It's a plastic world

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Ellie and I went together to visit our friend Pat in the hospital. She was admitted after a strange, debilitating illness, and after several tense days of clinical testing, the verdict was in: Pat had a fast-moving cancer, and nobody saw it coming. Not Pat. Not anyone. She had been healthy and was so looking forward to a change of pace with her job since she was scaling back the number of hours she worked each week.

We did our best to support Pat in the unwelcome news, and Pat couldn't have been more courageous as she bravely shared her fears and her resolve to "beat this."

As Ellie and I donned our coats and made motions to leave, I saw Ellie might be forgetting her purse, so I grabbed it from the chair and said, "Ellie, don't forget your purse."

She twirled around in the doorway and said, "Gosh, thanks so much. I really would have forgotten it. But there's nothing in the purse for anyone to take — I think I have all of two $1 bills cash, and that's it. Some prize for a thief!"

Pat chimed in, "You don't need to carry cash anymore. At least, I don't. Listen to this: When I go to the grocery store, I just swipe my debit card. When I go to the bank, I swipe my ATM card. When I go to the library, I just swipe my plastic library card. When I park at a parking meter, I swipe my debit card. When I get gas in the car, I use my plastic gas card. When I came here to the hospital, I just showed my plastic health insurance card. Does anyone use cash anymore?"

So we talked about that for a while.

"There are plenty of places that don't even want cash because a card is faster. Besides, my experience is that many cashiers don't know how to make change. For example, if my total comes to $3.92, I usually give four $1 bills plus two pennies and expect the cashier to give me a dime back. It's amazing how many clerks hand back the two pennies, telling me that I've given too much, and then proceed to give me 8 cents change."

"Yep, it's a plastic world," Ellie confirmed. "You don't find purses loaded with two $1 bills very often like this one."

She held out her purse, pointing for me to follow out the hospital room door.

"We could go on a spending spree!" she added.

[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati.]