Mary Hogan goes to battle every day against aches and pains -- and the wages of aging -- with an arsenal of ankle braces, bed pans, walkers and compression garments. The 57-year-old sales associate works at Burlington's Yankee Medical on North Avenue, a facility that is replete with reminders of mortality. Hogan, however, is all about vitality. Born and raised in the Queen City, she came to Yankee Medical six years ago, after her retail job ended with the closing of Porteous department store. Hogan is tiny with a scratchy voice, and has an uncanny ability to block out distractions when cluing in a customer to the nuances of knee straps. The Yoda of Yankee Medical, who describes herself as a "Jill of all trades," discussed the ups and downs of her job last week.
SEVEN DAYS: So, how are you the Jill of all trades?
MARY HOGAN: Well, of course I do the customer service. I also do a majority of the ordering. I fit mastectomy [patients], I fit compression garments, girdles and compression stockings. If [customers] need a special order, I can measure for those, and then we send away and have them made. I don't do everything. I mean, I sell wheelchairs, but I don't sell the custom wheelchairs or anything like that. But most of the stuff on the floor I can sell. Between that and the ordering, it keeps me pretty busy!
SD: What's your favorite part of the job?
MH: Well, I do like the mastectomy fitting. It can be hard, but it's satisfying when you get somebody that you've fitted and they feel much better. I've had some people who didn't know that insurance covered the mastectomy products, so they're ecstatic to find that out, and it makes them look and feel so much better when they finally get something that looks like a normal breast and a normal shape . . .
SD: How long does a fitting typically take?
MH: Well, it depends on whether I have what they need in stock. Sometimes I have it here, and they can get it the same day; sometimes I might have to order it if I don't have a particular size form or a particular bra, and that might take one to two weeks. If something's in stock, I would say that a fitting takes maybe 45 minutes to an hour. The mastectomy is the longest. Most of the on-the-shelf stuff takes maybe 20 minutes, half an hour, between making up the paperwork and getting it fitted.
SD: Do people realize it's going to take that long?
MH: No, they don't! That goes for most of the things in here. It's really funny, they think it's like a department store, that they're just going to come in and pick it up and pay for it -- they don't realize what's involved.
SD: A friend of mine mentioned the care that you took in fitting an ankle brace. Does that tie in with your own personal approach to fitting customers?
MH: Well, any kind of a brace or anything like that should be tried on, just to be sure you've got the right size and the proper fit. Usually there are charts that will guide you, but still, it's much better to try it on instead of getting home and finding out it's not the right size. So I usually try to have [customers] try it on while they're here; it saves time and trouble in the long run.
SD: What's the most common thing people are looking for?
MH: Probably wrist splints and knee braces. A lot of carpal tunnel syndrome going around.
SD: What's the typical customer here for?
MH: Oh, boy . . . people are so varied. Some people, it's computers, but it can be any kind of repetitive motion. Or knee injury; if they're a skier or an athlete, they need something to keep it from going out again . . . We've had all ages; you can get little kids who've broken their wrist. But as a general rule, I'd say it's people probably in their mid-forties and up.
SD: How is going to Yankee Medical better than going to, say, a pharmacy or a grocery store for a brace or splint?
MH: It's like night and day. First of all, the types of braces and the quality that we have are much better. They last longer, and they're definitely more durable. They may be a little more expensive, but you're not going to find the kind of quality in drugstores that you would here. In the long run [our products] last longer, and they're more tailored to what the patient needs . . . You get what you pay for.
SD: Have you had a need for any Yankee Medical products yourself?
MH: I had a touch of carpal tunnel for a while, I'm not sure from what; it could have been from adjusting the equipment. So I've worn wrist braces. It did seem to help. Sometimes it's just a tendon that's inflamed, and if you can just quiet it down, that will straighten it out, you never know.
SD: What's the most unusual item you've been asked to help with?
MH: Ooh . . . I don't know if I want to say.
SD: If you had to compare your job to anybody else's, whose would it be?
MH: I'm like a pharmacist. People come in with prescriptions and we fill the prescription. It's just that this is equipment rather than medication, which is a little easier. [For example] with compression garments -- they'll come in with a prescription that says "compression knee-highs." There are various grades of compression, and they don't tell you which one they want. You don't want to give them the wrong one!
SD: Is any season busier than the others?
MH: The spring and summer are probably busier than the fall and winter. We sell more scooters and power chairs and the four-wheel walkers. People are more apt to get out and about, so we're more apt to sell them corresponding equipment.
SD: Has equipment become more sophisticated in the last few years?
MH: Well, we're selling a lot more four-wheel walkers, with the seats and the brakes rather than just the standard two-wheeler. There's a lot of improvement in power chairs and scooters; they're more compact.
SD: Has anybody come in with concerns about bird flu, looking for a facemask?
MH: Not so far! I'm expecting it. The panic hasn't set in -- yet.