Sunday, April 29, 2007

Privacy, please

Yesterday our block hosted an enormous garage sale. You wouldn't believe how excited this made me. Garage sales were an important part of my youth. Unfortunately, I have difficulty getting rid of stuff; and when I was younger I would often decide, midway through the sale, that I actually wanted to keep various items.

So my parents instituted a rule: Nothing that leaves the house can go back in the house. It worked.

Well, Mrs. Gerbil and I made a small wad yesterday. But the tragedy of it all was that I had to go to work after a few hours. I would much rather have been sitting out in the driveway than telling callers that I honestly do not have their claims information. Alas.

But before I went to work, I found myself with a little dilemma. Mrs. Gerbil and I live three blocks from a clean and sober house, approximately half of whose residents were my clients at my previous job. I've run into them at bus stops, in downtown Berkeley, in restaurants, and even in the corner liquor store (where they buy cigarettes and snacks, and we buy milk and Ben & Jerry's). It doesn't really bother me, and it certainly did not bother me while they were my clients.

Yet yesterday, I was pre-emptively bothered. I saw one of them walking down the street, then walking back up the street with some garage sale loot. Our building is set back from, and perpendicular to, the street; and there's a privacy fence around the driveway. Thus: I could see him, but he couldn't see me.

I started wondering: What if he comes to check out our wares? Not that he would buy any of our girly stuff, but what if he strikes up a conversation with Mrs. Gerbil and me? How would I introduce him? Should I introduce him? And is it a bad thing if he finds out where I live, even though I haven't worked with him in months?

(Mrs. Gerbil and I have already discussed what might happen if one of my former clients approaches both of us. The agreement: She is not to ask me from whence I know this person, as "I can't tell you" is fundamentally the same as "That's my client.")

My worst fears, however, were not realized. A short while later, he zoomed back up the street, garage sale loot in hand, without so much of a glance up our drive.

I still wonder what might have happened, had he checked out our stuff. It's hard to observe the "I'll acknowledge you only if you acknowledge me" rule when the person is literally at your doorstep. And what if he'd bought something? Would I have felt weird taking his quarter for one of Mrs. Gerbil's sci-fi/fantasy novels?

Signs point to "yes."

Later in the afternoon, Mrs. Gerbil went off to Walgreens to retrieve a prescription of mine. The staff at our Walgreens generally does a terrific job of authenticating their customers, even those whom they recognize (such as yours truly). However, Mrs. Gerbil reports that the pharmacy tech tried really, really hard to give her someone else's prescription.

Apparently the tech asked dutifully for my name and address--and then proceeded to hand Mrs. Gerbil the bag directly behind mine. Mrs. Gerbil protested, "That's not the right one!" The tech said something to the effect of "Did you move? It looks like we have the wrong address on file."

Mrs. Gerbil pointed out that not only have we not moved, but the name on the bag was not mine. They went back and forth about this for a bit before the proverbial light bulb came on, and the correct bag made it to Mrs. Gerbil's little paws.

I'm not even going to begin on that one. Hip-hip-HIPAA, dudes.


Lavender said...

HIPAA indeed... I think I might have been tempted to strangle that poor guy... or give him the lecture slides for our HIPAA training. But that would probably be crueler, actually.

Chip, master of the ol' well said...

Ah yes, my life is now ruled by HIPAA as well. As for Mrs. Gerbil, it would have been "liquid out of the nose" funny had it been a bag of viagra.