The Attack

Dear customer service woman,

I should probably start with an apology. I’m sorry I got snippy and short with you on the phone, I know that you were just trying to do your job. Unfortunately you caught me at a rather inopportune time, as I was at the airport trying to figure out my seat assignment and was pretty distracted when you called. You also told me it was only going to be a couple minutes, which was not the case, so that one’s on you. So while I do apologize for my behavior, I wanted to let you know where you went wrong on this call. Very, very wrong.

You started by explaining that you are a company that works with my health insurance to connect people with chronic illnesses or traumatic health events with health coaches. You asked me if I have any conditions that would qualify. This struck me as a little odd, you’re the one who called me, you clearly know I qualify and what condition I have. But I went along with it and told you I have type 1 diabetes. You asked me how long I’ve had it. Almost 17 years. You seemed a little surprised.

Here’s where things started to go downhill.

You asked me if I do anything for it. Um excuse me? What kind of question is that? I know you’re probably following a script, but if you knew anything about type 1 diabetes, you know that of course I’m doing something for it otherwise I would DIE. And how am I supposed to answer that? What do you want to know? That I’m on an insulin pump, a continuous glucose monitor, that I see my endocrinologist every 3 months, that I count carbs, that I exercise daily? Your question threw me so I asked for clarification. What do you mean?

“What do you do to attack it?”

Oh hell no. This is where you really lost me. I’m a writer, word choice matters to me. More than that, my masters is in health behavior and health education, specializing in health communication. I know how important it is to be sensitive and use appropriate language for the condition and person to whom you are talking to. What do I do to “attack” my diabetes? Here’s the problem with the word choice, attack. When you attack something, there are mainly two outcomes: victory or defeat, win or lose. An attack is a finite event with a clear result. The only time I’ve ever heard “attack” used in a medical context is with cancer cells to destroy the cells, and even then it’s not always an appropriate analogy. I can’t attack my diabetes, because there is not a clear outcome. There is no cure, no victory besides feeling the best you can each day and minimizing future complications. You should know this! What you should have said is: “What steps are you taking to manage your diabetes?” because living with type 1 diabetes is an ongoing battle, not an attack. And whether you meant that sentence to be understood differently, this was my reaction and interpretation of it, and as your potential future client, my reaction matters.

With that one word, you destroyed your credibility with me. If you don’t understand what it means to live with and manage type 1 diabetes, why would I trust your health coaches?

So I told you I wasn’t interested and hung up. And you lost a potential client. I know this isn’t your fault, especially if you’re following a script. The problem goes higher than you. It goes to the people who didn’t bother to do enough research on the conditions they are coaching, on the people they will be talking to, and proper training to their front line phone callers.

Programs like the one you are offering can be very helpful. I’m a huge advocate of helping people gain the skills and confidence they need to take care of themselves the best they can. Just be cognizant of the language you are using, because words are powerful and I’d hate to see you lose any more potential customers due to poor word choice.


A disgruntled diabetic


3 thoughts on “The Attack

  1. A machine gun and hand grenade would be my answer to how I am attacking it. After all those words remind me attacking the tree house in the backyard. Come to think of it mentioning that in an airport might have caused more issues than hanging up. Oh well.


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