Apply Carefully to Real Life

A week ago, I got an e-mail from my dad telling me that my mom had been involved in a serious accident while on vacation in the Dominican Republic. The steel tow-cable from the boat they were on snapped while it was towing another boat and hit her in the face with enough force to shatter the bones in her left cheek and critically damage her left eye. They didn't know much else, since they were still in the DR, and the medical care in Punta Cana consisted of a 'doctor' prying her swollen eyelid open, saying, "Ah! The eye is still there. That is good." and LEAVING. Since neither of my parents know Spanish and both were in shock over the accident, things weren't going well.

As it just so happened, I was stuck in Denver, unable to get back to Michigan because of a giant blizzard moving through the Midwest. So I did what anyone in my position (and on teaching leave) would do: I called United and used a combination of my Elite status and my natural powers of persuasion to get myself on the next direct flight to Miami (where the travel insurance company was sending my parents), and I started raising very polite but persistent hell to get my Mom the medical care she needed.

A few days into non-stop phone calls and in-person conversations with insurance coordinators, travel agency reps, doctors, nurses, and case workers, I realized that a career in philosophy had prepared me to succeed in this arena in ways I would never have guessed. And so, tongue firmly in cheek, I add my very own wisdom to such articles as

"Why Philosophy Majors Rule" ( and

"Philosophers find the Degree Pays Off in Life and Work" (

Here is my list:

1: Philosophy profs have extensive experience in getting their point across to uninterested audiences in a friendly but firm manner.

For serious. I've spent the past 15 years teaching Intro to Philosophy to students who are required to take it for core. If I can get the Baseball Caps in the back row to stop playing Halo long enough to take notes and participate in class discussion, I can get a nurse to listen to me when I tell her my mom's constantly screaming roommate needs to be transferred to a private room.

2: As a woman in philosophy, I already spend a great deal of my time interacting with men with God complexes.

At one point, the case worker at the hospital in Florida came in fluttering about the cute doctor in charge of facial reconstruction surgery...who then came striding into the room all white teeth and styled hair and cheerful mansplaining about why my Mom shouldn't be transferred to the top eye institute in the country, despite the fact that it was 30 minutes away. And how she didn't need facial reconstruction surgery, although if we wanted, he'd be happy to go in and fill her face full of plates and screws, ha ha!

What I said to him: "Ah. I see. Yes, we wouldn't want you to do that! Let's see what we can do to get Mom out of here."

What I said to myself: "Ah. I see. A total douchcanoe who doesn't actually know anything about the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and can't be bothered to learn. Yes, we couldn't want you to do that! In fact, I'm quite grateful that you didn't operate on my Mom's face, because you have already gotten several things wrong in your explanation of what's happened. Let's see what we can do to get Mom out of here. We'll be heading to the ER at Bascom Palmer the second you sign the discharge papers, so let's get this show on the road. Give her the good drugs, and we're gone! Also, since you seem very interested in what my breasts think of the whole situation, I can assure that they're real, they're spectacular, and they would also like you to discharge my mom so I can get her some decent medical care."

3: Anyone who's been on the job market and/or published in philosophy has mad skillz in pushing past discouragement and initial rejections.

What? You can't get my parents' tickets back home booked until your medical team reviews the 25-page medical report and 'fit to fly' form they've received? That's cool. How about we start looking at a few flights in the meantime, though, k? And maybe reserving them just in case? With my mom at the left window so there's no chance of the injured side of her face being bumped? Yeah...I hear you. That flight would definitely get us back to Grand Rapids. Us? Oh, well, you're flying me home with them, too--right? I've been the sole go-between for the past 72 hours, and my Dad can't handle all their luggage and my Mom right now. Thanks! So, that medical team done with their review yet? Because I see there are some seats open on the Delta 891 flight back to GR tomorrow morning at 6:30am...[repeat as necessary; in this case, five times]

4: Philosophy conferences are packed with sessions full of long words and technical terms, at the end of which you're expected to ask intelligent questions that further the discussion.

Throw some more of that travel insurance-ese at me, baby, because I have totally inferred what that last weird term you threw at me meant and am ready for the next one. In fact, I have already decided what question I am going to follow up with, and it uses that term. Correctly. BAM.

5: Teaching multiple sections of the same course involves explaining the same thing over and over (and over) again, clearly and patiently.

This is a highly under-rated skill, in my opinion, useful for teaching, parenting, and dealing with hospital and insurance reps. If I can explain Descartes's argument for the existence of God in the Third Meditation three times in a row without running out of the room screaming, I can also read "Little Bear" five times in one day without killing off all of the characters one by one, and I can certainly explain what's happening with my Mom to four different insurance reps in 12 hours.

That said, I owe an apology to the fifth insurance rep. Poor Albert. Poor, poor, incompetent Albert. The tickets home were in the process of being booked, and I had just missed a call from Sue about the confirmation numbers...and when I called back, I got Albert. When I asked him to transfer me to Sue, he insisted on trying to help me himself. But then he couldn't spell my Mom's name correctly, so he insisted that I give him the case number, at which point he got it wrong the first two times he tried to type it in. I suggested again (a wee bit forcefully, perhaps) that he transfer me over to Sue. He said she was on the other line, and couldn't he please help me. I said I really didn't think he could, and that I'd hold for Sue. At which point he said, "Oh! Sue is now calling me!" and came back a moment later to say meekly, "I'll just transfer you right over to her. Thank you."

That's right, Albert. Don't miss my class and then expect me to give you the entire lecture during office hours.

6: Anyone who has negotiated the tenure, sabbatical, and/or grant-administering process knows how to deal with multiple levels of conflicting administration.

I'm sorry, Doctor #3 and Case Worker #2--are you trying to stymie me with your confusing protocol and layers of hospital administration? Child, please. I am getting paid this year via two completely separate sources, and I get my benefits from a third one. I have been known to draw from no fewer than five accounts to get reimbursement for travel receipts. I may suck at filling out forms in a timely manner, but I know what's what when it comes to sifting through confusing administrational structures to get things done.

Plus, I have watched Grey's Anatomy for years now. Years, I tell you. I know what bad pretend medical care looks like, and what good pretend medical care looks like, and I can tell you that this looks like bad pretend medical care. My mom needs to see Dr. Mark Sloan, not Clueless Resident Dude. (A moment of silence for the fictional Mark Sloan. sigh)

Ok. Now it's probably time to start applying my valuable skills to philosophy again. It's just good to know that they have other uses as well...


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Christina Van Dyke

scholar, mother, and proud owner of the largest couch in creation
  • here and there
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