Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Awkardness and Frustration

I have an elderly father, which has come to mean frequent trips with him to doctors' offices. I don't mind that part so much. It comes with the territory. Having spent an extraordinary amout of time in physicians' waiting areas recently, I have become acutely aware of a circumstance that I just can't reconcile.
People talk about their problems in these settings, strangers and eavesdroppers be damned. Throw in an old guy who just can't hear and it becomes almost ubearable for me.
On our most recent trip to the doctor, I met my father in the common area some time after he had arrived for his appointment. I asked him how long he had been waiting. He said almost an hour. I asked him, "Do you know if the doctor is even here?"
He didn't understand me. Four times, I repeated the question. There were people all around us. He still didn't hear me, although everyone else did. Heck, people in the room across the hall heard me. Not fifteen seconds after the fourth attempt to get a simple yes or no answer, an office nurse came out to assure me the doctor was indeed in the building. Innocent small talk had become something of a scene, and I was just plain embarrassed.
I suppose I shouldn't be. Sitting around there, I learned about some lady's sciatica, another one's apnea and a man's Parkinson's. I don't want to know their business, and they were not speaking to me. But they were speaking to people with them and that's a pretty wide open space. As we learned, sound carries. Even more than I don't want to know their business, I don't want them to know ours. But, like the rest of them, Dear Ol' Dad has no hesitancy whatsoever about discussing his health or just about anything else in a room full of strangers. I just don't get it.
Why can't we just sit there and read or watch the TV they provide and wait our turn? I don't mind making small talk, providing you can make it within the framework of common manners and not be forced by circumstance to shove it down other people's throats. Doctors' waiting rooms have become the most awkward psuedo-semisocial settings in my life.
There should be rules:
1. If you're going to have some kind of public conversation in this space, confine it to something of widepsread interest like the weather or LSU football.
2. Don't presume you know something about my particular health issue. You didn't go to medical school.
3. If you must speak in the common area about your personal issues, keep your voice down so that only people in a one-person arc with its midpoint being your face can hear you.
4. You are under stress. We are under stress. Otherwise we wouldn't be at the doctor. This is all the more reason for you to keep it light.

Okay, I know this sounds harsh. I'm venting and confessing here. Believe it or not, in that context I just want to kind of walk in, not call attention to myself, get my personal business done and get out of there. I wish everybody else was the same way. If we want to talk about our problems, we can go grab a cup of coffee or something after the appointment. Is that too much to ask?

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