Don’t make eye contact

A recent trip to the local doc-in-the-box found me well-prepared for a longer than usual wait. It was the flu season and a Friday, so I expected to be crammed into a reception area that was standing-room only. And, I was not disappointed.

Fortunately for me, a chair opened up just as I finished registering. I slid into the seat, but not before giving a quick glance around my immediate vicinity. There he was, the one person I knew should be avoided. He had the look. He had no book or magazine to read. He wasn’t interested in the infomercial playing overhead on multiple flat screen video panels. He wasn’t looking at the floor. In fact, as people would move in and out around him, you could see that he was looking for an opening to start a conversation.

Now, I’m not opposed to conversations — not even conversations in a doctor’s waiting room. But what’s unknown in such a setting is the direction the discussion will lead. I’m not a fortune teller. But if I had to predict, the fellow I was avoiding was a sharer. Given half a chance, he would share every detail of his life. And in a doctor’s office, that’s not always something you want to hear.

Most of the other patients sensed the potential, as well. We buried ourselves in the items of distraction we had about us. About that time, the door opened, and a young man came in. Friendly sort. Spoke to everyone. Lingered a little longer than necessary at the check-in point. Came in and sat down.

From the corner of my eye, I could see the newcomer sizing up everyone around him. I didn’t peg him as a sharer, just a really nice person without much experience in waiting rooms. I decided I should keep my eye on him, just in case.

I saw him lean forward and just as I was about to shout out and warn him, I heard him ask the sharer, “How are you?” My unspoken warnings echoed in my brain, “No! Don’t make eye contact with . . .”

But it was too late, in a matter of minutes, the sharer had pulled his pants leg up to show the young man where the spider bit him a few weeks ago and in half that amount of time pulled his shirt collar down to reveal an angry sore as he finished with “and that’s how I got this staph infection.”

The ripple effect of that announcement had people scooting their chairs outward. One woman, waiting to check-in and closest to the door, covered her mouth and just left. Others stared in horror. I lowered my head and concentrated on breathing only the air that was drifting from inside my jacket — my make-shift air filtration system.

The receptionist said something to a nurse and moments later, our patient with the staph infection was back in an examination room far from the rest of us.

The young man who had precipitated the scene watched the door our sharer left through. Assured that he had learned his lesson, I turned back to my book. A woman a few seats over struggled through a fit of coughing. When it subsided, our young friend leaned over and asked her, “And how are you?”

My name was called a moment later and I sighed in relief as I crossed the room. The coughing woman, clearly touched by the concern of the young man, said, “None of your business, buster.”

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