There comes a time in any writers life when he or she must do a bit of primer writing. Which is to say that we need to make introductions between our readers and the subject matter at hand. This is one of those occasions. It fell upon me to make this discussion after spending some time in the waiting room of my oncologist’s office. I was, as so many of us must, whiling away uncomfortably long moments while hoping my turn with the doctor would be nigh.
As I sat there, I was observing another waiting patient, who sat alone in a line of four chairs, occupying but one of them. Another patient came in, and seeing that there were a number of rows available with no one in them, immediately walked over and plopped himself down next to the man I was stealing glances at. The reaction to the intrusion was more than obvious; a lean away from the new arrival with a fleeting grimace across the face revealing increased discomfort. The interrupter leaned over towards the man, who leaned even farther away, and spoke loudly. “So, what’re you here for?” The man gently shrugged and mumbled quietly that he was seeing the doctor.
That was not sufficient information because the intruder continued: “Yeah? What for?”
The man’s eyes looked pleadingly about the waiting room as if to find someone who might come to his rescue. I gave it some thought, but decided it was more fun watching the tremendous breach of waiting room etiquette unfold. Unrescued, he cleared his throat and mumbled the word ‘cancer.’ Of course, this was not an answer which reached the fullness of the intruder’s desire to learn the intimate details of his victim’s medical woes. “Oh, yeah? So what’s on the old menu today? You gonna get an infusion? Find out how long you got? What’s up?”
“I’m getting a bone marrow biopsy done.” sighed the man. The resignation in his voice was heart rending. But not to the intruder.
“Holy Christ!” he thundered. “I had one of those. Jesus, they really hurt. The doc climbs on you like a stallion in heat and jams a needle the size of a jackhammer into the old hip. Man, you can hear it crunch as it penetrates the bone. Gonna be sore a few days, that’s for sure!”
The man looked at the intruder in horror, the blood rushing from his face, leaving him the approximate color of death. And not even warmed over. With widened eyes, he stood up with a jerk and took a stumbling walk to another group of chairs and took a seat, face in hands. That was the moment that it became incumbent on me to write a primer about waiting room manners.
I crossed the room and took a seat next to the intruder. I looked at his rustic Pacific Northwest agricultural grunge attire. He was wearing a plaid flannel shirt that had seen better days, faded jeans even more weathered, their tattered hems covering the tops of scuffed tan work boots. “You’re gay, right?” I asked, smiling widely. “I knew it the minute I looked at you. I mean, I’m not gay myself, but no offense. We can’t all be of a stripe, if you get my meaning. But yeah, I knew it right off.” I nodded openly to myself as the intruder looked at me wide eyed and horrified.
“No, bud. I ain’t gay…”
“No? Wow. I could have sworn… but okay. I get it. Don’t ask, don’t tell, right?”
“No.” he said again, stammering. I could see in his face that he was wondering what caused me to reach my conclusion. I let my eyes rake him up and down. I lightly smirked in a display of obvious disbelief.
“Huh.” I said. “I really could have sworn…” I got up and waddle walked myself back to my original seat and hid behind my Kindle. My wife, who’d be sitting in the next seat was glaring at me, and made it a point to inconspicuously elbow me in the ribs. I was about to protest, but the nurse came out and called my name. I rose and did my spastic-like cripple’s walk to the examining room. As I went, feigning covertness, I hooked my thumb towards the intruder while looking at my wife –and then waggled my wrist. The intruder saw it and his eyes widened as I disappeared through the examining room door.
You see, there are some things that you do and don’t do in waiting rooms. Simple empathy is a primary tool in deciding what the conditions call for at any given moment. But it’s a pretty sure bet that prying into a stranger’s medical woes is proscribed, and even more so in the giving of horrific descriptions to impending procedures. On the whole, it’s best to enter a waiting room unobtrusively, and without communication. Unless, of course, someone already there gives you an inviting look, gestures towards the seat next to them and winks. Then again, if their gender matches your own then there’s high likelihood that they’re either gay or psychotic. Even if you decide the former, it’s best not to comment. To do so would be intrusive.