A Sad Story

        Years ago I was the only Doc at the office one Thursday when a man came in.  He had a sad story.  His wife was dying of cancer.  She was at one of the big University Hospitals, and there was no more they could do.  They were going to send her home, and Hospice would see her through her last days. 

        The man had been at her bedside around the clock.  In all the turmoil, he overlooked his utility bill at the house, and they had turned off the power.   He had left his checkbook at the Medical Center.  The receptionist pulled his chart and confirmed he was a patient at the practice, though he had not been in for a visit in a year or so.  He asked if we would loan him fifty dollars to get his power turned back on.  One of my staff members came to me in tears and told me the whole story in between patients.  

        I was a young Doc at the time.  I could see the staff looked to me to do the right thing.  They felt sorry for this guy, and I did too, but some of it didn’t ring true.  I heard him out for a minute, and made a decision. 

        “Cut him a check to the Power Company for fifty bucks.  I hate for him to be put out.”

        “Yes sir.”

        You know what happened next.  It wasn’t but fifteen minutes when the Power Company called.  “Hey Doc, do you want us to cash this check for this guy?”

        “No, it’s O.K.  Void it.”

         Turned out he was going from one business to another and had gathered up money at several stops.  Not only did his wife not have cancer, but he was not married.  I called his last employer to see if he remembered the man.

           Boy did he.  “Doc, you hold on to that S.O.B.  I’m gonna come over there and tie a cinder block around his leg and throw him in the Neuse.”  The man had stolen all kinds of equipment from Roy’s construction company.  I was glad the man was already gone.  Roy was law abiding, and didn’t need to buy trouble.   

           I have seen several scams play out, and over time I’ll tell you of some of them.  These guys have already cased the situation before they make a move.  They often target the helping professions such as Docs or Vets, because they know folks that work there are often kind hearted idealists, so watch out for them.

Dr. B

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22 Comments on “A Sad Story”


  1. It’s so sad that we need to be suspicious when people tell us a story like this… You don’t know if you should believe them or if you should assume they’re only out to get your money and scam you. There’s a beggar at the central bus station near my house, and he has a big band-aid constantly on one of his eyes and he has a usual rant that he gives when people go on the bus – “I’m a sick man, three children at home, no food, help me please. Charity for a sick man, charity for a poor man, I live from my hand to my mouth.” He says it over and over again. But who knows, right?

  2. drtombibey Says:

    ms slightly,

    So true. I still remember I felt bad for not believing his story. After it was over, I was a bit mad at him for reinforcing my tendency not to trust at times. Somehow the balance seems to be trust with healthy skepticism.

    Sometimes I have offered folks food, and have them turn it down and say they want money. It is hard to know at times.

    Dr. B

  3. Cindy Carter Says:

    You did the right thing by having it cut for the Electric Company. Not many people would think to do that.

    Another scam is played out at rest stops where someone will come up to you and say that they have run out of gas and just need $10.00 to make it to where they can get help. When told that the Highway Patrol can be contacted to help them, they quickly turn it down.

    It is hard some times not to “trust” people. But, you know what if you give for the right reasons and someone uses it for wrong….you are not the one who has to answer for it. God knows!

  4. julius Says:

    I’m surprised it was that long ago! It sounds like something that would be happening more commonly now. It’s unfortunate that people to take advantage of doctors and so forth, when doctors do start out trying to help, especially those that need it.

  5. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Cindy,

    One time I was in Washington, D.C and asked a homeless guy for directions. He was very helpful and I handed him five bucks. I figured he needed it more than I did. I told he ought to start a business as a guide for lost tourists. He about fell out.

    I guess if I had been mugged I’d have a different outlook, but I wish the world could have more trust too.

    Dr. B

  6. drtombibey Says:

    Julius,

    I think the guy targeted me ’cause I was young, new in town, and a country kid at heart. (Still am for that matter)

    I guess the trick is not to become cynical, and at the same time not be naive; a fine line at times.

    Dr. B


  7. Dr. B,

    For those of us in the helping professions, there’s often a double load of guilt for feeling suspicious. We’re supposed to be “unconditional givers” and only have open hearts.

    I had a similar situation happen years ago and lost some of my innocence. But I have replaced it with what I think of as tough love, the kind that gives what is needed, which may not be what is wanted.

    Is that right? Who knows? But it allows me to make the judgements I need to, so I can give in some way.

    Pamela

  8. Parson Bob Says:

    Been there, done that, Doc! In my 45 years of parish ministry I’ve seen more scoundrels that there are in Washington, DC! The tough part is weeding them out, for there is always some wheat among the tares, if you get my drift! Some would even sit out in their cars and send the children, little ones, to the door.

    My rule of thumb was always to err on the side of generosity (a.k.a., being a sucker). I’m sure I got taken more often than not, but I slept better. And, at least until I finish this law school gig, I’m not the judge.

  9. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Villars,

    My guess is you are the kind of person who lives to help people, and they didn’t take that away from you.

    Dr. B

  10. drtombibey Says:

    Parson,

    I bet the ministers really do hear it all twice and then some.

    Dr. B

  11. Mrs. Chili Says:

    It’s so hard to trust people, and folks who do stuff like this make me mad because they make it HARDER to trust people. Bastard. It’s jerks like him that make me really hope that karma exists.

  12. drtombibey Says:

    mrschili,

    Yep, just when you get to trusting everyone someone comes along who makes it hard. My only consolation is in my work with people I have found the majority to be O.K. I hope you are right about karma too.

    Dr. B

  13. Karen Says:

    Dr B, we have had both the pleasure of helping people and the misfortune of being ripped off numerous times over the years.

    I guess I have two philosophies:
    1. I don’t give cash. If someone is hungry, I’ll buy them a meal. If they need a place to stay I’ll arrange accommodation. If they need a bus ticket I’ll walk to the station and buy it for them. Anyone who isn’t genuine very quickly disappears.

    2. On the occasions when I do give cash – say, to charity collectors – it’s no longer my responsibility what happens with that money. I hope it is used for the purpose it was intended, but we’ve all heard of charities that misuse funds. I just trust that God knows my heart as I’m giving. They’ll have to answer to Him one day if they are dishonest and rip people off. That’s good enough for me :-)

  14. drtombibey Says:

    Ms Karen,

    I think your way of handling it is about right. I am very reluctant for my daughter to do too much for strangers for concerns about her safety.

    On the other hand, I am an old man she is a karate expert, so she’d end up taking care of me.

    Dr. B

  15. Smitty Neuse River Pres. Says:

    Doc, looks like everybody has been taken and of course when you are in education and coaching, we have stories.
    I remember one time, a car load of folks pulled up in my driveway in the city. A young man gets out and ask me if I know his cousin and I said I do. He was needing some help with gas money. A car load of folks, Friday night and needing gas money: sure. So, my wife was at the door to the house and I told her that I had to do a couple of things and I would be ok, so just trust me on this as I explained what I was about to do. I knew the family that I was dealing with and they lived in the bad section of town.
    I went to the back of the house, where I got my gas can, put a little gas in the car and said, go home this will get you to where you need to go. They stated to me that this guy owed them money. Not my problem, you have gas, go. What about him? No problem. You are going to get in the truck and I will take you home. His teeth hit the ground. He tried to convience me that he lived in a rough section of town. Get in, I said. I took players home all the time in this section of town and when I was riding down the street and they saw that blue/white Ford truck, well everybody was saying hello to me and I thought one time, he was going to jump out and run.
    I took him to the address and knocked on the door, a lady and man came to the door. Hey coach, what do you need. I have a lad here who says he is a cousin of your family, low on gas and needing a ride, could you take him off my hands. They did!I drove away that night knowing I missed watching a good chewing out. A little giggle by me as I drove off.
    Be careful who you ask for help, they might really know you.
    Happy Belated Birthday Marfar!Mine is in the same month.

  16. drtombibey Says:

    Smitty,

    Happy birthday!

    Morale of the story: Any kid who tries to fool Coach in a small town is a fool for sure.

    When I was growing up if you got a speeding ticket, Coach found out before your parents did.

    Dr. B

  17. soulintention Says:

    Doc, always hard to believe everyones story – I would like to believe everyone – I saw a women looking through the garbage when I stop for gas. I gave her 5 dollars – she went straight into the gas station and bought the largest bottle of beer she could get. I was a little taken back but was always thankful that it was not me or a family member in the situation. It was what she needed – not my place to judge her needs.

    Barbara

  18. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. soulintention,

    I like to believe everyone too. Every once in a while it causes me trouble, but I guess it is better than being cynical all the time, huh?

    I’m like you- I reckon if I had to rumage through the trash for food every day and got a hold of five dollars I might do the same.

    Dr. B

  19. Ted Lehmann Says:

    A tough problem with no really good answer. We tend to support, when we can, legitimate agencies within the social structure. I’m amazed though, at stories like this and a recent one we saw on TV. A man who didn’t have health care had had to stop buying insulin and test strips to purchase food for his kids. When the story ran, countless offers of the appropriate supplies were provided and someone even hired the man. The sad thing to me is that such tales reinforce the idea of social kindness, but neglect the fact that thousands more get no such publicity, and hence no help. Unless our institutions, both public and private are geared up with sufficient funding to assure many fewer people falling through the cracks, all of us will be faced with these hard choices. Especially in these hard times. – Ted

  20. drtombibey Says:

    Ted,

    The safety net has way too many holes in it for sure.

    Once a year do a gig where the price of admission is to bring at least two cans of food. We have a big crowd, and I like to believe that by leveraging myself I get to have fun, and do more good than doing something alone.

    Come to think of it, I am sure that is true. No one would come to hear me sing lead or solo. (Maybe they’d give three cans if I’d stop, though)

    Dr. B

  21. Susan Shay Says:

    You were pretty smart to be so young, Doc. I remember being in the kitchen at church one Sunday night, and having to answer the phone over and over. People asking for money to pay gas or electric. Or buy food for their babies.
    One guy who called was a customer of ours at the pharmacy. He NEVER got behind on his drug bill.

    Susan

  22. drtombibey Says:

    Ms Susan,

    On my. Much like Coach said a few comments back, one better be careful who they try to fool. It might be someone who knows them.

    Dr. B


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