Creating Defining Moments

I’m not a big fan of doctors’ offices. My earliest memories were acting as a sacrificial guinea pig for new drugs. Asthma and eczema plagued me greatly during my childhood. Oftentimes the clinics would pay for participating in these clinical tests, which was nice having money to go to the local drug store for some Mike n’ Ikes or Hot Tamales. But for the most part, I didn’t like doctors’ offices; the smells, the sad faces, the overworked nurses, and the businesslike doctors who examined me, like a number on their to-do list.

We, as adults, pack those early childhood memories into our current days, don’t we? For me, as I walk into doctors’ offices to this day, I get those same emotions of trepidation and uneasiness. A few months ago, I had two back-to-back appointments: one at 11:45 am with a Dermatologist and the other at 1pm with an Asthma guy. To say the least, I was not looking forward to the waiting room, the weigh-in, and the payment at the end, as we are currently self-paying for medical expenses…scary I know!

After the first doctor visit, I was at the counter paying my $95 office visit fee, when a young girl burst from her cubicle and enthusiastically said, “This man changed my life!” Those in the waiting room were a little startled too. After the shock wore off, I recognized the face of Nicole, who was a student 20 years ago in my 8th grade American Studies class at the public school. She is the Accounts Payable Specialist in the office and had seen my name on the patient list. She had been waiting to see if I was the same David Towne. Hugs, smiles, and stories ensued. I think even the people in the waiting room enjoyed the reunion. When I asked her how I had changed her life, she went on to explain a scene from 8th grade that involved me.

“I was having a bad day. Things at home were a struggle. The last thing on my mind was sitting in classrooms and paying attention to teachers. You noticed I was not doing well and found me in another class and pulled me out of it. You asked me questions and gave me hope. I could not believe a teacher would go the extra mile to find out where I was, take the time to encourage me, and care like you did. It changed my life.”

I walked away wondering if God sent Nicole as a reminder to me that my attitude might need some changing as I enter my next doctor’s appointment. As I drove to my next dreaded, scheduled 1pm visit, I began to challenge my approach to the upcoming interactions with people in the office. I sat in the parking lot talking to myself with headphones in my ears so people passing would not be concerned at seeing me talking to myself.

My words were simple, “Go make a defining moment.”

Let me give you some background on my previous visits to this particular Chest Clinic. I have been to this office three times. After each experience, I walked out angry and told myself that I was not going back! The receptionists never looked up to greet me. The people in the waiting room were really old and most had oxygen tanks next to them like a dog on a leash. The doctor had ZERO personality and had the audacity to tell me after my last visit that “if you lost 30 pounds, you would not be here”. Who says that? It made me want to go to the nearby McDonald’s and order a #1 Value Meal, supersized with a vanilla cone to boot!

In the waiting room during my first visit, an old man yelled and swore at me for talking on the phone (I thought I was speaking quietly and had just answered a call from my daughter. It was less than a minute I had been whispering in the phone, when this grumpy, oxygen-starved man yelled in front of everyone, “Take that Go* Dam* F*cking phone outside!” As I hurriedly hung up the phone, the caregiver (his daughter?) mouthed the words to me, “I’m sorry”.

My second visit was not much better. The lady who called me back had this “NO” face during my weigh in, taking my blood pressure, and asking me my medical history. As she went through the motions, I startled her with this question: “Do you like your job?” Her response was a quick and sad, “No”. She then left the examining room and I wondered what caused this office culture to be so somber and unfeeling.  Can you sympathize with me?

It was 12:55 pm as I walked into the office with the determination to make this visit a “defining moment” with a renewed goal of checking my own poor attitude. As I entered, the three receptionists did not look up. One was on the office phone, the other was looking at a computer screen, and the third was on her cell phone. As I signed in, I greeted them with a perky, “How are you today?” With eyes on her cell phone, she said, “fine”. My first inclination, even after my pep talk in the car, was to give up and say “screw it” – these people are the most miserable lot I have experienced in an office before. I caught myself and decided to continue with my goal of making this a defining moment. I noticed her name tag said “Natalee” so I told her that in my years of education I had many “Natalies” but not one spelled like hers. She actually looked up and told me the story of her name. The girl on the office phone completed her conversation and the girl looking at the computer used her name to request a form.  The name she used was also unique so I asked if I could guess how to spell it without looking at her name tag. She looked up and gave me a hint of a smile. Well, I butchered the name and all three laughed. A great start, progress was made with at least these three.

As one of them asked about our insurance, I told them we were self-paying and she proceeded to tell me it would be $109 but she needed to double-check with the office manager to make sure that was correct. I told her as she was walking to the back that if we got it under $100, I would give her a high five! This was before the Coronavirus!  She giggled and the other two looked at me and smiled. When she came back, she told me it was not $109 but $129! At this point, I asked the three to gather around me. They did and I proceeded to ask them to guess how much time the doctor would actually spend with me. Whoever was closest to the time would receive a $10 Starbucks gift card that I would go purchase and return that day. By this time, they were engaged and making their predictions. One said 7 minutes and 30 seconds, the other said 20 minutes, and Natalee guessed 15 minutes. My prediction was 5 minutes.

They had clarifying questions, “What if the doctor has to leave but comes back?” “When does the time start, when you enter the room or when the doctor actually comes in?”  Yes, now I saw true interest and engagement with me and the whole contest. I proceeded to write their predictions down on a piece of blank paper they retrieved for me and asked them to initial their guesses to make the contest truly official. Even the patients in the waiting room seemed to perk up at the novelty of it all.

After a few minutes, I was called back to the examination room and waited. My iPhone stopwatch was ready and set. Finally, footsteps were heard coming to the door, a rustling of papers, the doorknob turned and in came the doctor. As sly as one attempting to steal a cookie in the kitchen, I hit the start button of the stopwatch. He proceeded to ask questions, thumb through my file, and excused himself to check on something. I immediately paused the timer and looked at the elapsed time and saw it was 7:14. He came back sooner than expected and I was caught with the phone in my hand. I hit the resume button to keep the running time flowing but he looked at me strangely. He asked me, “Do you realize that your stopwatch is going on your phone?”  “Um, well…, I was… um…ok, let me tell you about a contest we are having with your receptionists.” I went on to let him in on our signed prediction challenge. He didn’t seem too impressed or interested. In fact, Dr. No-Nonsense had a look on his face that communicated “This guy is whacked!”

Finally, Dr. No-Nonsense left and I immediately stopped the timer and it read 15:11. I looked back to the signed predictions and realized that Natalee was the closest and would be receiving the gift card. As I walked out to the front of the office, there were now 6 women who worked in the office who were all gathered in the front. They all were giggling, talking, and waiting for me! I shared with them that there was a winner to the contest and it was not me. Anticipation grew as I drew out the actual time the doctor spent with me. When I finally announced that it was 15:11, Natalee let out a happy squeal and the others expressed their disappointment with laughter and fun jiving with each other. What a contrast to when I first arrived and checked in!

I told them that I would be right back to get the $10 gift card to Starbucks. It took me only 10 minutes to get it since there seems to be a Starbucks on every frickin’ corner in the world nowadays (ask me sometime how I feel about the owner of Starbucks selling the Seattle SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in 2008!). When I returned to the office, there were now 11 employees behind the counter! All were surrounding Natalee as if she was the winner of the showcase on the Price is Right. As I stood in front of everyone, I hammed it up by saying…

“Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an honor for me to be able to present this winning prize to a young lady who has given her life to this office and her profession. She not only checked me into my appointment, she guessed the correct time for our contest between these worthy competitors. Without any further adieu, I would like to present this gift card to…NATALEE!!!”

At this moment, all started clapping, whistling, hooting and hollering. Many gave her hugs as she stood and extended her hand to receive the prize. What happened next, was a defining moment. Natalee began to cry. She put her hands to her face as tears began falling from her cheeks along with her make-up. Before long, magic happened, in that once sterile office. People were coming up to her, hugging, giving words of blessing, and being touched by a moment that would not be forgotten.

Defining moments.

It starts with us being receptive to being intentional. Different. Looking for opportunities to bring light into a dark corner. Laughter within the serious tones of life. Novelty intertwined among the mundane. Encouragement and hope when the day seems to slip into the unmet expectations of a boss, spouse, or colleague.

My hope for you, is to find a place to practice creating a defining moment. It could be with a waitress, a grocery clerk, a co-worker, a neighbor, or within your home. The organizational impact when defining moments are created regularly is a culture changer.

Pass on your stories as you become intentional in creating moments that matter.

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