Last week I answered a call from World Assistance, an insurance service for South American travelers. It's called since 1986, and this would be my 807th visit. Several years ago World Assistance began taking three to six months to pay, requiring repeated and increasingly threatening phone calls. The people I threatened often apologized but never promised to pay quicker. Last year I threatened to stop accepting calls unless they gave me their credit card number, so they did. Now I simply call a computer and punch in a mass of numbers; two days later money appears in my checking account. That's a delightful convenience although not cheap. When I signed up for a credit card, the salesman told me his company charged a three percent fee. He wasn't actually lying, because that's the company's basic charge. However, my monthly bill includes half a dozen cryptic fees, additional charges, and penalties, so it works out to six or seven percent.
The patient, a Brazilian lady suffering influenza, was at the Crowne Plaza in Beverly Hills (which is not in Beverly Hills but near enough to take advantage of the name). During the 1980s, as the Beverly Hills Ramada, it called a few hundred times. During the 1990s it became the Holiday Inn Select and continued to call. When it became a Crowne Plaza in 2001, calls stopped. Most likely a new general manager had forbidden the staff to recommend a doctor. A minority of GMs place avoiding suits ahead of everything, including customer service, so this happens regularly. Travel insurers send me to the Crowne Plaza every few months, so I have a chance to make my pitch at the front desk. The clerk listened intently as I explained how I operate and the hundreds of visits I'd made to that very hotel. He agreed that the hotel would certainly benefit from my services, but I didn't get the impression this was anything but good manners. I appreciate being the doctor for the Langham in Pasadena, 24 miles away, but, at two miles, I'd appreciate the Crowne Plaza even more.
Last Sunday I wrote for a few hours and then ate breakfast. My routine is to go to the gym afterward, but as I was leaving the phone rang. A travel insurer, Assistcard, had a patient in Anaheim, near Disneyland, forty miles away. That was good news; not only did I have a visit but I could skip the gym. I don't mind long drives provided the freeways move smoothly which is the case on Sunday morning, and the insurer agreed to pay double my usual fee.
Sure enough, the drive went quickly. The patient was a five year-old Argentinean boy with an itchy rash on his legs, obviously atopic dermatitis. I informed the parents, explained how to care for his skin, and handed over a tube of hydrocortisone cream from my bag. They were pleased. I didn't hurry, but I doubt I spent ten minutes in the room. Sometimes this is an easy job.
Doctor Oppenheim has been a hotel doctor in Los Angeles for thirty years. He has made about 15,000 visits.
Authors contact: Mike Oppenheim Email: firstname.lastname@example.org