped me to sort through this encounter and to bring meaning to it.
      I was shocked by my daughter’s response too…her words take me by surprise often.

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