In the Waiting Room

Waiting Room, monday morning 9:00am

Some days I go to work.  I turn on all the lights and water the plants if it is a watering day.  I fire up the computer and turn off the answering machine.  The phone starts to ring out front and I can tell people are coming in the door because one of the ceiling tiles in my back office moves up and down ever so slightly when someone opening the door changes the air pressure in the office.  It’s my secret.  The tile makes a sound that isn’t a squeak and it isn’t a scrape.  It can probably best be described as a combination of both that ends up something like a sigh.  It’s Show Time!

It never looks this bad in my waiting room.  Some days it gets pretty close though.  On the other hand, to the patients, I’m quite sure it feels every bit as bad as this looks because, to put it bluntly, it really sucks to be in pain.

While my patients are in one waiting room, the rest of us are in another.  Ours doesn’t have [Waiting Room] written on the door.  There doesn’t even have to be a door at all, but, nevertheless, we are all just waiting to hear, feel, or somehow realize that…..  We are next.

Life is what we do to kill time in the “waiting room”.  It’s a metaphor and that is never to be confused with a “petit four”.

Assorted Petit fours

Petit fours look like this.   They are delicious, but, sometimes overly sweet.  If it didn’t matter how fat you got you could eat these all day long off a big tray.  When someone else came by to say hello, or, marvel at your astounding girth, you could say with a mouth full of half chewed petit four, ..Have a Petit four, won’t you?  Just to be polite they probably would.

I think eating Petit fours is like reading an old copy of National Geographic, or, Better Homes and Gardens.  It’s like going to school, having sex, planting snap peas and sitting around the kitchen table with the wife and planning a surprise trip to Disney World with the remarkable grandkids.  It’s like EVERYTHING we do that serves to pass the time (tick-tock-tick-tock) and distract us from where we are and what we are all waiting for.  We are waiting our turn and it pisses us off to find nothing but old magazines, with dog-eared pages, from 2009 to distract us.  That was a metaphor too.  Waiting is bad enough, but, being bored while waiting is, for some, utterly intolerable.  They go bungee jumping, cheat on their spouses, or, decide to get something in Chinese tattooed on their ass.  There is simply no end to the mischief people can be counted on to get themselves into, in the Waiting Room of life.  No end to the stories they won’t dream up to tell themselves and no activity too absurd or bizarre.  Start a family, get a real estate license, take up fly fishing, consume mind altering drugs… it’s all the same.  It’s all an attempt to forget we are in line for the dirt nap and, worse than that, we don’t know where in that line we are.

My waiting room is just a sub-set of THE Waiting Room.  Metaphorically you understand.  We are all in there somewhere waiting our turn, pretending we are up to important things, things that matter, things that have meaning.  The key word there is “pretend” because that’s all it is.  I bet 10,000 years ago everybody spent their days pretending they were up to important things… thinking important thoughts… feeling important feelings.  How funny is that?

I have come to understand that nothing is important unless we pretend it to be, and that only can last as long as we are there to pretend.  I can’t tell you how liberating that was.  Curiously enough people notice this “in you” and a day hardly ever goes by without someone remarking, in a nice way, … “You know you are crazy, don’t you?”  

Well, I think that must be the point this little essay is leading up to.  The sweet liberation that comes with achieving the golden balance between crazy and competent.  Having people, patients especially, know you are nuts, but, line up for your care and advice.  NOT in spite of it mind you, but, BECAUSE of it.

Helping people with difficult problems is more addictive than heroin, especially if you are any good at it.

All this has helped me understand what it must have been like to have been a Shaman in some primitive society, group, or tribe.  They had no science, yet, curiously enough, they held more power and respect than any other member of their group.  Far more than doctors do today in spite of the fact that they didn’t HAVE effective medicine… they WERE effective medicine.  They acted crazy as shit… crazy as bedbugs.  They didn’t decrease the number of microorganisms, viruses or parasites in their patients…. they gave their patients strength to overcome them through sheer force of will and the power of magic.  Imagine that.  Magic.

We call some of that the placebo effect today and we say it as if it were something dirty, like cheating.  We say it as if it happens to stupid people, or, to people who weren’t really sick to begin with.  We can be such pompous asses at times.

Many years ago I treated a woman with Stage 3 Lyme disease.  Her husband had been a patient.  He was a director of music videos.  He had just finished one for Billy Idle called White Wedding.  He was a hoot and he asked me if I would consult with his wife.  She had completed a long round of antibiotics in the local hospital with no improvement.  It was the second attempt at lengthy intravenous antibiotic treatment.  She was experiencing all the classic symptoms.  Joint swelling, pain, vision problems, numbness, memory difficulty… the works.  Beyond that she was feeling absolutely horrible as a result of the antibiotics.

I spent two hours talking to her.  She had a Masters in Fine Art from Harvard, studied all over Europe and made a nice living as a fine artist.  She was an ardent follower of a person called “Gurumayi” who ran a Hindu Ashram in Fallsburg New York.  Her form of meditation-worship was dancing, chanting and twisting in a circle.  I asked her to describe this dancing and if she had been continuing her dancing during her illness.  She replied, “Yes, but I have so much pain and so little strength that I can no longer continue.”  She then began to weep.

I asked her if she was aware that Lyme Disease was caused by bacterial pathogen called Borrelia burgdorferi and that it was a spirochete and that means it looks like a corkscrew.  She replied that she had heard that.  I next told her that I was going to ask her a very important question and that she should think about it and be very sure about her answer.  She became very serious and said she was ready.  I asked her if she ALWAYS danced in the same direction and was that direction clockwise, or, counterclockwise.  She said… “Yes, always counterclockwise”.

I informed her that Borrelia burgdorferi was a counterclockwise wound spirochete. (I honestly couldn’t remember off the top of my head how it was wound)…  Her eyes became as big as saucers.  She exclaimed, “That’s it!  All this time my dancing has been making them stronger and stronger!”  I asked her if she knew what she had to do now and she replied…. YES!  YES!  “I must dance clockwise and drive them from my body.”

To cut a long story short her infectious disease specialist was dumfounded two weeks later when her blood work came back clean and her symptoms had disappeared.  To quote an old saying, “Drastic problems call for drastic solutions.”

Oh, and it helps at times not to be afraid to be crazy.  You will have to excuse me now.  I must go and drive the demons from my wife’s washing machine.  It’s making that awful noise again.







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3 responses to “In the Waiting Room

  1. You are amazing, Mrs. N.
    I was told that counterclockwise is the “woman’s direction” and that moving in that direction can be particularly calming to the female of our species. (For that reason I always make my kumihimo braids by working counterclockwise.) I must remember to work clockwise if I ever find a tick on me, just in case…

  2. Thank you Anita.
    These days one can’t be too careful. As you are well aware, the forces of darkness are lurking in the shadows.

  3. Thanks for the read. We live by illusions and delusions every day, and of course they sustain us while sitting in that waiting room.

    This is interesting stuff to think about from an ethics point of view. I try not to call my clients on their false beliefs unless it seems to be at the root of the problem they are looking to address in therapy. But I also try to avoid the [conscious] insertion of delusions that were not there in the first place. Aside from the fact that our ethics code demands that we ‘respect the dignity of persons’ (before considering a cost/benefit analysis of what might be in their best interest), it seems little better than lying. A recent survey, for example, suggests that 10% of doctors would NOT tell a patient that they are dying when they think it would upset them or negatively affect their health. There’s obviously something wrong with that.

    But then again, I am sure that we end up UNCONSCIOUSLY selling our unfounded beliefs despite our best efforts. Most of psychology, in my view, is based on various shared delusions… and our profession is happy to sell them to our clients – from notions of invisible ‘chemical imbalances’ to supposed ‘mental disorders’ that we pretend are akin to stomach ulcers and cancer. Maybe it is ethically okay as long as you believe it yourself – as long as you think that you’re still sane.

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