‘Do you mind me asking, what exactly is wrong with you?’

Waiting for a test; not an interrogation into my illness

Waiting rooms full of waiting questions. Photograph: iStock

Waiting rooms full of waiting questions. Photograph: iStock

 

Instead of being initially heartily offended – as the textbook Cancerian I am – I found humour and new things to consider from a slightly bizarre exchange.

It was last week. I arrived at the hospital for a routine check-up. I was half an hour early so my better (and considerably taller) half and I had some time to kill in the main foyer, but there were no seats. A woman must have noticed my heavy sigh as I clicked my heels to turn the other way.

“You can sit here with me,” she said gesturing to her table, “I’ll be leaving in a minute anyway.”

Grand so, I said to myself. We both thanked her and sat quietly, not wanting to disturb her from her tea and cupcakes. I had a lung function test that day so I was focused on enjoying the quietness, not wanting to get involved in too-high falutin chat that would tamper with my various levels of which none of us really know the proper names. I admired her floral ceramic reusable cup and let my mind wander to mundane things such as does the coffee dock here offer a discount with one of those.

She was probably a well-intentioned individual who didn’t mean any harm in the questions she kept firing at me

She began asking some relatively innocent questions; “Are you visiting someone? Oh, you have an appointment, what’s that for? Oh, you’re from Achill; I cycled down there . . .”

She talked about her sons, what she hopes they’ll do with themselves and how her eldest better learn to drive, “I keep telling him, once you learn it once, that’s it.”

There were questions about our studies and careers and oh, just subtly, about where we might settle.

Where would you get it?

By all accounts, she was probably a well-intentioned individual who didn’t mean any harm in the questions she kept firing at me. My life is not a straight forward thing to be poking and prodding about with curiosity. It’s true to say that could be said for almost all of us. It feels like a breathing exercise in itself having to tell a certain chunk of it, as open-natured as I tend to be.

“And, eh, do you mind me asking what, like, happened to you? Was it an accident or . . . ?”

Jhaysus, stop the world and let me off.

A few milliseconds went by between Chris and I playing eye-ball table tennis on how I would manoeuvre around this one.

Half-smiling in the distance, trying to figure out how she could pin this one on me. I had not thrown around any orthopaedic buzz words or mentioned a bad back. She must have noticed the way I walked when I arrived.

Do I walk much differently? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you for a twopence. I probably do to a degree but I prefer not to know fully, sure I don’t need to. I feel I know more than enough.

“Arah,” I started. I gave her the brief two-line explanation I give anyone if they happen to ask. It is fair to say it’s a knee-jerk reaction that I shouldn’t feel I need to give on every occasion. Whether or which, between a rock and a hard place, I have synopsised 22 years down to a fine science.

Having assured her I knew exactly where I was going, she insisted on walking down with us to the corner of the hospital where I was going to have my test. I was showered in the universal sentiments that I am (allegedly) an inspiration and “the rest of us really shouldn’t take anything for granted”.

Nice.

Whatever I thought about it, the technician wasn’t happy. My heart rate was higher than it should be. “Are you nervous about anything?” she asked.

I’m not an inspiration, martyr or soldier

I had been undergoing these lung tests as a precautionary measure due to my congenital scoliosis for as long as I can remember. I could nearly do the test myself at this stage. I explained about the chat and the questions I was asked, despite hoping for even 20 minutes quiet time beforehand.

“Ah,” she threw her hands in the air, “well, Mary has just ruined my test!”

I came out – albeit later than I planned – unscathed, thankfully.

It made me think; how entitled are we to ask these things? Some might ask why I bothered going into it at all but, in some respects, I would prefer to be asked politely about it rather than a pair of eyes gawking, trying to figure me out. Having said that, there are ways and means of asking these things. Top tip: it might not be best to ask out straight what is wrong with a person. And don’t get me started on the “inspirational” gold coin of the whole saga.

I’m not an inspiration, martyr or soldier. I have my own ways of dealing with it in response, I’d drop the hint in the strongest country-lingo stored in large compartments at the back of my head I usually keep a lid on in the Pale.

Arah, well sure look, this is it. The bills will be coming through and I have to find a way t’pay them, no more than anyone else. Sin sin, sin a bhfuil agus sin é.

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