I’m writing this at Argo Tea at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where I just spent two hours in the Lynn Sage Comprehensive Breast Center for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. I’ve finished eating cheese quiche and am enjoying the pumpkin chai far too much. (To my taste, almost anything benefits from pumpkin.) Life is better because after three additional views and the ultrasound, and pending obtaining past films from Mercy Hospital and Medical Center, the radiologist thinks my breasts are merely asymmetrical. This would not surprise me; I suspect my whole body is off. Even my ears, which are slightly offset, are different shapes. Nobody is perfect.
The verdict is: “Your exam shows findings with a high probability of being benign (non-cancerous). Short-term follow up is recommended.”
While I was waiting in the chair nearest the door, an elderly Asian woman tottered in on the technician’s arm. I shifted over a chair so she could have the closest chair before she fell. She told me why she has trouble walking (broken hip). In fact, for the next 5–10 minutes, before she was called, she regaled me with her medical history and much of her late husband’s, down to which hospital (when she could remember). I listened sympathetically, without a word, which seemed to be an acceptable response.
But before I reach my neighbor’s age, I want to train myself in some interpersonal communications habits because I don’t want to fall into the same trap (which I’m stuck halfway in now):
- Contribute no more than 50 percent of the conversation, whether measured in time, words, or subject matter. This should be easy for an introvert in a world of extroverts, but I can see how easy it is to forget.
- Discuss health matters only if they are of interest to the other party, for example, if they are having or have had the same procedure, they want to know about the doctor or hospital, etc. It’s not necessary to explain every groan or ache.
- Make sure that most of what I say is relevant to the other party and that they will take away something worth remembering or worth repeating.
After the mammogram, I returned to the waiting room, followed by the woman who had come in at the same time as I had. A woman reading a magazine on the sofa gave her several pointed, staring looks. I would have thought she recognized her as her husband’s mistress or first wife, given her facial expression. Then she looked down at the woman’s green patent leather shoes for several moments, followed by a perusal of her own zippered brown leather boots. “What is that about?” I wondered, as I observed the observer and the observed.
I was now sitting on the side opposite a wall magazine rack, where Time‘s “The Republicans” special issue caught my eye partly because John McCain’s head was floating against a dark background in the sinister way that too many graphic designers favor as “cool.” Even worse, however — the wooden slat of the magazine rack was blindfolding McCain, masking his face from his eyebrows to his nostrils. The effect? The perfect Ian Fleming/James Bond villain, about to sneer and say, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.”
Never mind the woman glaring bitterly at the woman in green patent leather shoes. What goes through my mind?