My weekly schedule involves appointments, lots of them. I visit doctors so often, it almost resembles a full-time job. And as most of you have experienced, I too spend the majority of this time in the doctor’s waiting rooms…..waiting. When this first began, I dreaded the time spent in these waiting rooms. Typically, no matter how much they try, doctor’s waiting rooms seem cold and impersonal…..reminiscent of cattle holds. They also typically are crowded with people…..which I found intimidating in the beginning. But that has all changed for me.
After many years of sitting quietly in the waiting rooms, observing others and nervously fidgeting…..hoping time would fast forward at my will…..I began to notice things. Or should I say one big thing. As crowded as waiting rooms can be, I always experienced a profound sense of being alone. People surrounding me everywhere I looked, yet still feeling incredibly lonely. Then it dawned on me. I bet they feel alone too. How sad that so many of us pack in the same room for such an extended period and simultaneously feel so cut off from others. We sit there almost as if our own impenetrable force fields surround us…..ala Star Trek…..and nobody can get through our shields. We don’t chat with each other, we don’t attempt to bond even a little, and for heaven’s sake we absolutely never maintain eye contact. But why is that? I wondered…..just as I was guilty for perpetuating the same. So I decided to change the rules.
I began a campaign designed to engage my fellow doctor travelers. And this campaign has turned into one of my life’s most rewarding and joyful experiences to date. I watched a TED Talk where this brave woman sought to engage fellow travelers on places like the NY subway system by using humor to break the silence. She takes bottles of bubbles with her everywhere she goes…..among other goodies. And her payoff is spectacular. I watched her talk and thought, okay I can do that too. So I did.
I bought a jar of bubbles from the dollar store and with some trepidation, unleashed it in the first waiting room I sat in that actually had a toddler in it…..felt a little less weird that way. That first attempt was such a huge success for me…..chatting with little ones, then their parents, making people smile. I felt invigorated. To be honest, some doctor’s waiting rooms did not appreciate my gestures in the least, to which I humbly apologized and ceased blowing my bubbles. But what that one idea did for me more than anything was give me the courage to break out of the mold and interact with fellow patients. For that I am eternally grateful.
I have shared in a multitude of conversations ever since that day. Some of my waiting room chats have come along at the “perfect” time…..lifting my spirits when all I had felt was dread. I had one such experience just the other day. I had received a phone call from a specialist office asking me to come in as soon as possible…..never a good thing to hear in my experience. I questioned the caller and received information that through me for a loop. The doctor had carefully analyzed all my pre-surgery blood work and felt I had an ominous condition called TTP. The receptionist squeezed me in for an emergency visit the next day…..which meant the doctor would fit me in between his long ago scheduled patients and be ready for a long wait. As I sat in the waiting room…..no bubbles this time, just a sketch pad and multiple colored pencils…..curiosity drew a number of fellow patients into a chat with me.
This is how I met Carl. Carl has chocolate-brown hair sprinkled with flecks of silver. He appears a trim and fit senior fellow standing five foot ten. His complexion is youthful and his eyes full of life. Carl noticed my sketching (scribbling really) and began a conversation with me. Turns out this dignified fellow was all of 95 years young. Astonished, I asked for his secret to such vibrant longevity. Support, he said, support and love. He married to his second wife for 60 years and has 5 children, 12 grandchildren, 7 great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandson. Truly a blessed man, he declared. He stated that he never smoked, never dabbled with drugs, quit his occasional drinking at age 75, and forced himself to exercise everyday. But the number one thing he gave credit to for his long and fruitful life was a strong and loving support system. That support system is what pulled him through his massive heart attack 15 years ago. That support system helped him when his wife battled with ovarian cancer 30 years ago, and when he fought with prostate cancer less than 5 years ago. He was smiling from ear to ear as he told me that he absolutely had conflict within his group of friends and loved ones, but conflict was a good thing as far as he was concerned. Conflict, but never violence, he emphasized. He asked me if I wanted to know the secret to joy and bliss. Of course I did. He pointed to my arms and said to wrap them around as many people as I possibly could. Then….. as I sat there still soaking all this in….. he wrapped his around me.
Well, I am sitting here typing this and bawling like a baby. But I’m not crying because I am sad. I am crying with happiness. I am crying because I am overwhelmed even now with the precious gift Carl has given to me.
And I want to share that gift with all of you.