That old joke must've been bust-a-gut funny once. The patient expects care but gets an existential lesson. The joke rubs against a pair of human tendencies:
n To cause ourselves pain.
n To wish away whatever pain we have.
Let's leave the fictional doctor and take a trip to a real emergency room.
A couple of weeks ago, my daughter, Olivia, busted her bottom lip. Dr. Dad suspected stitches were needed, and a triage nurse at North Mississippi Medical Center agreed.
Patients aren't taken in the order they arrive, so we settled into the waiting room, which didn't faze Olivia.
Her display of patience probably beat the world record for 6-year-old endurance. If I could have a fraction, a sliver, of that patience from Olivia on command, every trip to the grocery store would end in a song-and-dance number followed by fervent prayers of thanks to the Almighty.
Consider this: She happily took a mock spelling test. I gave her a 98 because the "b" and "a" were too far from the "b" and "y" in baby, but she reasonably argued that her teacher wouldn't have deducted the points. I gave her a 100.
We also sat through more than three hours of Disney Channel shows, but we didn't watch them all the way through. We talked about school and plans for spring break. I suggested that we sell her little brother, Evan, to the gypsies, but she nixed the idea.
"You like him," she said, holding a bloody cloth to her lip.
"Good point," I said.
Olivia could've spent many happy years in that waiting area, as long as the doctors and nurses kept their distance.
"I wish it wasn't this bad," she said.
"I do, too," I said.
"I mean, if we could go home and put tissue on it, that would be better."
"Yes, it would."
That's when I started thinking about how we cause ourselves pain, then we wish that pain away.
So much like a child.
And so much like an adult.
I spent plenty of time scowling at the desk attendant whenever someone went through the mystical double doors before we did.
Olivia eventually saw a doctor, got a pair of stitches and went home to bed. Now, the wound's barely visible.
I can't answer for her, but I wouldn't trade our time in the waiting room. We made lasting memories that night, and my annoyance about the wait seems silly in that light.
Maybe the next time I get aggravated when the world refuses to meet my expectations, somebody - it doesn't have to be a doctor - will say, "Don't do that."
Knowing me, they'll do so at their own risk.
Contact M. Scott Morris at (662) 678-1589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.