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Friday, June 29, 2012

Not Listening Can Be Rather Dangerous

I know I am not a very good listener. (Shh - don't tell my therapy patients!) I blame it on my poor attention span. I have all intentions of listening when someone tells me something, but then I glance down at my shoes and notice how worn they are. And then I remember that coupon in my purse from Famous Footwear. And then I remember that my husband announced his plan to buy himself a gun if I buy another pair of shoes. And then I try to recall his schedule this week and figure out how I could sneak a new pair of shoes into the house when he's not home. Or I could leave them at work. What other pairs do I have here already? Then my nose itches, and I try to discreetly scratch it (just the outside! I am NOT a nose picker!!!). Then I realize that scratching isn't working and I really just need to blow it. But it's embarrassing to blow my nose in front of another person. Oh, wait. There's another person here. And she's looking at me expectantly. Should I nod and smile, grimace and frown, or just say the always safe, "Tell me more."

See - that's what I mean. It just happens. For all records (and professional reputation and liability), I am usually pretty focused and attentive in session with my clients. It's only 50 minutes, and I know that they are paying me big bucks (well, really, their insurance company is paying my employer piddly-squat) to really help them. And if I don't pay attention to what they are saying, I would be doing a really crappy job and that's just not how I roll.

Unfortunately, though, that means that I've used up most of my listening abilities by the time I leave the office. As much as I love him, I admit (and he knows it anyway) that my eyes gloss over when my husband starts talking to me about something that I need to really focus on (unless it's nail polish, celebrity gossip, or his sensible realization that getting a gun was a pretty stupid idea). In theory, I'm very interested about the stocks that we own shares in, the changes to our health insurance, what he needs to do to fix the washing machine, and the new toy he wants to purchase (which I can pretend to disapprove of but secretly like and use when he's not around - wait, just to be clear - I'm talking about things like Jeeps and wireless headphones and beer fridges. Get your mind out of the gutter - I was NOT talking about sex toys, although admittedly, when I look back, I can see why you might think that...). My kids often ask me things that I offer the stock answer to, only to then realize three minutes later that I wasn't listening and in fact just agreed to let them have a lollipop before dinner or take a picture of me in the shower. (Well, in my defense, the second one was really more due to my daughter's articulation difficulties, but I guess partly I wasn't listening closely enough and just agreed quickly so I could hopefully go back to my only 7 minutes of peace and quiet I get all day.)

While most of the time me not really listening is harmless enough, sometimes there are actual consequences. Like when I was a bartender in grad school and often forgot drink orders. Was it a gimlet or a gisbon? A Corona or a Corona Light? Thankfully, then, I had an amazing $2000/year stipend from my practicum position as a therapist trainee and didn't have to rely on a real job to buy my ramen noodles and Salvation Army finds. Another example of real consequences was when I was watching the video on how to use my new smartphone. Most of what I heard was "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah" with a few key important words peppered in, like "turning on the power," "retrieving voice mails," and "making a call." The damn thing didn't have a rewind or fast forward function, so I had to start the whole hour-long video over again and zone out until the part I wanted, only to then miss it again and start all over. Oy vey!

The most significant (and probably frequent) difficulty I've experienced, though, due to not listening, is quite catastrophic. Having had three babies and various other ailments (wait - does that sound like my kids are ailments? Well, sometimes, I might say they are...), I'm no stranger to doctor's offices. You'd think, with all of my experience, that I'd know by now how crucial it is to listen very very carefully when the nurse hands you the gown and begins to walks out the door. Of course whatever she's saying is important, and of course I never listen. I find myself, over and over and over, standing alone in the exam room, holding a gown, wondering two very important questions: 1) which, exactly, of my clothes did she say to take off, and 2) did she say to put the gown on with the opening in the front or the back? I never know! I've thought to bolt out the door and chase her down the hall to ask her, but then it'd be admitting defeat. Instead, I just take a gamble every time and make my best guess. It's pretty reasonable to expect that the dermatologist does not need my bra off to check a mole on my shoulder. It's also pretty reasonable that I should take it all off at the ob/gyn's. But seriously - at the PCP, when I know she'll do a breast exam AND check my spine, how can I be expected to remember if she wants the opening in the back or front??? I'm sure that on more than one occasion, I've had a doctor come in and giggle to herself when she sees that I stripped for nothing or put the gown on the wrong way. Well, I'm just doing my part to make their office lunch conversation a little more entertaining that day!

For all of us non-listeners out there, I think I'm going to start a public health campaign in my free time. I'll begin petitioning doctor's offices to hang up fancy posters in their exam rooms, with instructions (and pictures for those of us who get distracted while reading, too) on how to put on the gown and what articles of clothing to take off (and which to leave on) based on the type of exam you're having. Maybe the nurse could even stick a big arrow (think "Pin the Gown on the Patient") on the exact example that applies to you? I think there's big bucks in this, I'm sure! Much more than I get paid for noticing the way my patient's ears are slightly lopsided and that there's a spider's nest in the corner of my office, all while occasionally asking, "How does that make you feel," and nodding at the (mostly) right times. Riches, here I come!!!

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