Cranky Ethics Encounters In A Rotten Week

The unexpected death of my mom on Saturday tends to make everything else in my life the past week fade to insignificance, but the last seven days featured more than my usual quota of confrontations when thrust in the path of conduct that seemed just wrong to me:

  • Staying at a Fairfield Inn and Suites, a Marriott chain, in Greensboro, North Carolina, I found myself running behind schedule for a morning presentation. Rushing to take my shower, I was stopped cold by the shower controls, which made no sense at all. The long handle didn’t seem to do anything, and the round knob inside it had no effect either. Since I have the mechanical skills of a rodent, and am constantly embarrassed by my ineptitude, I fiddled with the knobs longer than I should have before giving up in a panic and calling the front desk.

“I can’t get the shower controls to work, and I’m late!” I blurted out to the woman manning the desk. “Send someone up right away!”

“Oh, the shower controls,” she said calmly. “Here’s what you do. Turn that outside lever all the way to the right. Now, you see that knob in the center? Turn it. It doesn’t seem like the water will go on, but if you wait a little bit, it will. I’ll wait. Go try it.”

Sure enough, that sequence got the water running.

“You sound like you give those directions a lot,” I said.

“Oh, lord, yes,” she replied. “It happens nine, ten times a day at least, ever since we put those controls in.”

Oh, really? Then why don’t you replace the controls? Why don’t you print out directions to operate them, since people of average intelligence who have stayed in hundreds of hotel rooms can’t figure them out? Why do your guests have to try futilely to work them, feel like fools, lose precious time, and finally have call down to the front desk in a panic, when you have plenty of evidence that your showers are inconveniently and badly designed? Why should your guests suffer because your contractors decided to take a kick-back to foist off on Marriott some remainders of worthless shower controls someone wanted to dump cheap?

Ethics Verdict: Incompetent.

  • Driving in my Northern Virginia neighborhood, where there are some missing sidewalks here and there, I began to take a right turn and narrowly missed hitting a baby carriage, being pushed in front of a young woman in work-out clothes who was jogging in the street. It scared the living daylights out of me, and I turned my car around and drove back to the woman.

“What are you thinking?” I asked. She also had to take ear buds out. Jogging in the road with a baby carriage, and unable to hear, either. Perfect. “You are jogging in the street with an infant! I almost clipped the carriage, and I wasn’t even going too fast. There are plenty of sidewalks in the neighborhood with curb cuts; there is no reason to risk taking your child into the street by taking a route like this one!” She put the ear buds back in and started jogging away, with the classic “it’s none of your business” sneer I know so well.

None of my business? When I kill your baby after you pushed her in front of my car, it will sure be my business. A mother endangering an infant because she’s a careless fool and cares more about her jogging route than protecting her baby from unnecessary peril is everyone’s business.

I considered driving ahead, getting out of my car and telling her off, but I didn’t. I hope that baby lives to be able to jog by itself, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Ethics Verdict: Irresponsible and Reckless

  • I went to the local CVS Pharmacy to pick up my anti-gout drug that I’ve taken every day for 25 years. There was a mess-up when I turned in a prescription for it about 90 days ago; my pill bottle said I was out of refills, but there was one last one waiting for me at the counter, automatically filled. The pharmacy had failed to inform me it was there, so I had the new supply filled before the old one was finished. When I had explained all this to the young woman behind the counter earlier today, she said there would be no problem. I could pick up the pills later.

Now, however, that same assistant was saying that she couldn’t fill the prescription. She had called my doctor’s office, who said that they hadn’t written a prescription for that drug since December. “That’s right,” I said. “I explained the mix-up, which was yours, not mine. I gave you that slip in December…the new prescription. I had to use up the last refill, 90 pills, before insurance would pay for the new one. Now it’s used up. Now I need the new prescription, which you have, because I gave it to the pharmacy in December”

“I’m sorry, sir, but we have no record of it,” she said, brushing me off.

Don’t tell me that, ” I said, my voice rising. “You guys didn’t tell me about the refill that had been prepared in December. You filled the new December prescription and then canceled it because it was premature. You kept the slip. You told me there would be no problem today. If I don’t take those pills, I get gout, and am in excruciating pain and on crutches for weeks. I want my drugs, and I want them now.”

“Sir, I shouldn’t even be here; I was supposed to get off an hour ago!”

Great. The old “it’s not my job” excuse. “What?” I said. “Why are you telling me this? You’re the one handling my business; don’t duck responsibility because you have some scheduling problem. You’re supposed to help me, not make excuses. You’re making your work hour issues my problem, and they aren’t my problem. Do your job.”

“I don’t get paid to be yelled at, sir!” she said, tearing up.

“Listen…I’m sorry you don’t know how to do your job, but frankly, I’m not going to accept a gout attack because you can’t fix a problem of the pharmacy’s making. I need the drug, this is your fault, I am not going to go back to my doctor, wasting my time and spending money, for a prescription that this pharmacy lost. Fix the problem.

So, weeping. she called her manager, a 20-year-old who looked about 15.

“Do you know anything about my drugs?” I asked him.


“Do you know anything about pharmacies?”


“Then get out of here; I don’t want to talk to you. I want my prescription.”

At this point, the real pharmacist, who had been scrupulously ignoring everything, walked over and filled my prescription, since, she said, my story was consistent with the information they got from my doctor, the records did show that I had been taking the drug and getting it there since the 80’s, and yes,they probably lost the record of my prescription.

What was this, some kind of behavioral test of reactions to frustration? Why did I have to go through all that? Why did she wait to see if the pathetic, weepy assistant could solve their problem by making me give up and go away? Because the staff is inept, and unwilling to be accountable for its ineptitude, even though it has an impact on their customer’s health, that’s why. They forced me to be “the bad guy” before they would make a good faith effort to help me, because most people shy away from confrontation. Sometimes, even I do. Not this week, though.

Ethics Verdict: Incompetence, Lack of Accountability, No Empathy

5 thoughts on “Cranky Ethics Encounters In A Rotten Week

  1. Jack,

    I am sorry to hear about your mom, please accept my condolences.

    The story about the jogger with the baby carriage really pulled at my heart. About ten years ago, one of my employees did the exact same thing,
    but her outcome validates your concerns. I intubated her in the emergency room and had to pronounce her dead a short while later. Thankfully, the toddler in the stroller rolled to safety and was not harmed at all.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you.

    Scott Clark

      • Sympathize about your run-in with the incompetent pharmacy clerk. Reminded me of the time I tried to accomplish some real estate business in a county clerk’s office. The low-ranking functionary said, “That can’t be done.”

        ME: Why not?

        SHE: Well, it’s just our policy.

        ME: Why is it the policy?

        SHE: (querulously) Well, nobody’s ever complained before. (SUBTEXT: There must be something wrong with you!)

        ME: Well, somebody’s complaining now.

        Finally her supervisor was able to get the thing done. But county courthouses all across the country are filled with these dear old souls who’ve been doing the same things for thirty years without thinking about them. Big sigh.

  2. Oh, my goodness, your hotel story reminded me of an incident while one tour.

    A young lady in our company went into her bathroom for her morning ablutions. Shut the door only to discover she was trapped in the bathroom. She yelled for help. She pounded on the walls for help. No one heard her. She started to hyperventilate. She panicked.

    This dear, sweet, petite, frightened, woman ended up kicking the bottom half of the door completely off and crawled to “freedom.” All I heard on the phone when she called me crying, gasping for breath, was, “Mama T, I need you.” After calming her down, I marched to the front desk.

    ME: “My stage manager was trapped in her bathroom. The door would not open.”

    CLERK: “Oh that must be room 209. We have had many guests complain about that door.”

    ME: “Well, you won’t have any more complaints. The bottom half of the door is gone.”

    CLERK: “Huh?”

    ME: “It seems to me, fixing or replacing the latch would have been the prudent action. Oh, by the way, we are not paying for that door.”

    Jack, I hope you were not late for your meeting. Feel comforted by the fact, if you were late, you walked in feeling fresh and clean.

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