Opinion / We apologise for keeping you waiting, not!

Determined WENDY MACKLIN just tries and tries to sit out the telephone queue to speak to a human at Medicare. Can she do it?  

HAVE you tried to telephone Medicare lately? Well, don’t.

Wendy Macklin.

I received an actual letter saying I needed to confirm my family details in order to “get more money back from Medicare”. Irresistible.

As expected, the Mozart (or Haydn) symphony began after the options didn’t fit and I told the robot I wanted a “consultant”. But I had the latest “New Scientist” magazine to usefully pass the time until a human was available.

This is a marvellous weekly publication with much more interesting and understandable information than the layperson would expect. Of course there are always some articles on subjects such as quarks and quantum mechanics, which I ignore; I love stories from the animal kingdom and learnt to my shock and horror that hedgehog numbers are dropping in the UK due to the disappearance of the hedgerows and the growing numbers of badgers, which eat hedgehogs! Honestly.

No details were given but good news is, the little cuties are still doing well in the ”untidy urban garden.”

I am also fascinated by the medical stories and current research because when you reach a certain time of life (The Cracking-Up Age) you need to be fully informed on all the latest breakthroughs and cures so you can tell your doctor…

Ah, at last the music has stopped and a voice: “We apologise for keeping you waiting, but if you would like to leave the queue, you can go to the website at MyGov or access the app, or the Android or download the link to… Or maybe try the bush telegraph or put two tins on the ends of a string or, if really desperate, give the NBN a go!

The music thunders in my ear again. I am getting a bit mad now because it has been 15 minutes and I know what’s going on. They don’t really want anyone on the phone because, to save money, they have one consultant for the whole of Australasia and that includes the Mawson Base and Christmas Island. Wow, that poor dear must be really rushed off her feet.

But I’m not giving up. I turn to the cover story of the magazine….”Earth four billion years ago. We’re homing in on the moment life began”. Of course, they are talking about a few genetic molecules in a kind of sac (sack?) and researchers each have their favourite spot where they think this popped up. The quest was begun by that amazing man Charles Darwin who went through the torments of hell trying to fit his incredible innovative thoughts into the Bible stories and not upset Dad the Very Reverend.

In 1871 Charles “described a hypothetical warm little pond rich in chemicals and salts with sources of light, heat and electricity”. Who knew this about him? In the 1950s in an experiment – which is one of the most famous of the last century, I read – two chemists recreated the pond in a lab. They worked out what would have been present on early Earth and zapped the soup with simulated lightning and produced amino acids, the building blocks of all proteins. Much excitement. But it turned out to be the secrets of water more than life. And scientists have been wrestling with the problem ever since…

Ah, the violins stop and there is a voice. I snatch the receiver off the floor. “We apologise… and if you would like to leave the queue… and you can also complete the form and take it to your nearest Medicare office.”

No thanks. Been there, done that. Last time while waiting, I read most of a paperback novel and a toddler threw up on my shoes.

I will not weaken. Back to the search for life’s crucible. The author of the article, Penny Sarchet, says the start could be in sand, sea or ice. In 1979 a submersible called Alvin discovered black smokers in the mid-Atlantic and there were “some very alien, ancient-looking fauna” but it was too hot. In 2000, cooler submarine vents in the Pacific looked promising and were called the Lost City. Then the Voyager 2 space probe sent intriguing pictures back from Europa, Jupiter’s icy moon. Could space be the place?

The author discusses six candidates on Earth and my favourite is definitely a freshwater pool in California – Bumpass Hell – but she reckons the most likely is a hydrothermal crater lake in India. The photo is surprising. This seems to be the only place in India that has NO people!

“We apologise…” Oh, shut up. This is ridiculous. Wait a minute. That’s a human voice. It’s coming from a bedroom where the Significant Other has been ordered to keep off a sore leg for a few days. For him, time is moving VERY slowly.

“When’s lunch?” he calls.

I turn off my phone. They’ve won. Four billion years in Earth’s life has passed and 40 minutes of mine has gone forever.

So, if you are planning to call Medicare in the future, remember you will need all the time in the world.


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