Patience, patients [March 23]
Patience has never been my best thing. Suspense plots drive me nuts. I can’t watch murder mysteries because waiting to find out whodunnit makes me grit my teeth. Being stuck on hold on the phone makes me bite my nails. I can’t even play the card game ‘Patience’ because, well, it’s obvious.
There’ve been times when I’ve had no choice but to try and be patient. It’s an unavoidable part of ‘adulting’ – waiting for test results, or for the outcome of job interviews, or getting stuck in traffic jams. My nervous system invariably punishes me afterwards for denying it the fight or flight options it craves.
It’s always baffled me why the word for a sick person is ‘patient’. Some of my most stressful times have been as an impatient in-patient. Many doctors and nurses have copped my baleful glares as I’ve been forced to wait for their attention. And I’m not alone with this Patience Deficit Disorder.
Driving around this clogged city in recent years I’ve noticed more and more agitation amongst my fellow drivers. Horns toot if you don’t take off within a millisecond of the lights turning green. Impatient drivers flip you the bird as they overtake you – and the speed limit. And we’ve surely all vented at hapless call centre staff while we waited for someone to solve our problems with technology or bills or bookings.
This stuff is only going to get harder. Dealing with novel coronavirus is going to require superhuman patience from all of us. We won’t be able to do whatever we want whenever we want to. We’ll have to wait, or postpone, or cancel. We’ll have to adapt, and then adapt again. We’ll have to be slow and cautious rather than carefree and impulsive.
And we’ll have to be extra patient with the people around us whose worries are slowing down their thought processes. Psychologists have demonstrated that anxiety can impair cognitive functioning, making it hard to concentrate. We’ll probably all feel a bit stupid at times, because fear is chewing up our brain space.
Above all we’ll need to be patient patients. Medical workers and carers are going to be overworked and mega-stressed. There may be a lot of waiting ahead. So take a few deep breaths, grit your teeth (but don’t bite your nails) and hang in there, folks.
(This column was first published by Fairfax in March 2020)