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Gaining on Wait

How to explain hospital delays, plus invasive childbearing questions and memorials for other faiths.

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By MISS CONDUCT
August 3, 2008

I work as a technologist in a busy MRI department in a hospital. Scheduled patients often have to wait a long time because an emergency room patient has to be seen first. This makes for a very angry lobby full of patients who don't understand why they have to wait so long. Consequently, they can be very rude to my co-workers and me. What is the best way to address these frustrated patients?
K.C.
in Danvers

When patients call to schedule an appointment, tell them upfront that there might be a delay because there are often emergency patients who need to be seen first. Apologize and thank them in advance for their patience and understanding. This way they will be mentally prepared and will feel that you are treating them with respect. If there is a delay while people are waiting, explain the situation as much as possible within privacy guidelines. Thank people again for their patience (as long as they aren't being actively abusive, even if they aren't being all that saintly) and point out that you know if they were the ones who had wound up in the ER, they'd appreciate the kindness of strangers. And invest in some decent magazine subscriptions for the waiting room that will cater to a variety of interests - sports, current events, popular science, fashion, fitness, parenting, and entertainment. (If my editor will let me get away with this, may I point out that my husband's magazine, the Annals of Improbable Research, would be an excellent addition to any doctor's waiting room.)

I am the 44-year-old mother of a wonderful 2-year-old boy. He's a miracle child, as I had had several miscarriages. How do I respond to people who are constantly asking me if I'm going to have more children? My standard answer of "I'm 44 now, so it's not likely to happen" isn't working. I've been accosted with "Oh, you can't just have one child. That's not fair" and "Women are having babies in their 50s now." would have loved to have had more children but I can't, and I don't want to discuss this with strangers and co-workers. What should I say to these people who won't drop it?
K.M.
in Methuen

If it's an off hand "Women are having children in their 50s," no need to bring out the heavy artillery - a simple "This woman isn't going to be one of them" ought to do it. But if people are really pushing it beyond casual inquiry, as you say, then you need to go on the offensive: "I'm not sure how this is any of your business. Can you explain that to me? Has it usually been your experience that people respond positively to criticism about their parenting choices? I'd love to hear examples where that worked out well for you." Or a wide-eyed, firm-jawed "That is my business, and have no intention of discussing it with you now or ever." No one has the right to question your - or anyone else's childbearing choices. Surely, if you have a 2-year-old - no matter how wonderful he is - you have far more practice than I do at shutting down persistent questioning. Bring out those skills, with a good dose more steel than you'd ever dream of using with your son. And stop using your age as a reason. People can argue with excuses, as you're finding out. There's nothing wrong, either, with saying, "I'm not physically capable of it. Do you know how your questions make me feel?" Make your questioners carry the burden of their unkindness - don't run to pick it up for them.

I have a Jewish friend whose grandfather is gravely ill. When he passes away, what would be the proper thing to do? Should I send a Mass card, as I would for a fellow Catholic? It seems somewhat off, but if the shoe were on the other foot, I would be happy that friends were praying for me. In general, what is the correct way to support surviving family members from various faiths (aside from the obvious - bringing food, pet sitting, commiserating)?
M.M.
in Boston

Don't dismiss those obvious sources of comfort! People will get spiritual support from those within their own tradition. Those outside it should focus on providing emotional and practical help. When a friend of a different faith is mourning or facing dif- fi cult times, it's good to say, "I'm praying for you." (It's kinder not to say this to atheists and agnostics.) But say so in a way that emphasizes your common spirituality - "I'm praying for you" - rather than your differences - "I'll say a rosary," "I'll ask Jesus to heal him," "I'll mention your sick aunt in my mishaberach." This is especially the case for members of the majority religion (Christianity) when dealing with members of a minority religion. So a Mass card is not a good idea. When there is a memorial service, call the venue or ask the friend what kind of participation is expected of non-followers.

My Word!
Since we're in the midst of an often rancorous political season, remember that it is a host's duty to keep all of his or her guests comfortable. If everyone enjoys good debate, that's fine - but not everyone does. Keep a watch on the mood of the group, and don't feel embarrassed to break up political fight if one should begin.

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Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology.

QUESTIONS? Write to missconduct@globe.com or The Boston Globe Magazine /Miss Conduct, PO Box 55819, Boston, MA 02205-5819.

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