Sunday, December 21, 2014

Someone is Watching

     In this wired world some computer somewhere is aware of what I do even as I do it. I know this, but there are times when it is more obvious than others. Last week was one of those times. It started Wednesday, when I called Express Scripts, my pharmacy benefits manager, as it likes to bill itself.
     OK, I guess it started a month ago when Express Scripts sent a letter telling me that Dr. Miller had not responded to their request to send them a new prescription for my blood pressure pills. I called the Columbus Clinic, but after spending what seemed an eternity listening to Columbus Clinic commercials interspersed with assurances that my call was important to the Columbus Clinic and an operator would be with me just as soon as one became available, or once hell froze over, which ever came last, I hung up. I tried again the next day and got the same result.
     A quick check of my pill supply, however, indicated that I was not in imminent danger of running out of Atenolol, the medication in question. "Hey, no big deal," I told myself, "I can call whenever." With that comforting thought in mind, I promptly forgot the whole thing for two weeks. I didn't remember on my own, of course. The Express Scripts' computer called one evening to say, "We have received a new order for you. It is scheduled to be shipped in one week." Focusing on the word "new," I concluded the new order was for Atenolol; my prescription for Bupropion has two refills to go and is therefore not new.
     My intention is not argue semantics with Express Scripts, but don't you think refilling a prescription would be properly referred to as an "existing order?" Apparently those in the pharmacy biz don't think so. The expected package from Express Scripts contained the unexpected Bupropion, not the anticipated Atenolol.
     Monday, I called the Columbus Clinic. Either I was more patient this time or the operator was less dilatory in answering my call, and I requested that Dr. Miller send out a new prescription. Twenty minutes later, a woman from the Columbus Clinic called to tell me, "your prescription has been sent to Express Scripts." I thanked the woman and spent Tuesday and Wednesday waiting for the Express Scripts' computer to call and assure me "we have received a new order for you. . ."
     The call never came, and Wednesday evening I girded my loins and prepared to tussle with the computer at Express Scripts. "Say 'request a refill' or 'check the status of an order,'" the computer said, when I called. "Request a refill," said I. "Wrong answer," the computer said, in so many words, after I gave it the prescription number for the expired prescription. Disheartened but not defeated, I called back and told the computer to "check the status of an order." "Say the date of birth of the person the order is for," it told me. After I complied, the computer said, "We have one order for you. It is scheduled to be shipped in two days."
     The computer never asked for my name, my plan's ID number, or my Express Scripts' ID number. I suppose it got all the information it needed when my telephone number registered in its innards. It is a comforting thought that the pills are on the way. But it is also a little disconcerting to realize so much information can be gleaned from my phone number.
     It must have been the emotional trauma of dealing with my pharmacy benefits manager's computer - it certainly couldn't have been klutziness, clumsiness, or carelessness - that caused me to spill a glass of water on my computer ten minutes after talking to it. Despite my valiant effort, the keyboard drowned. Friday morning, Russ took me to buy a replacement. On the way to Staples, I pulled out the credit card when Russ stopped for gas, when I got some bananas and orange juice at Publix, and when I got a few Christmassy things at Target.
      It was hardly a spending spree, maybe sixty bucks altogether. But I don't use the credit card much, and almost never use it at more than one establishment on a given day. Still, my profligacy Friday morning was enough to get the attention of the computers at the credit card issuer. At Staples, I picked out computer and handed the credit card to Russ - the units where you swipe the card are never at a good angle for me. He ran the card down the channel, and the machine wouldn't accept it. A message to call the credit card company appeared on the cashier's screen.
     The cashier assured us that this happens all the time during the holiday shopping season and then called the credit card company. She talked to them for a few minutes and handed me the phone. The credit card lady asked me my name. I told her. She asked for my user name on the credit card website. I told her. She asked one of my personal questions. I must have answered it correctly, because, however hesitantly, she approved the purchase.
     It was reassuring to know the credit card people and their computers where on the job. But a little embarrassing to be hanging out at the check-out counter trying to get the purchase approved.
     Then it was back to Covenant Woods, where Russ was kind enough to get my new computer up and running. The first order of business was to check my bank account to make sure the Social Security Administration had deposited the monthly pittance into my account. When I typed in my user name, however, the bank's computer shot back, "You scoundrel! You're not accessing us from Mr. Harris' computer. Think you're pretty smart, don't you? See these three personal questions, answer them, you crumb bum." I did, the bank computer apologized and asked me to give a my new computer a name. Once I christened the computer, I was allowed to view my bank accounts.
     As the curtain came down on another week, I felt more secure knowing I wasn't the only one keeping an eye on my credit card and bank account. Then again, I also felt like I'd been walking around in the pages of 1984, and Big Brother had been watching me very, very closely. 

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