I was sitting in the waiting room, looking down at my smartphone wondering how long I’d have to wait.
Nurse: “There’s a phone call for you Mr. Figlini.”
Mr. Figlini: “Who is it?”
Nurse: “It’s your wife.”
Mr. Figlini: “Again! What does she want now?”
Mr. Figlini moved his IV stand out of the way as he shuffled himself forward in his chair and pulled himself up, seemingly perturbed to have to go answer the phone at the nurse’s station. “I wish they’d take this thing off,” he muttered to no one in particular, while his trembling left hand rattled the stand as he maneuvered his way past several other patients in a room that looked like it should host cleaning supplies more than it should waiting patients. Within a few minutes he returned, hand still shaking as he slid his feet forward like he was on skates rather than walking on the emergency room floors. He turned himself around and fell back into his chair. He sat for a moment with his head down in that small rectangular room where it seemed all of us were about 15 inches from sitting knee to knee across from one another.
“I’ve been here since 3 a.m.,” he said with a self-disbelief chuckle. No one acknowledged him. “Came here by ambulance and then they hooked me up to this thing because they say I’m dehydrated.” Again, no one in the room acknowledged him.
I raised my head from looking at my smartphone. As I glanced around the room, it didn’t appear anyone was listening to him. Everyone was focused on their own issue, their own entertainment outlet, their own limited space.
“I’m not a doctor, but maybe you should probably drink more water,” I said as I broke the silence in the room and earned a few glances of my own from others. Mr. Figlini seemed surprised to hear someone respond to him. “You’re probably right,” he said and then quickly pivoted to a different topic. “You like apples?”, he asked. “I do, but what’s your favourite apple?”, I asked him. “I like Gala apples, but I don’t like Macintosh, they’re too soft,” he eagerly replied. We went on to exchange a number of beliefs, likes and dislikes about apples. He smiled as we talked.
When the discussion about apples was over, he’d throw out some other random comment and we’d chat about that too.
It was clear to me from the start that this gentleman had been there for a long time and was there alone, as the only coat in the chair next to him appeared to be his. He didn’t have a digital connection to the world as was evident from having to take calls at the nursing station. The only entertainment in the room was a small television that was on a news channel that had been looping the same stories (probably all night).
I left before finding out how the rest of Mr. Figlini’s day went, or if anyone else took up conversation with him. As I reflect on being in the moment of conversation with him, I surmise that he was simply hoping someone would hear him as he uttered random topics aloud. The bonus was being listened to.
It’s easy with all the different types of noise around us like traffic, fashion, finances, travel, digital devices, our new obsession with selfies, and the general scutter of life to easily take for granted what we hear when we listen, or to be aware of what others hear from us when they listen, or to sometimes make the conscious effort to simply do both.
My favourite apple is a honey crisp. What's yours?
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