The last time I was in the hospital, private rooms were for rich people, WiFi hadn’t been invented and you had to dial “1” to reach an outside line.
That was 1997.
Hospitals are different now.
I know this because I spent four nights in one last week as doctors tried to determine the right combination of antibiotics to knock out a nasty leg infection I picked up.
As much as the creature comforts have changed (everybody gets a private room now – at least in the hospital I was in, free WiFi is readily available and nobody frowned upon my cell phone usage), I noticed one constant.
Caring people make a difference, no matter what era we’re talking about.
My mom and sister took me to the hospital when my fever was high from the infection, and then they stayed with me.
Numerous friends stopped by. One brought me a book about baseball. Another brought cookies. Yet another watched part of the Steelers-Packers game with me. I’m a Steelers fan; he’s a Packers fan. After he went home, we continued our conversation via text message.
As the third quarter started, a nurse came into my room. “Who are we rooting for?”
If you are a sports fan, you noticed what she did there. We tend to refer to our favorite teams in the first person, as if “we” were right there on the field with them.
“I’ve been a Steelers fan since I was a boy.”
“Go Steelers, then!” she said.
When she came back in later to check my vitals, she glanced at the TV to see the score. “How’re we doing?”
“It’s a tight one.”
She probably wasn’t waving a Terrible Towel in the hallways of the hospital between stops in her various patients’ rooms, but in a way, she waved one every time she stepped into my room that night because she knew the value of a supportive presence – much like the many other people who stopped by to visit.
As a result, I felt less alone.
A few years ago, I interviewed then NASCAR Sprint Cup chaplain, Tim Griffin about his ministry philosophy in a sport that provides very little time for spiritual contemplation.
His answer was perfect.
“If we can make ourselves available and people can find us in the garage and if we can get up between a couple of haulers or over a stack of tires or behind pit road and we can have a conversation, then that might be our discipleship moment.”
He and his organization, Motor Racing Outreach, believed in a ministry of presence.
They didn’t erect a building and then hope people showed up (even chapel services are held in the garage). Instead, Tim climbed between stacks of tires to grab short conversations with drivers right where they did business.
That makes me wonder what stacks of tires I need to climb. How about you?
I told many of you I would give you an update and provide a photo or two from the 2013 edition of the “3 Single Dudes and a Diaper Drive,” and I’m pleased to inform you that we delivered 5,366 diapers to The Lydia House in Omaha, Neb. on Friday – by far our best year.
But it really had little to do with us, and much more to do with those of you who chipped in to help. You donated $440.00 in cash and several thousand diapers. After adding our own cash to your donations, we bought even more diapers, which brought our total to the number mentioned above.
We had no idea this annual tradition would take on a life of its own. We were just three single guys who decided to stop exchanging Christmas gifts one year so we could use the money we would have spent on each other to make a small difference in our community. You’ve made it much bigger than that, and we couldn’t be happier. Thank you!
As I often do, after the drive was over, I ran the numbers.
Over the weekend at a Christmas party, one mom told me a baby goes through about eight diapers a day. So, 5,366 diapers would last one child 670 days or 1.83 years. Of course, diaper distribution doesn’t work that way because it is based on immediate need.
So I broke the numbers down differently.
If 22 mothers show up at The Lydia House for diapers and take home 240 diapers apiece (enough for a month’s supply for one baby – 30 days X eight diapers per day), that would equal 5,280 diapers, which basically exhausts our supply.
More realistically, mothers will end up taking one package of diapers at a time. If each mother takes home one package of 96 diapers, then the 5,366 diapers you helped supply will provide 55 mothers with enough diapers to get by for 12 days.
Those are numbers I can grasp.
Here are a few more pics. The first one shows the mountain of diapers behind us at the drop off point, where we are posing with three radio personalities from the sponsoring radio station.
Have you been to Kmart lately? It’s nearly impossible to check out without a cashier playing 20 questions with you.
Here's how my latest trip went.
“Hi, how are you?”
I’m never sure how to answer this question when an associate poses it. If I am not doing well, am I really supposed to say so? Is that really what the associate wants to hear? If not, why force him or her to ask such a question?
“I’m doing well, and you?”
“I’m doing well also. May I have your phone number?”
“My phone number? No, you may not.”
She punched a few buttons, probably putting me on the naughty list.
“Do you have your rewards card? Or would you like to fill out an application for one?”
“No, thank you.”
“Would you like to give a dollar to charity?” (I cannot remember which one.)
“Holy cow, they make you ask a lot of questions, don't they? No, thank you.”
Kmart isn’t the only retailer doing this.
I used to love Office Depot. The one I frequented changed locations recently and the second I entered the new store for the first and only time I’ll ever go there, the twenty questions began. An associate who was wearing a Kip Winger styled headset met me at the door.
“We have paper on sale today. Would you like to pick some up while you are here?”
“No, thank you.”
He spoke into his headset. I couldn’t understand what he said, but you know how you get the feeling that someone is talking about you? Well, I had that feeling. A few seconds later, a woman in a Kip Winger headset greeted me.
“What can I help you find today?”
“I’m just killing a little time.”
I wasn’t really killing time. I was there to pick up some pens, but I didn’t want her to take me by the hand and lead me to the Pen Promised Land while giving me the rundown about which pens were on sale and then listening to her spiel about why I should buy 64 pens when I really only wanted to buy four.
I shook free from her only to be approached a few aisles later by another associate.
I put my hand up. “I don’t need any help, thank you.”
He said something into his headset, presumably telling the troops to back down.
After choosing my pens, the associate who checked me out asked for my personal information, which I declined to offer.
I don’t know how all of this started, but I think two entirely different dynamics are at work and both of them are based on faulty premises, in my opinion.
The first one is the Starbucks Factor. You walk in, a barista greets you with a smile, you hear soft jazz playing in the background, and you feel welcomed – ready for a one-hour vacation from the stresses of the world. You sit down with your coffee, crack open your laptop or a good book and disappear for a while. Who doesn’t enjoy that experience? And since it is so enjoyable, why not try to transport it to every other business?
If I go to Kmart to pick up a pair of socks, I want to be in and out in five minutes or less. The easier Kmart makes that, the more likely I am to return. You don’t need to ask how my day has been, or tell me about what’s on sale, or ask me to join a cause, or anything like that. Just be polite if I approach you, know what you are doing, and we’ll make an exchange.
I'm all for making a human connection with an associate or another customer, even if I'm in a hurry. But it needs to be organic, not contrived.
The second dynamic smacks of desperation. Brick and mortar stores know that online retailers such as Amazon and iTunes collect our email addresses and our previous buying history and then use that information to market to us. So brick and mortar stores believe they have to do the same thing to keep up.
The problem is, I don’t approach online and brick and mortar shopping with the same mindset. When I shop online, I look for the best deal, I browse, I read reviews and I listen to or read samples. I enjoy the experience. When I walk into Kmart, I just want to be finished as quickly as possible.
If Kmart were to set up a table at the front of the store where I could choose to stop and sign up for their e-mail list, then that would be fine. But don’t force me to listen to your sales pitch at the cash register every time I visit the store. And please don’t ask for my personal information, especially within earshot of the people behind me.
I know … I know, somebody will read this and think I’m saying the equivalent of “get off my lawn.” But here’s the thing … I really want to see retail stores in my community succeed. As such, I just want them to understand how their current practices are pushing me away.
Less really is more in this case.
Lee Warren is a freelance writer and editor who has written twelve non-fiction books, one novella and hundreds of articles for various newspapers and magazines as well as edited more than 50 books that currently appear in print. He's a fan of NASCAR, baseball, tennis, books, movies and coffee shops.