So there I was, sorting through the mail, when the notice caught my eye: “Due to an overpayment you will receive a reimbursement check …”
It was legit, signed by the hospital where I have all my maintenance work done, and for an amount sufficient to take the sting out of this year’s Christmas shopping. I was a happy camper indeed. I mean, who ever heard of a hospital — you know, that place where they charge $110 for a tablet of Tylenol — giving money BACK? Woo-hoo.
And that’s when it began to dawn on me that I was being messed with by the choice of language in the notice.
“Due to an overpayment …”
Wait a minute. That makes it sound as if I was the one who made the mistake here, like I was just sitting around one day and decided to write a large check to the hospital for no reason other than I felt like it. Or perhaps I wasn’t sure I had paid for all my Tylenol and figured I’d better send them a little extra just to be sure I was covered.
No. I was overcharged, but the hospital wasn’t about to say so. That would be admitting error. Which, you may have noticed, is something institutions (along with politicians, celebrities and relatives) never do.
Oh, well. At least I was getting my money back, I reasoned. No need to quibble over language as long as the check clears.
And then, about two weeks later, the check arrived and guess what? It wouldn’t clear. I had plenty of quibble after all.
Oh, it was a legitimate check all right, and the amount was just as they said, and they got my address and account number right, but the name was not mine — Michael James Redmond. This check was made out to…
Michael Jame S.
The next day, I decided I’d better do something to get this straightened out so I called and spent the morning on hold. That was fun. I tried again in the afternoon. More fun.
I tried again the next day and got through to a human this time. A human who told me to call a different number. I called the different number and went back on hold.
Finally, though, I connected with someone who understood the problem and even had an idea as to how it might be solved. Which required my calling back for the next three days to speak to a supervisor who seemed never to be available.
I was on to their game now: Offer a refund and then make it impossible to collect. Well, they were forgetting something, namely that it’s winter and I have all the time in the world. And eventually, that worked to my benefit. I kept calling.
And you know what? Eventually I got a new check, with my real name on it, which I promptly deposited.
I thought, for a minute, about writing a long letter engaging the hospital folks in a little conversation about semantics — the difference between “overpayment” and “overcharge,” for starters. But then I thought better of the idea and turned my attention instead to getting that money into circulation via holiday purchases.
I also bought a bottle of Tylenol, for a lot less than they charge you-know-where. Believe me, I needed it. Or my name’s not Michael Jame S.
Mike Redmond is an author, journalist, humorist and speaker. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on speaking fees and availability, visit www.spotlightwww.com.