This Thursday, I got up from a refreshing nap at around 7:30pm, and as I always do I immediately got on my tablet to check my email and make sure that www.scottdrotar.com was up and running smoothly. When I tried to get on my wireless network though, I was able to get local network functionality, but I could not connect to the internet. I had been online that afternoon, which made me think it was just a minor technical issue, so I tried various quick fixes such as resetting my modem, refreshing the network, and restarting my tablet, but nothing helped. So, I dug out my most recent AT&T statement to make sure that I had not forgotten to pay my bill, and I found that I had paid my account in full less than 3 weeks before and had the confirmation number to prove it. Armed with all of this information, I called the customer service number listed on my bill. After traversing the maze of automated questions I was finally connected with a technical support representative, Randy.
I gave Randy my account information and explained the situation, at which point he started looking into the problem. He informed me that the account number I gave him had been inactive for over a month, and that another account was listed as active for my address, but it had been suspended for lack of payment. He also said that there was also a third account listed as inactive for my address from last Fall. I explained that I had just paid the bill that was mailed to me, so something had to be active, and I asked if all of the accounts were inactive 1) how had I been online that afternoon, and 2) what was I paying for? He said he had no idea and was equally as confused, but only the billing department could access that information, and they were only open during business hours. At this point, I started to get frustrated, but I was still in control of myself, so I said, “Ok, Randy. I will sort out the billing issues tomorrow, but what can we do right now to get me back online?” He asked me to hold while he tried a couple things, and after 20 minutes of waiting he said, “Mr. Drotar, I apologize, but until you can speak to the billing department to sort out exactly which account is active and such, there is nothing I can do.” At this point, I was no longer able to keep my cool, and my emotions took over. I explained how ridiculous and frustrating this was, but since he couldn’t help me, I was done wasting my time and hung up.
All of us have experienced situations like this, be it with a phone company, insurance provider, or some other source of bureaucratic red tape. You try to remain calm and politely resolve the issue you are having, but it seems like no matter what you say or do, you cannot get the information and help you need. As you get transferred from department to department, and put on hold countless times, you get more and more frustrated until you either get angry enough that you convince them to actually resolve your problem or you give up. This feeling of helplessness that arises in these scenarios is one of the worst feelings you can have. You feel completely powerless because your autonomy and control over your situation has been taken away. As terrible as this feeling is with situations like this, this feeling of complete helplessness is even worse when you are losing control over your entire existence. This is a feeling that I have had to learn to deal with in order to live an independent life.
A perfect example of how awful this feeling is occurred one night a couple of weeks ago. Every night, I wake up every 2 or 3 hours for one of two reasons. Either I am stiff and need to be repositioned in bed to get more comfortable and avoid pressure sores from starting, or I have gone too long without pain medication and need a dose of fentanyl to avoid withdrawal symptoms and my pain from spiking. Whichever it is, I have to call out for my nurse to come help me. I even have a baby monitor set up in my bedroom to make sure that they can hear me when I need them. Every so often however, I will call out for them and nothing will happen.
This is what happened a couple of weeks ago. I woke up at around 4:15am, and I was in a fair amount of pain. I needed repositioned and a dose of fentanyl, so I called out for my night nurse. I wait a minute or two, listening for any sounds of movement, but I hear nothing. I call out again, much louder this time, as I look at the baby monitor to make sure it was on, which it was. Still however, I hear no movement from my nurse in the other room. I yell for her as loud as I can several times over the next 5 to 10 minutes, but there are still no signs of life from my nurse. At this point, my pain is increasing, and my emotions are starting to take control. As I continue to yell, I start thinking, “Did she abandon me? Did she fall asleep? Did she have a stroke and die? Am I going to have to lay here in pain with no fentanyl until 8:00am when my day nurse arrives?” The more I call out, the more my panic takes over as these thoughts go through my head. I feel completely helpless and out of control as I lay there, yelling myself hoarse, while my pain gets worse and worse. After more than 30 minutes of this, which felt like an eternity, my nurse did wake up and come running to help me, but it took me a while to get my emotions back under control after experiencing this feeling of utter helplessness.
Even though I have had to deal with situations like this 3 or 4 times a year over the last decade, it is one emotion that I always have a hard time coping with. Although I have gotten much better at getting myself back under control after the scenario has resolved itself using breathing and visualization techniques, in the heat of the moment I am always unable to prevent that feeling of panic and powerlessness from taking hold in my mind. I know objectively that my nurse would not abandon me, and I also know that if they have dozed off that they will wake up before too long, but those thoughts of abandonment and other unlikely scenarios still run rampant in my brain making me feel more and more helpless. Losing your entire sense of power and control over your life is such a powerful, primal feeling that it takes over no matter how hard you fight it.
The one positive thing about having to get through these bouts of complete helplessness is that when I start to feel powerless over something like an AT&T bill or Medicaid claim, I can remind myself that even though I feel helpless that it could be much worse. Those nights where I lay in pain, completely alone, without any control over my life, give me perspective in these more trivial, trying situations. I hope that after reading this story, that the next time you encounter a time when you feel like you are totally helpless, that you will remember how much worse it could be. They can only take away as much power as you let them, so if you can keep things in perspective, you will be much more likely to achieve your goal, and at the very least you will be happier while you do it.