“From where we stand, the rain seems random. If we could stand somewhere else, we would see the order in it.”
-Jim Chee in Coyote Waits by Tony Hillerman
I hate small talk.
I mean I really, really hate it.
The other guy doesn’t actually care if I’m here on business. And I don’t want to talk about where he snorkeled last summer. But we do this same dance EVERY TIME! Why? Because we’re supposed to. Silence would be too awkward. What’s worse is that the seats on an airplane are so close, I could perform a fundoscopic exam on the gentleman next to me. So, once again, here we are doing the familiar, which seems pointless…
“What’s your name?”
“Dee.” I answer coyly but succinct.
“Where you from, Dee?”
“Alabama…how about you?”
“Alpharetta, Georgia…hey, I’m Mike,” answering as he extended his hand.
“Nice to meet you.”
But I don’t know if this will be a nice encounter, do I? My inner dialogue made me chuckle in my head.
Listen, it’s not that I don’t like talking to people. For Pete’s sake, I’m a physician. It’s actually that I am an introvert. Superficial interactions drive me insane. I thrive on deeper connections and thoughtful conversations. I’d rather not do what is merely expected but what I purpose to do. If you ascribe to a spiritual or metaphysical sense, you believe “all things have purpose,” even casual exchanges. This one was no different.
“What’s taking you to Tampa, Dee?”
“Work conference…you?” I quickly diverted the attention away from me.
“Heading down for a bone marrow biopsy. I have this thing called aplastic anemia, which is a variant of MDS. Do you know what that is?”
I smile. “Myelodysplastic syndrome.”
Shocked, he replied, “No layperson would know that.”
“I’m a neurologist.”
From medical treatments and complications to faith and family, the conversation lasted the entire flight. It ended with him needing to use my phone to call the Uber carrying him to the medical center. He’d left his at home. We said our goodbyes and offered well wishes. This time, I really meant it. The hope in his eyes reassured me. By the time we landed, it was apparent that this was not a casual encounter. Our lives were meant to intersect.
Inconvenience has purpose. It teaches us how to listen…to be patient…to give…to grow. Today, I learned that being an introvert is not an excuse to avoid a seemingly trivial interaction. As person and a physician, I must evolve to a greater understanding of the haphazard yet masterful design that allows strangers’ paths to cross. Every interaction, in its own way, is intentional.
Dr. Dee is a board-certified neurologist with specialty training in clinical neurophysiology committed to educate the community on how to live more healthy lives.
*A fundoscopic exam is the part of the physical exam where the physician uses an ophthalmoscope to look in the patient’s eye trying to visualize the optic disk. An ophthalmoscope is a tool used to magnify the posterior surface of the eye while looking through the pupil.