Keeping Expectations Low: Office Mail

The guy who delivers my mail at the office is a fit-looking fellow, probably around 58-59, wears a woolen cap in the winter, baseball cap in the summer, and his postal uniform every day. That is, when I see him.

I wait for him everyday with high hopes. After all, he’s the one who delivers the envelopes with checks from insurance companies.

I could complain about how when I buy a pair of shoes, I fork over seventy dollars immediately, that DSW does not have to wait for the money, whereas when my patients see me, they complain about their co-payment, usually between $10-$25 and have no idea how I sometimes have to haggle with their insurance to get paid the rest.

Yet if I want to buy a new scarf or even a box of TIDE, retailers expect the full amount right then and there. I won’t get away with a co-payment of twenty bucks. This is, by the way, the psychology behind charging up your credit cards. It's all about denial and not wanting to pay for anything.

Anyway, patients want to think that their medical providers are very rich, as money is the generic symbol of success, and they don’t want to be seeing an unsuccessful professional. So you thinking that I’m actually worried about getting paid probably worries you.

Yet this is how it is.

Like people in business who wait for the mail to see what’s inside, professionals wait, too.

I can remember, years ago, HMO’s had pulled the rug out from primary care and S. and I owned a medical building in the city. Eventually property taxes drove us out of there, but when things got really, really horrible S would take the mail from his receptionist and pace with it as he leafed through letters and junk, chanting, “No money. No money. No money.”

Those were fun days, let me tell you.

We’re both in new places now, but like I said, the mail is one of those things we approach from different building, now, with anticipation and a little dread. That post on keeping expectations low? I LIVE IT, BABY.

One year, the week before Thanksgiving, for some reason we were particularly broke. I don’t go to the office on Friday and Saturday, usually, so I wasn't going to be taking in any mail until Sunday.

On Sunday there was nothing in the mail box from Friday and Saturday.

This happens, no biggie, no cause for alarm. I’m all about low expectations.

But on Monday I was on the look out.

There’s a window in my office from which I can see the front door to the building and the row of metal mailboxes, and since the front door to the building is glass, encased in a glass wall of picture windows, I get to see the sunshine and the trees and the park across the street, too.

Sort of a room with a view.

If I’m not looking out for the mailman, I’m still close enough to hear the clang of his keys as he opens the box. So on Monday, I assumed I’d hear him, if not see him. But he never came.

Monday? No mail

Tuesday, same thing.

Wednesday, same thing. No mail.

Thursday? Thanksgiving. Okay, I understand, a holiday.

Friday, even though I had some visitors in from out of town, I made a quick trip over to the office to see if I might be able to make a deposit before 5 p.m. Making a trip in the city on the day after Thanksgiving in the late afternoon is a joke. Traffic is murder. The weather, in November, isn't usually conducive to riding a bike. (Have I talked about riding my bike to work?)

But I said to myself: Sure, this is ridiculous, but it’s a short day, certainly he’ll come later, and on Sunday, this Sunday for sure, there will be mail.

Sunday there was no mail.

And Monday? A week and a half since the last mail delivery from the United States Postal Service? No mail. And I was swamped with patients and there was no way to make a dash over to the station, but you can believe it, the next day, bright and early, I waited in line to talk about this situation with someone who might know something.

Me: So what’s up with the mail delivery to the 2650 building?

Clerk: What do you mean, what’s up?

Me: I don’t get mail anymore. Neither does anyone else in the building. There are ten offices in that place. Nobody gets mail anymore.

Clerk: Let me check it out.

I waited, and waited. Eventually he came back, this dapper clerk with a mustache.

Clerk: Who’s your mail carrier?

Me: Not sure, Smith maybe.

Clerk (big smile): Smith.

Me: That’s right, Smith.

Clerk (self-satisfied, he’s solved the mystery): Well Smith’s been on vacation. He should be back this week.

Me: What! So you don’t put someone in his place? Smith’s on vacation so I don’t get my mail?

Clerk: Looks like he forgot to put in for a substitute.

Me: That makes no sense.

Clerk: Or the sub didn’t show.

Me (worried, thinking my mail’s in someone’s living room, or worse, in the back of a postal truck they don’t use anymore): Where’s my mail?

Clerk: Oh, it’s in the back.

Me: I want it. Now.

Clerk: You want it? Do you want the mail for the whole building?

Me: No, I just want my mail.

Clerk (looking doubtful): Well, I’ll see.

Me: Please do.

He returned with one of those big plastic mail crates FULL of mail. No junk mail, either, just mail, bills, checks, authorizations for treatment, reports from other doctors, lawyers, employers, certifications from insurance companies, all kinds of good things.

Clerk: You can take that with you. The crate, I mean, but could you move aside so that I can take care of the next customer?

Me: Wait a minute. I really think I deserve an explanation. This is unacceptable.

Clerk: Maybe your building was locked. Maybe they tried to deliver the mail and you weren’t there. (Then, as an after thought). Or maybe it’s because he’s a union steward.

Me: Maybe it’s because my mailperson is a union steward?

Clerk (guilty look for having said it): I don’t know. Maybe. I never said that.

Well that explains it. Sure. Wait a minute. That doesn’t explain anything!

The follow-up?

We’ve never had to wait a week and a half for the mail since. I pushed the downtown office to keep an eye on our building (me being assertive). Mr. Smith had to scan some kind of an electronic device by 2:00 everyday for a couple of weeks, and occasionally I saw someone come into the building, playing with this thing, probably clocking him in.

It wasn’t like he apologized, okay? But for all I know it wasn’t his fault at all. I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Once an officious postal person stopped by to ask if I was the person who complained about the service to the building, or if I knew who might have registered the complaint. I got pretty nervous, like I do with anyone in a uniform (I hate being stopped by police for anything.)

Me: Uh, me? Complain about the United States Postal Service? Do you think I want someone to go postal because I didn’t get my mail, or worse, perhaps take it out on me by simply forgetting to deliver, say, only MY mail? Do I look like I’m crazy?

Official postal person: Did you? Complain?

Me: Uh, no, but I know everyone here in the building is pretty upset about the service.

Official postal person: Thank you, doctor.


No, things are pretty much the same, nothing’s changed all that much, except I’ve never gone AS LONG without mail. Smith comes before 7 p.m., assuming he’s going to deliver the mail at all, and I’ve stopped complaining. Something tells me he knows it’s me who did complain, but we’re very cordial, talk weather, etc. I never ask him, "Where've you BEEN?!?"

And don’t you worry. On Xmas? I’ll tip him, just like I’ll tip the guy who delivers the Wall Street Journal. I’m not stupid.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc


Anonymous said…
I think I would have been complaining to the union steward's boss before he got back from "vacation" or whatever. Does that make me borderline borderline? LOL...
Anonymous said…
wow i cant believe they let a whole building of businesses not get their mail for a week! thats so wrong!
especially a medical busness, where docs need to get their reports and rx refill requests and other orders. all of that!
i wouldnt have been nearly as cordial as you were, im thinking. suppose one of their workers had a doctor who didnt get his mail and that worker needed his/her meds refilled? or appointment authorized? or orders for treatment from somewhere?
yeah! works both ways...
therapydoc said…
Thanks for the support.

With my world view, don't blame anyone, you'll live longer all I have to do is give people the benefit of the doubt when things get tense.

On occasion, when I'm pretty sure the consequences won't be harsh or make things worse, I'll assert myself.

So in a situation in which I need something from people, when I depend upon them for things like, mail delivery, getting someone in trouble for sure would not have worked in my interest or anyone else's interest in the long run, (my opinion). He IS my mail carrier and I do need him to continue to deliver the mail.

Plus, who knows what the real story might be?

I feel you have to know when to fold 'em.
Anonymous said…
I found your story very interesting. I think that many of us forget that professionals such as doctors, lawyers, etc, have bills to pay, mortgages to meet and depend on being paid for their services to survive.
As far as expectations, remember the adage that "we get what we expect" this is very true. Raise your expectations and I believe your interactions with your mail man will change and you will get the results that you desire.
therapydoc said…
As my mother would say, (it's yiddish) halevai, rhymes with olive-I. Meaning, would that that were true.

I don't think so.

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