Out of Compliance

An audio version:

Compliance has been my enemy for a long time. We have had some epic battles over the years. My first big one was with the public education system. When I was 4 years old, my kindergarten teacher put me a dark closet and she forgot I was in there for the entire day- I am giving her the benefit of the doubt about the forgetting part. My crime was being out of compliance with the  “Do Not Disturb Others” policy. At 4 years old, I apparently didn’t understand that my peers were ‘students’ not potential play partners.

I have been punished economically, socially, professionally many times for being out of compliance. Living in California, where legal codes begat legal codes that begat taxes and fees and building codes and registration codes and immunization codes and special turn lanes, it is very easy to find yourself “Out of Compliance.” and there are professionals to inform you that you’re out of line along with implementing punishment for being so.

Now, I have enjoyed a wonderful career in higher education, surrounded by dedicated faculty and staff. However, compliance is the name of the game there too…both to get in and then to get out. If you didn’t grow up in a family that understood the compliance rules, often unspoken but understood through social cues, staying compliant can be difficult-especially if you’re broke. Besides being my enemy, compliance is also the enemy of creativity. Implementing creative solutions to our challenges in higher education is not a task for those who are overly concerned with the opinions of others.

If someone has the cojones to question a particular reason behind an order of compliance, more than not they will receive a comprehensive justification for the particular policy by an articulate bureaucrat. I’ve noticed that often the fees behind the policy will support that particular explainers position on the payroll. Also, once you’ve questioned the sanity or humanity behind a compliance order, you are never to be totally trusted again. This is often shown through nice little passive-aggressive comments such as ” Oh, there you go again, you little boat rocker.” You will be described as being blunt which is a big no-no in the Compliance Club. It’ll cost you professionally.

Being in compliance is not just the domain of education and other government systems. I think religion often becomes an issue of compliance. Believe, exactly like us, you’re in. You are compliant. “Please help yourself to some pie. The whipped cream is in the refrigerator.” I miss that church pie, but I am out of compliance with what I was taught to believe. I believe Jesus did not come to save me from an eternal Hell complete with the constant pain of burning flesh – some sort of transaction-like relationship. You believe this, I will do that. I believe he came to show me how much God, his Father and ours, loved us and how accepting that love can transform us from the physical experience to the spiritual existence.

Before my recent surgery, I had been trying to faithfully use a cpap machine to improve my health. In order for the insurance company to pay the monthly charge, I had to use the machine at least 21 days a month for 4 hours a day. I did- July, August, September, and October. November I had the unexpected surgery and hospital stay and since returning home sleeping for 2 solid hours has been rare. The cpap machine just added more stress to the mess.

How do “they” know I used the machine? “They” connect through an app on my cell phone which downloads the usage data. The other day, I called “They” and spoke to a pleasant voice and told her about my surgery and how using the cpap machine regularly again will take some time. The pleasant voice said, “Oh, I am not the one who deals with the compliance.” I told her, pleasantly I hope, “I really don’t like that word.” Will my insurance company put me back into that dark, socially isolated closet that my kindergarten teacher used for being out of compliance? If I was a betting man (and I am) I would say yes they will.

Now I am not against compliance in all forms and ways. I think trains running on one set of tracks should always be in compliance. I think Flint, Michigan drinking water should be in compliance with the highest standards. Apparently for years, some bureaucrats did not. I think utility companies such as Pacific, Gas, and Electric should be very compliant with the highest standards of maintenance and construction of their infrastructure. I have personal proof, including nightmares, that PG&E was not compliant with those standards. I believe that California Department of Water Resources should be compliant in the maintenance of the Oroville Dam – which not that long ago was an immediate threat to everyone’s life downstream from the dam.

In the hospital recently, I am trying to remember how many times a medical professional asked me, “How are you doing?” Perhaps it was the narcotics, but I can’t recall a single time. What I was asked over 15 times a day, “What is your name and when is your birth date?”  I guess they couldn’t trust my id information that they had put on my wrist when I checked in. One time I wanted to say, “My name is Abraham Lincoln and I was born into poverty in the hamlet of Hogenville, Kentucky on February 12th, the year of our Lord, 1800 and 9.” I was afraid though that I might have got sent to the psych ward.  Why do they ask so many times that same question, even by the same nurse who just asked it 10 minutes before? It is because of compliance with medical practices that are directly connected to reimbursement rates. The question, “How you feeling?” – not so much connected.  (Also, if your blood sugar is at 130, you get one unit of insulin. If you are at 129, you don’t need it or so I found out from direct experience. One time the meter displayed 130, here’s the shot. Another time it was 129, no shot, in compliance!)

One well-mannered, fresh-faced male nurse assistant, maybe around 25 years old, came to draw blood. “What is your name and birth date?” he asked before stabbing me.  I told him and he replied, “Hey, you have the same birth date as my wife.” To which I responded with my eyes closed from fatigue, “Why did you marry a 66 year old woman?” Taken by surprise, he tried to explain to me what he meant, not getting my humor. Still with eyes closed, I smiled, it felt good to be ambushing my old enemy, compliance, once again.