Tuesday, March 11, 2014


I sat there and watched the anger rise.  Well, I wish I could say I only watched it, but that's just a small part of the truth.  I actually got engaged in it.  Felt it rising in the body--a heat, a palpitation of the heart, a clouding of the brain, an urgent call to action accompanied by a sense of impotence in the face of events that lay beyond my control.  And ended up pretty much possessed by the anger.

Not a pleasant feeling, and it didn't get me anywhere.  Also, its bad vibes certainly radiated out to those who shared the waiting room with me.

The anger, by all non-Buddhist standards, was completely justified.  Here's the circumstance: I had a 2:15 PM appointment in the Radiology department at Kaiser for a CT scan--a purely cautionary measure, I was assured, to check up on a tiny anomaly in the lung.  (Fear, then, may have played a part in the angry response; a long-time smoker like myself--though I quit the habit more than a quarter century ago--does not like to hear the word lung in connection with a medical anomaly.)

Anyway, I arrived for my appointment a little before 2:00 PM, more than the required 15 minutes in advance.  Checked in at the reception desk.  Used my credit card to cover the co-pay.  And took a seat in the waiting room.  Having saved a Sunday crossword for the occasion, I had been expecting a reasonable wait, but having observed after 45 minutes that those who arrived long after me were already being called, I began to wonder if I had somehow fallen through the cracks.

I spoke to the receptionist, who seemed surprised I had been waiting so long.  She put a call through to the operational side of things, beyond the magic door, and spoke at length to someone there.  Just a few minutes more, she told me.  Another 15 minutes passed.  I had now been waiting a full hour.  I returned to the reception desk.  More telephone exchanges.  Five minutes, I was told.

Ten minutes later, still no word from the CT technician.  The anger was now making its presence known, beginning to roil around ominously in the gut.  I could barely disguise it on my next visit to the reception desk, and it had begun to attract the attention of my fellow-patients--most of whom had spent far less time exercising patience than had I.  Perhaps my voice was raised.  Perhaps it had more than an edge of irritation.  Perhaps, in the course of the next half-hour--during which I was promised "five minutes more" on the occasion of each new visit to the receptionist--I began to make a bit of a spectacle of myself…

By this time, a good hour and a half after my scheduled appointment time, my anger was in full spate.  I have described it above as best I'm able.  It did not, I'm happy to say, explode, as it might have done.  But no amount of mindful breathing helped to reestablish the serenity my not-so Buddhist self would have wished to exercise.  I was, quite simply, mad.  And it hardly helped when the tech--a burly, six foot six, four hundred pound black man with a mass of dreadlocks to his shoulders: a man, in other words, you would not want to argue with--came out and called, not my name, but that of a fellow patient awaiting the same procedure as myself, a man whose appointment I had discovered was a half hour later than my own.

This time, I protested.  As nicely as my temper would allow.  And my fellow patient was kind enough to insist that I go in before him.

The procedure took all of 10 minutes.  I left, thanking the receptionist for her repeated attempts to help and apologizing for any anger I had projected in her direction.

But here's the thing: I have it on excellent authority (Thanissaro Bhikkhu) that the Buddha does not expect you to allow yourself meekly to be treated as a doormat.  Accordingly, feeling treated as such, I had stood up repeatedly to question what was happening but without result.  So what is an aspiring Buddhist to do when he's treated like a doormat anyway?  I guess you take a good look at the ego and the offense it takes.  Acknowledge what it's like to feel small and insignificant, unheard, neglected.  Passed over.  Note the feelings that arise--in this case, the indignation and the anger--and pass on the opportunity to get attached to them.  Instead, practice sending out goodwill to those who go ahead and taking in the pain of whatever medical predicament they find themselves in.

I wish I could have put that wisdom into practice; instead, I just got angry.  But at least I was conscious of the anger!

1 comment:

Kate said...

Ah, you did excellently, not only to express your displeasure at being treated as a doormat, but also at being sure your readers know which incompetent outfit treated you this way - it's often the only voice we have, and it must be shared . . . especially when it involves an entity about which we have a choice in using.