Primary Care Manager? I Need a Human Being


"For those leaving a message, please include...a detailed request. Please allow up to 72 hours for a request to be processed. Please refrain from leaving multiple messages and calling several times during the day to check on the status of your request."

This is the voicemail message I hear when I call my Primary Care Manager here on post. I don't even really think about it anymore. I no longer expect to talk to a human being when I call about medical issues; I just leave my messages. Unfortunately, when you're dealing with reproductive issues, some of the stuff is really time-sensitive. I wrote years ago about trying to get a hold of a human being on a Friday when I was having a miscarriage and really needed some human help:

And the next day, which was Friday, I was supposed to get a phone consultation with the doctor and a prescription filled. I called at 10 AM and left a message. I called at noon and left another message on a different machine. An hour later, I got a call back from one nurse, saying she’d follow up and make sure my prescription got filled. At 2 PM, I called the advice nurse and asked if she knew what was going on. At 3:30, the advice nurse goes home. At 4:20, no one is answering the phones in reception any more. At 4:30, you can no longer leave messages on voicemail. I called the pharmacy: no prescription had been called in. And now it was the weekend. My mother said, "You mean NO ONE is available to help you on the weekend?"

My mother was freaking out. "This is how things work for you? You haven’t talked to a human being all day long, just answering machines!" But for me, this was totally normal. I never talk to human beings when I call the hospital. I don’t even know how to call a human being, save the advice nurse. In fact, that’s why I called her in the afternoon, just because she’s the only human being I know how to reach! My mom was shocked that someone, anyone!, didn’t call me during the day to let me know what was going on.

My husband called from Iraq at 5:15 PM to see how things were going. Five minutes later, the doctor beeped in. I had to hang up with my husband from Iraq to talk to the doctor! If that doesn’t suck, I don’t know what does.

So it goes when you deal with your PCM. But we recently moved to a small post with only basic services offered at the clinic, and now I have a referral to an off-post doctor.

And it freaks me out when a human being answers the phone.

The first few times it happened, I got all flustered. I am so used to being told that I need to allow 72 hours for a medical reply that I am usually formulating my answering machine message in my head while the phone is ringing. The nurse answered and I stammered my request. She put me on hold and asked the doctor and picked the phone back up and told me the answer.


After a few times of this happening, I started to think maybe I had this nurse's private telephone number by mistake. Surely there was some answering machine I was supposed to be talking to instead. She, having been in the military herself before, just laughed and said that I had the right number and that it was her job to answer the phone and help me if she wasn't busy with another patient.

What a novel idea.

Am I the only one who is flummoxed by normal amounts of human interaction when it comes to health care? Anyone else completely institutionalized already?

Photo courtesy of David C. Foster

Sarah has been married to her soldier for 10 years: a decade of six duty stations, four different branches, and three deployments.  She's currently enjoying a non-deployable duty station and is very happy it coincides with their daughter's terrible two's.

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