Sunday, 29 May 2011

How not to pass time in the waiting room.

The scene; a small cottage hospital waiting room. Tall padded plastic chairs smelling slightly of stale urine, three year old People's Friends magazines stacked up, a tantalising but empty water cooler, and notice boards filled with information about domestic violence (left hand wall) or sexually transmitted diseases (right hand wall). To the left, Podiatry, to the right, Opthalmology. Facing the entrance, reception (with a large notice board requesting patients to take a seat), and a disabled toilet (stacked full of unused Zimmer frames and walking sticks, with a soap dispenser up at shoulder height when standing, and a loo roll holder three steps away from the loo).

Enter one mother and child, who opt to sit under the "have YOU been checked for Chlamydia?" and stare at the poster of a beaten child, this being marginally better than the alternative.

Opposite, one beautiful little girl introducing herself and her mother (and the window, and the flowers, and the magazines and the empty water cooler) in fluent Makaton. And under the window, a mother with another child.

The signer and her mother are called in, leaving the other mother and myself alone with two children. My beautiful, perfect, lovely child is sitting quietly in her wheelchair, having reversed it expertly into a gap in the row of seats so she is beside me. The other child is doing headstands on the chairs, kicking the walls with grubby shoes, sliding piles of magazines onto the floor, and staring.

Eventually he stares enough that his mother makes introductions, followed by the comment "Loads of disabled children here today, not usually like that." We escape to the loo, and return to find their place taken by another mother and son. Same school uniform, same ability to kick the walls whilst simultaneously performing a headstand on the chair and sending piles of magazines to a slippery death on the floor.

And my beautiful, perfect, lovely child executes a three point turn in the doorway, and glides to a stop beside me before unbuckling for a cuddle.

I lean over, pick her up, and it begins.

"What's wrong with her then?"
Biting down the urge to reply "Nothing, what's wrong with your son?" I instead go for "Her legs don't work." and turn away, to blow kisses down the back of my Little Princess' neck.
This response is however clearly insufficient, and my "Please go away now" vibes are clearly not working. Instead:
"Yes I can see that, but what's wrong with her? What's wrong with her legs? What's wrong with her?"
Sigh. "She has Spina Bifida now please stop asking questions. Her legs don't work but she understands everything and doesn't really want to talk about it so please go away and if you can't go away please find something else to talk about or read one of those magazines your son is destroying."

"Did you know?"
"Did you know, when you was pregnant, did you know she was going to have it?"
"She's adopted. So yes, I knew, and I'm very pleased to have her, and it worked out well for both of us didn't it?"

"Couldn't you have your own then?"
I avoid answering this one, and turn away again, hoping we have ended the conversation. But no:
"So, does she know?"
"Does she know what?"
"That she's adopted, does she know?"
She's sitting in my lap. She's six years old. I've just told you there's nothing wrong with her understanding. If she didn't before, she certainly does now!
"Yes, she knows."
"Oh, cos I think that's best isn't it? My mate, she's adopted twenty, and she always told them all." And my heart melts towards the woman who adopted twenty, and who apparently lives very locally, and I wonder who she is. And I try to see whatever it is this woman who has adopted twenty (because after all, if she has adopted twenty children she must be a pretty good judge of character by now) sees in this woman her friend. And whilst I'd like to say that I then see the whole conversation and this annoyingly tactless woman in a different light, I don't. I get side tracked by the possibility of adopting another dozen or so, and wondering how big this woman's house is, and thinking about zingy one liners I might have used to shut the conversation down, and what sort of thing the LP might say herself in these situations when she gets older.

But I do wonder, because although that short conversation actually contained most of my pet peeves in the space of around five minutes, the majority of strangers who feel the need to strike up conversation manage one or two of them. And they can't all mean to be that insulting, tactless, thoughtless and nosy, can they?

And then, thankfully, it was our turn to go in.


Ashley said...

They can't all mean it- But they somehow do. When I was checking in for my ankle operation we were waiting outside the hospital for a taxi home (I got to go home at 4 pm and come back 6:30 the next morning, lucky me) All of a sudden, this woman comes up behind us and asks my companion (who she assumed was my carer) Now, how long has this little girl been in a wheelchair?

I answered, somewhat stunned, that I had CP and had always had it, and it turned out that this woman also had a disabled daughter and she felt that gave her the right to ask.

You would think one of our own would be more understanding, wouldn't you?

My name is Linzi said...

The question do we want people to ask the questions that they are thinking about our children?
My pet peeve is when people just stare, I would rather they ask me than stare. I know they wonder what's 'wrong' with Zack so just ask me but don't stare.

I think it's only natural to be curious so what would be the best approach or is it better to not ask?


Tia said...

Personally, I don't mind "So, how did she come to be needing a wheelchair?" or "I was just wondering, what is the nature of her disability?" "Does she have CP?" is fine, "is she retarded?" not so much!

I did sort of address this here too - although not completely. Clearly my hobby horse.

Anonymous said...

Tia, I'm properly stewing, for you both! So sorry that happened. I took great pleasure recently in informing an off duty Dr that there was clearly more wrong with their manners than my ability to walk, when they asked a very inappropriate question along the lines of 'what's wrong with you', while I was just pottering about doing some normal errands (I'm a disabled adult). The thing about adoption is just horrendous, and utterly ridiculous. Glad that LP has clearly got a good role model of someone who answers honestly, but doesn't accept this kind of stuff as okay or acceptable. You're clearly an awesome mother. :D

Alesha said...

My only comment to this one is...


Ok...maybe a few comments more...yes - they ARE that nosy! I don't think they mean to be that insulting. Yes, they do mean to be tactless and thoughtless, otherwise the questions would be worded more sensitively.

My husband DESPISES the "what's wrong with him?" question. He can handle almost anything else with aplomb, but that one makes him seethe.

As to the staring, if it is a child, we make direct eye contact, smile and speak. If it is an adult, we tend to stare back. I know it's not the mature thing to do, but it does make us feel a little better. LOL!

Prayers for LP's upcoming hospital stay,

Tia said...

Hmm yes I did restrain myself from shooting the doctor this evening when she asked me about the "natural" parents.

I'm the one who washes, dresses, mops up sick and stays during hospital visits. I'm the one knowing the child is ill and wiping tears and giving cuddles and knowing just how rough chest physio can get without breaking a rib.

I'm the one in it for the long haul, up in the night and alert during the day and chasing the admin and dealing with it all - and yet because I didn't give birth, I'm somehow unnatural?



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