Who Am I, Exactly?
Today I was, in no particular order, pack leader, husband, handyman, landlord, erstwhile colleague, and patient.
I got to thinking about this while sitting in the ophthalmologist’s chair and he’s looking at my dilated pupils and we’re talking about how Lasik surgery is going to be so 5 years ago in about 5 years, given what’s coming down the pike. He’s checking on the pressure in my eyes. What are we talking about here? He answers, but without saying what he’s talking about. No, is there some liquid in there? Yes, he elaborates in slightly more detail, there’s different liquids in the front and back of the eyeball, and points to one of those doctor posters you see in offices everywhere. Vitreous humor, I ask. He’s surprised. Yes, the other is aqueous humor. He’s okay using big words since apparently I know them, too. I feel no need to explain that I came across these in a comic book.
There are different classes of patients in the same way that there are different classes of clients, and Nathan and I chitchat over how we’ve dealt with clients, me as handyman and contractor and him as computer IT guy. While we’re having this discussion, we’re in my garage, which Nathan and his wife are renting from me and my wife, and I’m stripping a door whose paint started coming off in sheets. His wife Jessica has the tenure track version of my old teaching job. Our interactions are fraught with potential.
In the spirit of TMI and as an homage to Meredith, I offer you the following story about my vasectomy, which is what being a patient today weirdly reminded me of.
I need to begin by saying that there is nothing in my lived experience to prepare me to be awake while a man and a woman, medically trained both though they may be, shave my testicles. Nothing.
Yes, I was surprised, too. Goffman calls this a “negative frame,” if you care, but what’s relevant here is that we try to fill negative frames with SOME FRAME OF REFERENCE. Any one will do.
Naturally, I try to demonstrate that I’m a chill dude, and what better way to do that than to engage in idle conversation. No, I don’t remember if I asked him how his weekend was, but I guarantee that whatever I asked, it was equally dumb. What I learned from this particular incident is that, try as you might, you cannot make an abnormal situation normal. You really can’t. I tried. It didn’t work. My guess is that although this is a new situation for every man on the table, it is completely normal for those two individuals. For all I know, they’ve created a taxonomy of behavior for how people behave, ranging from “freaked out and declined procedure” to “exhibited gender or sex-negative behavior due to the presence of either the male or female medical practitioner” to “totally failed to convince us of his chill-ness by pretending that this is no big deal and people shave his nuts for him all the time.” (For the record, they don’t.)
All of those things that I was today are just roles. They’re not me precisely, but they indicate bits of me. Each one is a predictor of sorts for you, as are other things like my music tastes, my friendships, if I’m habitually on time or habitually late. Or the odd predictor that I just shared this story with you.