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How inappropriate! December 13, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Noelle Bickle / Abby Brooks @ 10:49 PM

I had an odd experience today. I took my son over to the local hospital for his follow-up chest x-ray. It’s been just over a month since he was discharged from the hospital, and you’d never know he was even sick, let alone hospitalized for pneumonia. Kids bounce back. Their insides are all rubber ball and elastic bands it seems.

Anyway, I took him to our small town hospital. No appointment necessary – our doctor referral in hand was all we needed. By the time we parked, walked in, waited, got the x-ray and got back to our car, it was a total of twenty-five minutes. Who says rural perks stop at the scenery and free corn?

The bit I want to talk about though is the ten-minute wait we had. Something quite alarming happened. Sam and I walked in, took a number (isn’t that funny?) and went to sit down. Before our butts hit the chair though, the young man across from us – who looked about twenty years old – piped up.

“What are you getting x-rayed?” he asked.

“Excuse me?” I asked, sure I’d heard wrong.

“What are you here for?” he asked.

I was taken aback, but so startled by both the inappropriateness and naivety of this young guy who did not look at all like he was playing with less than a full deck, that I answered. “Chest x-ray.”

“You or him?” he points to Sam.

“Him.”

“What happened?”

This time Sam piped up. “Pneumonia.”

“Oh. That’s too bad. I broke my finger snowboarding,” the guy held up his bandaged pinky finger. “My doctor wants me to get it checked out again.”

“Snowboarding, eh?”

“Yup. I love it. Haven’t stopped even with this,” and up the finger goes again.

I found this odd, especially because there was three other people waiting. Within our conversation two of them had been called into the other room and a new set of patients was coming in. It happened to be two grown men pushing a very fragile looking older woman (presumably mom) in a wheelchair. She had a scarf covering a her head – no hair, no eyebrows. She looked very sick, the men looked very tired. They wheeled her towards the back of the wait room and almost had butt-in-chair when the broken snowboarder piped up.

“What are you here for?”

Both men and the elderly women looked over at him, surprised, but stayed silent.

“Are you getting x-rayed?” He seemed to not notice the snub, and just waited patiently for them to answer.

“No – my mother is.”

“Oh. What happened to your leg?”

I (along the with rest of the room) looked over to the man and the leg in question. He had a prosthetic – which wasn’t all that apparent until you saw his ankle leading into his shoe. I cringed. The room cringed. Had this kid no shame?

“I was born this way.”

“Oh. I think I’ve seen you running downtown. Do you run downtown?”

“Yes, I do.”

“That’s pretty good. Even I don’t run. I don’t like it much. I like to snowboard.”

Then something surreal happened. In this moment where the room was tensed with the blatant inappropriateness of this man’s questioning, things shifted. The man with the prosthetic started talking about how he learned to run when he was a kid because he was always tormenting his brother, who would fly into a rage and beat him amongst the head. He was laughing, the older brother was laughing, the mother was laughing, the snowboarder was laughing, and the rest of the waiting patients – myself included – were laughing as he talked about the “crazy eyes” his brother would get before chasing him around like a maniac.

The snowboarder’s number got called, and everyone wished him good luck. Someone told him to be safe on the slopes. Off he went, this instigator of inappropriate conversation, who somehow got a room of strangers laughing and sharing stories. Ten minutes later when our number was called, the room was still a buzz with conversation between strangers. Long after the random snowboarder left the building, he left an energy that warmed the room.

How odd. How interestingly, amusingly, wonderfully odd. There’s a lesson to be learned in this, though I’m not sure I’ve processed it enough yet to know what the lesson is. Thoughts? Give me your best shot at what today should teach me, and by the recounting – my readers too. What is the lesson?

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28 Responses to “How inappropriate!”

  1. Is it ignorance or what we most lack in recognizing in adults, innocence and genuine curiosity ?
    Its happened to me. After feeling like a fool from throwing up a shroud of defensive and dismissive guard, I end up feeling like the idiot that has denied himself the opportunity of experienceing true, honest and maybe child-like unfiltered communication. We’ll except it from a six year old and maybe a ninety-six year old, but an adult, someone that should know better than to ask honest questions from what puzzles them or who aren’t “afraid” to ask, thats just…..unacceptable.

    Too many social shields.

    – love your blog and writing style. Please keep it up.

    Gary van Eijk

    • Hello Gary! Wonderful to know you’re reading my blog – thank you.

      Yes – this was a surreal experience for me, and quite timely in terms of Christmas and the season to be good to mankind (which should actually be a year-round mantra). But it was wonderful to see how things can change in tone so quickly – it was heartwarming really.

      Hope all is well, and look forward to blog chatting again!

  2. Just because we find something inappropriate or irritating doesn’t necessarily mean everyone will. People’s norms vary a great deal – I guess the moral of the story is not to judge someone too quickly even if you think they’re odd and your child is watching!

    • It was very interesting, Elizabeth, becuase when I mentioned it to my son later he didn’t really think it was weird. When I asked him if he thought it was weird that the guy was asking everyone about their private business – Sam said “maybe he was just curious.” Out of the mouths of babes – makes sense. We grow up and become too polite sometimes.

  3. Dennis Rogers A Name you will never forget Says:

    You should have asked for there names. Then you could say hello to them every time you seen them again. Instead of oh there is that person i seen in the waiting room. What a great chance you missed to make new friends up there in Orilla. 🙂

  4. Cryssa Bazos Says:

    What a refreshing young man! We are so conditioned to giving each other a three foot wall of space, including ourselves, that we immedately think that a person without boundaries is a little off. Ok, he might have been, but this is what makes us human. Our minds are all unique. Snowboarder Dude just demonstrated what can happen when an honest conversation happens. How often do we ask someone, “How are you?” and expect nothing more than the formal return of, “I’m fine.” We’ve reduced these little exchanges to meaningless chatter. He was genuinely curious. A little nudge to get us out of our three foot shell can be a liberating event.

  5. Chef Deb Says:

    The snowboarder had the wide-eyed wonder and inquisitive mind of a five-year-old. Sometimes being politically incorrect has its rewards.

    Talk about great stories from small towns. Bravo to you, Noelle, for these thought-provoking posts.

    You can discover a story in yesterday’s coffee grounds!

    Hugs,

    Chef Deb.

    • A story in yesterday’s coffee grounds – I love it. I might steal it! Thanks for reading Deb – and sorry I am always such a hot mess at the breakfasts – I never get a chance to really connect with people the way I want to. It was great of you to come up and compliment me last time – you are too kind!

  6. Janet Chartrand Says:

    I work with head injured clients and many have been snowboarders. One of the damages that can be left to brains after multiple concussions, closed head injury, etc, is a loss of social parameters.Even without injury, the culture of “True Snowboarders” is much more honest than our mainstream society, also. I do not mean they are not intelligent human beings, they just literally live to ride those slopes. They have a very “what’s up Dude?” attitude about everything. Friendliness and honesty are desired characteristics amongst these folks.My nephew is a surfer out in B.C. and they too share these same values about life. LIIVE TO RIDE, RIDE TO LIVE.

    • Yes – I could see this young fellow having that same mantra – live to ride, ride to live. Sometimes we are so caught up in “proper etiquette” that we cease to connect to other human beings. It’s a shame. Maybe I should take up snowboarding? 🙂

  7. Dave Jones Says:

    You know, in small towns folks are just friendlier and in general some folks are just yakkers. I enjoy people watching when killing time in a waiting room but if someone starts talking to me it makes time fly and most often proves to be interesting.

    Possibly the lesson is that the city tends to give us am armour coating that says, ‘don’t bug me and I won’t bug you’ aura. Small towns tend to see us all as related somehow and it matters what happened to you.

    Do you think the snowboarder was some kind of angel?

  8. Cathy Picco Says:

    Noelle, I read your blog on my blackberry bed partner this morning, before my feet touched the floor. My BBP, as I will call it (how pathetic is that), is my alarm clock eventhough my puppy is the true wake up force in this house. I couldn’t wait to respond but had to hold out untill lunch! I have to thank you for sharing. This is such a great story and the message is even better. Why is it that we continue to nurture these limiting beliefs of what behavior is appropriate? We are taught to look the other way, avoid conflict, mind our own business, stop asking questions, show little emotion, and to adhere to social norms. I am guility of teaching my children the same and passing the torch, but recently have changed my perspective. Although my initial reation to all of these questions would be the same as yours; I have to ask, did you ever get the sense from this kid that his questions truly came from a place of naieve inquisitiveness and not intrusive noseyness if that is a word?…I would love to feel that free to have open dialogue with anyone. I guess some people are born with that personality and free spirit!! Hats off to the snowboarder!! I think the lesson is that taking an interest in someone else is never inappropriate when it comes from a loving caring place. A place where all we want to do is connect with another living breathing person and give them a piece of our positive energy!!

    • I love that I was your morning wake up call!

      I think it’s interesting that my 12- year old son saw it very differently than I did. He didn’t think the guy was “off or strange” in any way. And I didn’t either – I just thought it was shocking that he would be so “invasive” with his question. It was a good lesson for me – turns out he wasn’t being invasive – he was being engaging. We could all learn from it for certain. Human connection is the best medicine ever.

  9. Lisa Llamrei Says:

    I have to say that when reading this I didn’t think the young man was inappropriate at all. It was an emergency room, not an abortion clinic, so little chance there was anything truly secretive happening. I did cringe a little when he asked the amputee what happened to his leg, but even that was only because I’m too societally conditioned to think of asking such a thing. Had I been the amputee I doubt it would have bothered me. The unusual appearance of my family means I’ve been subjected to all kinds of questions and after a while it’s pretty easy to figure out who’s truly being invasive and who’s just being curious in a friendly way. For example, “Are your kids adopted?” I’ll answer without thinking about it. On the other hand, questions about where I got them and how much I paid I don’t need to acknowledge.

    Kudos to that young man for being so open and friendly.

  10. Annie Says:

    I think this is a great reminder. We are so bottled up in what is appropriate and what is not that we sometimes miss the part about being human. You wrote about the experience perfectly…I could feel the discomfort in the room, but what the snowboarder did is defuse all the separation between people. He made the room one with each other. Everyone suddenly more open and insightful. That kid is a wild hair, but a good one! Thanks for the wonderful story.

    • The kid is a wild hair – love that expression! It was discomfort – but I have to say it was almost like watching a movie it felt so surreal with the change of tone in the room. It did make everyone more open and insightful…just in time for Christmas. Nice gift.

  11. Mary Says:

    Hopefully, the young snowboarder will refine his conversational techniques as he gets older. Take of the bold edges. I think his boundaries are slightly awry, but then I’m from the generation of “that’s private.” Without him, you might have had a pleasant conversation with the others, given time. But the enviable 10-minute wait time isn’t long for that. You need to go to my doctor’s office for long conversations.

  12. Sandra Clarke Says:

    Noelle, I have to wonder, if your son had been there for a broken finger from catching a football or some other innocuous silly activity (something my son did not long ago) would you have been as taken aback? Or would you both have laughed and recanted the funny story that sent you there. My point is, the experience you had with your son last month was traumatic. Inside, your stomach still curls at what could have happened, your heart aches with regret at not acting sooner, and your spirit fills with gratitude that everything worked out – and here this bloke boiles it all down in meaning equal to every other patient there. How dare he? This is your baby he’s talking about.

    The prosthetic comment threw me for a loop as well, but I bet the man with the prosthetic loved being treated just like everyone else in the room, regardless of how traumatic his circumstances might be. As an equal.

    Great post!

    • It’s been really interesting to see the comments and get emails with different opinions about this. Some people see the medical thing as so very private (as I always have) while others see it as no big deal. I could have chatted about many things, but that starting point was so invasive to me. Sort of like asking what someone weighs or how much money they make. I do like the end of the story though – it was heartwarming to live through, and also to write about!

  13. What a great story, Noelle. I went to university in the States, and found the propensity to talk in waiting rooms and lineups refreshing. Recently, while visiting my sister in Kentucky, I had to wait quite a while in a post office lineup. There was a small child there who was very talkative. By the time he left, the entire group of people were smiling and talking together. But how much better would it be to be the one who inspired that in the room.

  14. Dale Long Says:

    I’m like Dave, I love watching people. I love even more, talking to them. Must be my east coast background or my retail background, or maybe I’m just a big ham.
    We are conditioned to “avert our eyes” when it comes to disability. “Don’t ask, they don’t like talking about it”. It’s a hyper-active sense of politness. P.C. carried out to the extreme. Thing is, in my experience, most people with disabilities want to be treat like plain people. No kid gloves, no special treatment.
    I’m embarassed to say I’ve spent a lot of time at the hospital for stupid sports related injuries. Maybe like your interogator, I suffer from an indestructible mentality or just that I play hard. Leave it all on the field or get off the field. My sensebilities have been molded by life and blunted by society. He was just asking a question, killing time regardless of why he was there. The end result was a short cut past all the awkward silence and build up to polite conversation. I wish I had been there to experience it.
    What a great story! I always love reading your take on things. You’ve got a great writer’s eye.

    • Indestructible mentality or just that you play hard…hmmm. I’d guess both. Equally. At least you know the next time you slide into home and rip somthing doing so, you can go into emerg and chat everyone up, and the world will be a better place for it!


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