When the following column was published in Australian Doctor, I received considerable backlash from readers. I was accused of being catty, socially inept and un-Australian amongst other things. One reader said I should be ashamed of myself and another called for Australian Doctor to “do the right thing and let this column fade into obscurity.”
While this certainly was not the first time my light-hearted tongue-in-cheek columns have been misinterpreted, I was a little surprised at the vitriol generated over what was intended as a self-deprecatory fluff piece.
As for being un-Australian, I would have thought that my “taking the piss” was very Australian!
So what was the fuss about? Read on and make up your own mind, and I’ll get back to watching the Winter Olympics….
I’m not a big fan of inane chit-chat. I’ve absolutely no objection it if fulfils a purpose such as putting a nervous patient at ease, but there are times when talking about the weather, the price of petrol, Paris Hilton’s latest furry handbag accessory or Auntie Mildred’s stamp collection drives me up the wall. Sitting around the patio on a Sunday afternoon “shooting the breeze” with my in-laws used to be a regular torture. Thank goodness for divorce. 😉
There is only one type of conversation I find more painful than small talk, and that is sports talk. Rugby in particular. I’ve never understood the fervour of armchair sports fans. If watching testosterone-laden men thump each other in their attempts to grab an egg-shaped piece of air-filled leather toots your horn, I’m not going to criticise. Just don’t feel offended if my eyes glaze over and I start looking for an escape route if the conversation turns to ladders that aren’t the type you use when painting a house.
I still have nightmares about the time I was trapped in the operating theatre listening to an orthopaedic surgeon blabber on about rugby union matches. Oblivious to my distress, he drilled and hammered away as he plated the radius (forearm bone), pushing and pulling the fractured limb with the confident and carefree brusqueness at which orthopods excel.
It was painful, terribly painful, but I couldn’t object. Paralysed and powerless, I lay there, a terrified nine-year-old, insufficiently anaesthetised. After what seemed like an hour, but was probably only a few minutes (all football-related conversations seem to drag on interminably to me), the anaesthetist woke up to the fact that I was awake, presumably by lifting his eyes from the sports pages for a moment to notice that my pulse had skyrocketed. The last thing I recall was his saying, “Hold that thought. She’s a bit light – time for a top-up.”
It was traumatic at the time. The first night post-op I slept only fitfully, alone in a strange hospital room. The frightening shadows and noises of the orthopaedic ward mingled with my nightmares, nausea and pain. I vividly recall the particular dream I had that night; variations of it have haunted my dream-life for years. It involved finding myself hanging from goalposts during a massive televised football match, attached to the metal cylinders by big screws through my forearms, crucifix style. The crowd were jeering and laughing at my attire – a hospital gown with only air on my derrière.
In my lucid moments, I begged for my parents, only to be told to be quiet and go back to sleep. None of the nurses believed my story of being aware during the procedure.
The following day the orthopaedic surgeon was likewise sceptical – until I relayed snippets of his conversation. I do not recall if his face betrayed even a hint of embarrassment or concern, but I was probably too young and traumatised to have noticed. All I remember was that he made some off-hand rugby-related jovial comment and moved onto the next patient as quickly as possible.
Perhaps that particular childhood experience could be used to justify a dislike of rugby, having bones broken, night duty nurses and orthopaedic surgeons, but the truth is that none of these are on my list of favourite things for far less significant reasons.
It could be said that for someone who claims to abhor meaningless chat, I sure do a lot of it, in both verbal and written forms – this column being a case-in-point. A fair comment, I admit.
We should have a pointless conversation about it. Maybe after next week’s game.
First published in Australian Doctor on 5th July, 2013 On Sports Talk