Teachable moments in the waiting room

Columnist Claudette Sandecki says much can be learned from conversations in the medical lab and waiting room in Terrace, B.C.

Terrace’s medical lab and the Medical Building’s third floor waiting room offer diehard people watchers like me a cornucopia of entertaining  conversations and behaviour unfettered by any concern whatever for privacy. If you share an ailment under discussion, your wait may prove as beneficial as meeting with the relative support group.

Once, while waiting to be called in to see my doctor, I found myself subjected to an impromptu lecture on the art of diaper changing. Because I was seated where I couldn’t see the lecturer, I had only her running patter  to go by.

Who was her intended audience? Many of us were well past child-rearing age. Yet going by the Hear Ye! volume of her vocal delivery, she could have been presenting the intricacies of Pampers switching to 720 hearing impaired novice mothers in an auditorium where the  sound system had failed.

As she detailed the procedure for changing the baby’s diaper, I gathered from her staccato commands she was attempting to reel in   a toddler who never roamed into my view. She was perturbed he  was playing with his father’s cell phone which he had filched from her handbag. Fortunately for all of us within range, to some degree his silence offset  her midway barker decibel level.

Finally, when I was called into my doctor’s office, I walked past her. She had her baby girl lying naked from the waist down on the well trod carpet. The tot’s nakedness accounted for the embarrassed glances from some of her  younger male audience.

A lesson in family dynamics came to light on one lab visit when I witnessed the greetings exchanged by two retirement-age ladies who clearly knew each other well. Both were tanned bespeaking Florida holidays.

“Have you been fishing this summer?” asked one.

The other woman practically snorted. “No way! If I go fishing with the men, all I do is pack in the groceries, cook, clean up, and tidy after the trip. If they want to go fishing, let them look after themselves.”

I wanted to cheer. Too often I’ve heard stories of mom  left with the scut work while dad and the grown sons fish and kick back with a beer.

Another time when I had to zip my lip occurred in the lab when an elderly lady told the lab technician of her unhappiness with the way her husband would mix things up, things like his lab tests and prescription regimen,  so that when he returned home he either didn’t or couldn’t tell her what he had learned. That left her uncertain how to care for him, especially his low salt diet.

She, too, made no effort to spare the rest of us from her complaints.

I gathered her husband had visited the lab alone. Due to his advancing age and waning comprehension or memory, he had left, unclear about what had transpired, or any changes to his treatment plan. These were details she needed to be clear about.

Her solution was to ask the lab technician to write a note to send home with him of any information she should share.

I sympathized with her predicament. I’ve been there. But I would have suggested she accompany him to all medical appointments.

As we age, it is advisable for the caretaker spouse to accompany the ailing partner to all doctors’ visits, the lab, and if possible, be present during exams or any tests whether in a doctor’s office or hospital setting. Or have an adult child or trusted friend go along, someone to act as a second set of ears, ask questions, clarify, take notes to keep instructions and information straight.

Apprehension may erase everything said to a patient. Go along with the patient. Take notes.

Columnist Claudette Sandecki keeps a sharp eye on the world from her home in Thornhill, B.C.