Wednesday, October 13, 2004


In Which Blood Will Tell...

There was a time when sitting around in doctors' office waiting rooms was my best approximation of what purgatory would be like. Most of my life I've been a jumpy lil cuss, so being forced to sit somewhere with no control over when I could leave was just hellish, and, I always felt, some kind of weird propaganda exercise on the part of doctors in the interest of making the general public feel that somehow their time is not as important as the ones with the white coats and the superior attitude.

Well, I'm over it. Waiting rooms are great. You know why? You get the best story ideas sitting in waiting rooms.

First, there's the people-watching. Most of the folks in this clinic are in my readership, so it's like doing a passive, sniffling focus group. You get to watch a lot of different parenting styles in an almost completely unguarded situation, which by itself is just too good to miss. I mean, come on, pretty much any other place--playgrounds, parties, wherever--most parents are On, demonstrating their Parenting Philosophy in the most pristine format they can muster, which is just another way of saying they're putting on a show for the other parents. It generally doesn't matter in that context, because all the other parents are doing it too, so you end up having these surreal exchanges where everyone is a Parent Avatar, instead of a falliable human who has made a kid just as flawed as they are (with the extra features of more energy and less impulse control).

You don't see many Avatars in waiting rooms. You see tired, worried, blessedly human parents doing the best they can with a kid or two, plus the added baggage of one of them not feeling so hot, usually the kid, but sometimes the parent too. This is the trenches, baby. No time for philosophy. It's all gut reaction.

It's sometimes hard to watch (as with the child begging hysterically to go home, and the mom was torn between using a placating but ultimately dishonest mantra ("We're going soon, We're going soon, We're going soon"), and telling him the truth, which was that they had to go in for a series of shots) and sometimes achingly funny (as with the young archaeologist who was conducting serious research on the presence and consistency of assorted dried boogers under the waiting room chairs. Mine was clean, I'm happy to report. He came with what had to be a veteran mom. First-timers don't let their kids go in much for booger research, not even their own. You usually have to have three kids and get to the "it's good for their immune system" viewpoint before you issue that kind of license).

I'm always looking for anecdotes, so when I see this stuff happening, I find myself asking what sort of story this anecdote would end up in (we start with obvious stuff, like "What Veteran Moms Know" or maybe "The Ultimate Waiting Room Survival Guide" and can quickly get crazy, as in the case of "Why Boogers Are Best" which I've decided to pitch at the next PMS meeting, just to see the look of shock on my editors' faces).

Waiting rooms are also a great, cheap way to check out other magazines. Sure, I can check the competition on the newsstand, but what I really look for in waiting rooms are the weird specialty magazines that the clinic staff sometimes throw into the mix. This time around I found a fascinating magazine for medical students, a souped-up book-club-for-kids-catalog which mixed actual articles with their solicitations, and The New Scientist, which is the magazine I would choose to edit, if I was remotely science minded (or a booger researcher).

By the way, after a briefing bloodletting, and a two-hour wait, it was determined that the cause of my marathon fever was...some form of virus. Likely the flu. Duh. No mention of my exotic spider-anti-venin-laced blood or anything else interesting. So I left with six story possibilities to flesh out and was feeling pretty happy about the whole...til I went into work and learned one of my department editors is sick now, and it's probably my fault. Ya can't win for losing, some days.

From Somewhere On The Masthead

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