So I was actually wimpy enough to go to the doctor for a broken toe, unlike those of you who deal with this trifling ailment in the proud tradition of our frontier ancestors: drench the toe in honey, wrap it in salmon fillet, and whistle for a bear.
No, of course not; the real method is to tape the toes together with a little cotton between the broken one and its nearest non-broken neighbor, pop a couple of OTC pain-relievers (ibuprofen or acetaminophen, preferably) and put on sturdy shoes. Or flip-flops, if you're a wimp of the caliber I am and can't actually stand to shove the heavily wrapped broken toe into a pair of thick socks and snugly-fitting running shoes in Texas in late June.
My toe is actually broken; the doctor showed me the fracture on the x-ray, but assured me that the tape-the-toe method would work fine in allowing it to heal. He also told me it would be sore for about four weeks and that I should tape it for two. I nodded and smiled a lot, apparently quite happy with this news. Truth was, I was just happy to see the doctor after a waiting time of nearly three hours (it took over 3.5, altogether, before we actually got out of the clinic). He could have told me he was going to try an ancient alternative treatment involving honey, salmon, and a bear and I would have nodded and smiled just as much.
I know most of you have experienced that maddening way that time seems to come to a screeching halt, and then proceed with all the speed of an elderly Ent in a footrace, inside any medical facility whatsoever. I had time to think about it. Plenty of time. Enough time to realize that, in a way reminiscent of the five stages of grief, there are six stages (for Catholics, anyway) of waiting in a doctor's office. They are as follows:
This is the stage that starts when a nurse calls your name and you follow her to a little room. Wow, you think. That was really fast. This isn't going to be so bad, after all. Alas, she's just taking your vitals in a room that looks like it was cleaned sometime during the Eisenhower administration. You know what's coming next; she finishes and tells you to have a seat back in the waiting room. Still, you're hopeful; she said you'll be called soon. And you are, and you get taken back to an empty patient room in a different section of the office or clinic. You see the doctor pass by the door on his way to another patient's room; he's really bustling along, so you smile; he'll be in to see you in a minute.
When the minutes have added up to an hour since you were first called, and nearly two since you entered the place, you start to fume. Good grief, there aren't even that many patients in here right now! you think, glaring furiously into the empty hallway beyond your increasingly cold little room. What on earth is the doctor doing all this time? He seems to leave each patient, and then go off for a while before he sees another. Maybe he's playing an international chess game with an online partner in Taipei or something, and he's taking his turn between patients. Maybe he promised somebody he'd finish "War and Peace" this afternoon. Maybe he's not really a doctor, and is frantically studying medicine in between patients so he can fool people. Maybe I should just leave--do I really need a doctor to read those x-rays to know this stupid toe is broken?
This is the point where you start thinking that the minute you are busy the doctor will walk in. So you ask a passing nurse if you have time to use the restroom (but alas, you do). Then you make a phone call on your cell phone--people always interrupt those, right? Nope--didn't work. You even think of picking up a magazine--there are a few scattered on the table beside you--and getting absorbed in some story or other, on the grounds that all it takes is one interesting magazine story you'll never finish to make the doctor magically appear; but you're only bargaining, not insane, and the magazines are of the "People" variety.
At this point your thoughts start getting dark. Why am I in a hurry anyway? you think glumly. I broke my stupid toe. What, am I planning to rush home and vacuum or something? I'm going to be hobbling around for weeks after this, so I might as well just sit here. It's not like I had anything better to do today, not on a busy Monday when the house looks like Hurricane Weekend just struck and there are leftovers that need to be cleaned out of the fridge. Sit here, sit at home--what's the difference?
This is when the darkness of the pity-party going on in your head wakes you up to the selfishness and silliness going on in there. It's just a toe, you think. A broken leg would be a catastrophe; a broken toe is only an annoyance. A minor, temporary one. Right now there are people being born or people dying, people getting really terrific news or really horrible, terrifying news, and having to deal with it. There are people who have been in serious pain for years who are being more cheerful than you are. You've been sitting here for over two hours, now--did you think about what was going on in the world, in the lives of so many other souls, once in these last two hours? How often do you get two hours to think of that and offer something up for your brothers and sisters in the human family, especially the ones who would trade places with you in a minute--who would love to be only dealing with a broken toe?
Whether you have a rosary with you and use it, or whether you just mark the prayers on your fingers, you're finally doing something you should have done a couple of hours ago. You might finish the rosary and still be waiting, but you'll feel better about waiting; and if you don't finish before the doctor comes in, you can finish it up in the car on the way home. It won't heal your broken toe, but it just might help you mend your attitude and atone for your selfishness--and that may not do anything for the body, but it's really good for the soul.