Saturday, June 5, 2010

Driving to be the Best

Learning the ordering process with "Lori from Arthur, Ill.," my monthly connection to Baxter and the best customer service rep ever.

I got to see George's locker.

Of the mountain of wonderful memories I have from my two-day visit to the Baxter Healthcare Corp. in Waukegan, Ill., in May with Karen (more about this later), one of the moments that made me giddiest was sitting in the staging area where George, my Baxter delivery driver, receives his marching orders before delivering lifesaving supplies to his regular customers. Like me.

I'm not sure why, but something about being in his "office," so to speak, made me somehow feel more connected to this burly, friendly fellow who arrives each month like clockwork, artfully dodges the low hanging wires on our street as he backs his ginormous semi-truck down to my house, carts dolly after dolly filled with dialysis equipment into our basement, then disappears until the following month.

George is like my Lone Ranger of healthcare. "Who was that fast man?" I think to myself after he departs. "And I wanted to thank him."

Being so near his locker, I was tempted to slip a note inside it, like we used to do in fourth grade.

Dear George,

Do you like me?    [ ] Yes       [ ] No           Pick one

Do you like delivering supplies to my home?   [ ] Yes      [ ] No

When I saw George during last month's delivery, he told me he almost never goes into his locker. So I probably never would have known if he likes me or not. Note to self: Don't follow your impulses.

My introduction to the giant molecule sculpture in the lobby of Baxter's corporate headquarters in Deerfield, Ill. Did you know this thing spins?

I have met so many amazing, fascinating people on this journey since my kidneys started heading south. There's Lori, the Baxter customer service rep who hails from Arthur, Ill., near my current residence in Decatur, and most often takes my monthly supply order. She is so personable yet professional, and we've become such tight phone pals that I literally shrieked with joy and raced to hug her when we finally met in person during my presentation to the Baxter corporate staff. And Trisha Daab, the senior marketing manager for Baxter's renal division who, with Yvette Derbas, arranged all the details of our trip and made the experience both memorable and thoroughly enjoyable. Karen and I have a "couple's crush" on Trisha. What a dynamo.  

There's Dave, a retired telephone repairman from a tiny town in Idaho. We've never met, but we keep in touch quite often through this blog and Facebook. He's been on Peritoneal Dialysis about a year longer than I and has really struggled with it. I hope we're providing mutual support to each other; I know he's been an inspiration to me. (You hang in there, Dave; we're gonna get through this together; you're in my prayers every day.)

But one of the people who has rocked my world the most is Mr. Paul Collins, who recently celebrated his 17th year as a Baxter delivery driver from his base in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Like Dave, Paul and I have never laid eyes on each other, but he is a walking encyclopedia on dialysis supplies, equipment and kidney disease, and volunteered to share his wisdom with me. I don't know it for a fact, but I suspect Paul may have been the one to recommend this Just Kidneying blog to Baxter and set the wheels in motion for my visit to corporate headquarters.
Thinking inside the box during a tour of Baxter's packaging and testing labs.

Paul is a warm and wonderful fellow. I envision him like Tom Bodett, the author and hotel radio pitchman, but over the years thousands of patients have left the light on for him. He wanted to be a schoolteacher before his brother, also a Baxter driver, introduced him to the business. "I thought, 'I'll do that for a year or two, you know," he reflects with a laugh. Instead, he's spent his career teaching people how to use the equipment that can improve and save their lives, which is probably more significant.

He is the only driver in his region and knows every dialysis nurse in the area, so by the time he delivers to first-time patients he's been talked about so highly that he arrives like an old family friend. "All the levels of dealing with any tragedy in your life, there's denial and anger and so forth," he says. "When we show up for the first time, we never know what stage the individual's going to be in. Some people, they go to the doctor not knowing there was anything seriously wrong with them and they're on dialysis two days later, so it's hitting them like a ton of bricks."

Paul sees people in all stages of health, and because kidney failure is so often linked with diabetes or other serious illnesses, he often reminds me that "if you have to lose your kidneys, losing them over high blood pressure is a good way to do it." In other words, I'm in pretty good shape, relatively speaking.

He keeps in touch with his patients long after they receive their kidney transplants. Paul has great stories to tell about patients who invite him to stay for dinner, or his customer who worked for the mob, or the husband he caught in flagrante delicto with the family maid while delivering his dialysis solution. "I got a huge tip," he says, laughing. But the most amazing gift he was offered, he never accepted.

"There was a guy I delivered to, a real rough character, who would take his horse out and just stay in the mountains camping for two, three months at a time," Paul recalls. "Suddenly, he's on dialysis and stuck in the house, not really fitting in with the rest of society. 

"After several months he got real comfortable with me, and he let me know he was a hitman. That’s what he’d done his entire life. He had cancer, and the doctors only gave him a few months to live. He liked me so much, he offered to take care of anybody I needed taken care of. He said, 'I don’t have anything to lose. Even if I get caught, I’m getting ready to die.' So he was ready to kill somebody for me. Gives you kind of a warm fuzzy feeling." 

Now that's what I call customer satisfaction. Imagine if somebody had done something to really cheese off Paul during that time.

Like sticking some stupid note in his locker, for instance.