Friday, January 21, 2011

The Virtue of Patients

As I write this, I am awaiting a call-back from yet another medical establishment to set an appointment. I have always enjoyed robust health, but now, in late middle age or early seniority—whatever you want to call this awkward age between "Life Begins at 40" and the first Social Security check, it is all catching up to me. I seem to develop a new malady every other month.

After I get the sleep study scheduled, I need to make an appointment with my dermatologist, and the question is, should I make it for my sixth-month check-up in June or go earlier to talk about the latest symptoms? It becomes increasingly obvious that I am heading for that mad whirl of doctors' appointments and lab tests that the elderly organize their lives around.

I don't want to go there. Every appointment equals about half a day lost to productivity. The above-mentioned dermatologist probably wins the prize for keeping patients waiting long after their appointment times. Her waiting room is filled with people in varying states of anxiety and grumpiness. Every 10 or 15 minutes, someone will pop up, walk to the receptionist's desk to ask, querulously, when the doctor will see them, adding that they have to a) catch a plane, b) pick up kids from school or c) run screaming from the place, tearing at their hair in sheer frustration.

The old joke says that all that waiting is why we are called patients. That, as it turns out, is not far from the truth. Both "patients" and "patience" come from the Latin word pati, meaning "to suffer."

Somehow, it makes me feel a bit better to think of all of us in that waiting room as "sufferers." I may even be more patient.

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