Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Shiny Happy People

Our doctor's office is divided into quadrants. Four spaces complete with uncomfortable chairs and out-dated magazines in which to spend your wait (however long that may be is anyone's guess) to see your doctor. Generally, unless you are there with small children and a grandmotherly type decides to take up conversation, people keep to themselves. They avoid eye contact, not knowing if their co-patient is being seen for the common cold or something more serious. A kind of waiting room etiquette is usually applied and followed, for the most part. Voices, if they must be used, are delivered in a library tone and anything beyond a whisper will garner a curt look from the receptionist (who is loudly chatting on the phone with a friend about where to party tonight - you dare not speak above her).

I could hear her before the automatic sliding glass doors opened. She was talking on a cell phone, loudly enough to be enjoying the annoyed looks of the man sitting in her shared space.

I checked in with the receptionist. I surveyed the choices of seating, and, not wanting to catch a nasty virus before the holidays, I chose the area with the loud lady and the older gentleman, they looked less "contagious" than my other choices. I knew I'd be safe from idle conversation if I positioned myself nearer the man, and besides, I had brought a book with me (the perfect accessory, if you ask me, to bring to such places because you can coyly people watch over the pages of said book and nobody will know the better).

I nestle myself in to the cushy, extra deep, leather chair and prop my feet up on the ottoman - whoops, I mean the uncomfortable waiting room seat and sift through my bulging purse for my book.

The loud lady has finished her phone call and is fidgeting, violently.

An elderly couple and their (what I assume to be) granddaughter take up residence in our quadrant and begin to fill out a mountain of paperwork.

"Oh this rain, it has never rained like this before and I am used to California." declares the loud lady, obviously she is incapable of not talking for more than 2 minutes.

A tidy and polite reply is given to her by the older gentleman sitting near me, others smile slightly and return to their paperwork, or book.

Almost with the excitement of a child catching Santa in the act for the first time, the lady exclaims "Oh, I am just so high right now!".

I focus intently on the words upon the pages in my book, bite my tongue and take a few unnoticeable deep breaths. Those around me have raised their eyebrows, but dare not say a word.

"I am high as a kite on my bi-polar cycle and, oh jeez, I am sorry, I just need to keep my mouth shut."

A minute or so passes, more fidgeting, more sighing from her direction. I try to read my book but I can't help myself. No, I don't' talk to her (are you kidding, I have learned my lesson from conversing with crazy strangers), I just watch.

"Okay, I'll leave. I'll go sit somewhere else."

She gets up and moves to another corner of the waiting room, mumbling all the while. She sits herself down and just as abruptly as this all started, she RUNS out the door and sits down on the curb.

Now, I really tried not to give myself whiplash or be obvious as I observed her, but I wasn't the only one looking. Another receptionist appeared from the back and started whispering and glancing in the direction of the doors, where the woman was sitting conversing with voices unheard by everyone else. I buried my nose deeper in my book and tried to ignore the looks of everyone else, who seemed like they'd just witnessed a horrific accident.

It was obvious that this woman was unwell. Although it is a general rule of mine to avoid striking up conversations with crazy people, I find myself wondering what the harm would've been if I'd just humored her and listened to her lament about the rain. The effort on my part would've probably been very minimal, only occasional "ooooh's" and "uh-huh's" between her rambling would have made, in her mind, a pleasant exchange. Instead I did nothing. Worse than that, I snickered (inside, not so anyone could hear me), I was embarrassed for her and if there is a way to roll your eyes without actually doing it, well, I was doing it. What am I, twelve?

The world is full of people of all types and varieties, this makes it such an interesting place, this makes being human worthwhile, as within each of us is the capacity to do good. Now I am not proposing that we all go around striking up idle chit chat with vulnerable strangers, but I do want to remind myself, and others, that a little kindness can go a long way and sometimes the tiniest bit of compassion (even if it is merely a smile) can make someone's day, you just never know.


mk said...

Wow, what an experience. I have found that before i had my daughter with my at dr's offices, no one really talked, but whenever there are kids or elderly there is talking as you said. You are right though- it wouldn;t hurt us to chat with someone and possibly make their day or appease them. I have been very guilty of the book or magazine hiding too!

Mrs. Chicky said...

That is a tough situation. I have to say I would have handled it the same way. You certainly didn't know she was going to run outside or how messed up she was. I wouldn't beat yourself up too much.

sunshine scribe said...

That is such a difficult one. Wow. Really. WOw. I think I would have handled it the same way though. Hind sight is always twenty-twenty.

Grim Reality Girl said...

Okay, call me paranoid -- but I think you make the right choice in not speaking to the lady who was having a conversation with people who were not there. I'm just saying... there is a difference to chatting with a lonely stranger and chatting with someone who might need to be on meds..... I sound mean now.... just be careful...

Anonymous said...

Mr. Anonymous in Africa: You better save all of this for that great American novel, someday, Carrie! Happy Thanksgiving, and do hug Aunt Joan a couple of extra times for me. See you at Christmas, UJ

Mamacita Tina said...

I have to admit, once she said she was high (due to prescribed meds I hope and nothing else) I would also bury myself in a book or magazine. I can handle small talk with just about anyone, but if there's a chance they might "loose it," it's probably better to try and keep things quiet rather than encourage their string of thinking.