Miss EmilyAnnaB, one of my favorite bloggers, recently sent me a parcel of nice questions to answer, about things that have nothing to do with my shoulder. Those answers will be forthcoming later this week.
I like being given questions I can actually answer. I field far too many questions that have no good answers, nearly all of them from well-meaning people who are surreptitiously hunting for solutions to my shoulder issue while trying to sound like they just want to understand what’s going on with me.
I do not get this phenomenon at all. When a friend of mine is hurting, I don’t press her for details. A simple affirmation of the situation is all I need. Depressed? Bad mood? Back pain? That’s good enough for me. Here’s a hug and some cookies, and I’ll be texting you over the next few days with smiles and warm fuzzies. I mean, what if your friend said his dog just died? Would you press him for details about the nature of the dog’s illness and manner of his death? Probably not. (I hope not, anyway.)
And yet, people seem all too eager to put their hands on someone else’s chronic pain problem and fix that. I will admit to having this impulse myself from time to time, but I have learned to suppress it. I’ve also learned that suppressing it has actually improved my ability to be sympathetic, since I’m not wasting mental energy pointlessly skimming through my thimbleful of medical knowledge in an effort to “help.”
Some people may call their inquisitive solicitude altruistic, but I disagree. I think it is self-centered. I think, deep down, each of us wants to be that one person who figures something out, or invents something, or discovers something, or does some particular thing better than anyone else, in order to get all of the kudos that result. On the inside, each of us is convinced our own specialness, uniqueness, and amazinghood, and if the world would only recognize that and let us fix it, it would be a much better place. We apply this line of thinking to lots of situations, even [especially] the ones we are woefully under-equipped to handle.
Trying to solve someone else’s medical problem is a classic example of this, and it’s nearly always doomed to failure. This is because the well-meaning friend is usually not a doctor or any other kind of medical professional. All the friend has to go on is a ridiculously small sample of health experiences, few (if any) of which actually happened to her and not some friend of hers, and none of which are anything like what the person she wants to help is experiencing. Despite this, the friend is nonetheless absolutely certain that among her ridiculously small subset of personal and second-hand experiences is the answer the other person is looking for.
It sounds stupid because it is stupid. I wish I could carry around a sign that says: NO YOU CANNOT UNDERSTAND WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME AND NO YOU CANNOT FIX IT. I could just pull it out of my purse with my good arm and put it in someone’s face every time they started down their “Have you tried acupuncture?” garden path. “Have you had an MRI?” “Have you tried physical therapy?” “Have you tried cortisone injections?” “What medications are you taking?” “Have you tried herbal tea?” “Have you seen an orthopedist?” “Maybe you have a blocked chakra…”
This incessant game of twenty questions I am subjected to every time I am stupid enough to open my mouth about what is going on with me is exhausting, not to mention insulting. I mean, get over yourself already. I’m on my seventh doctor. As in doctor. With a medical degree. What do you do for a living? You’re a dog walker? And that qualifies you to diagnose my problem, how, exactly? Do you really have the audacity to think that you will succeed where so many internists, anesthesiologists, neurologists, and orthopedists have failed? Because, like, wow. That’s balls, dude.
Why don’t you ask me something I can answer, instead? Like, do I need anything? How did I sleep last night? How are my cats? Do I need a ride to the doctor’s tomorrow? Would I like to meet for lattes some morning soon? Would I like a hug?
Those are easy questions. I’m happy to answer those questions. It’s all about asking the right questions. And isn’t it always?