Take this morning, for example - in fact; help yourself, because if I could re-start this morning I would definitely have another run at the first part of it.
There I was, pulling open the door of the local public medical laboratory with an already heavy heart. I was feeling a little grumpy because a) it was reasonably early in the morning (07:35hrs), b) I was going to have to talk to someone before I felt like I had properly woken up, and c) I was attending for a blood test that I should have done two months ago, but was too forgetful/fearful to remember. I opened the door onto a packed waiting room of the typical sort of people (excluding me, of course) you find in medical laboratory waiting rooms. Many of the customers were aged, raisin-like beings who were obviously fully engaged in the act of drying up (it's true - did you know that a person over the age of eighty contains a startlingly smaller amount of water than a person aged thirty? We don't grow old; we slowly evaporate!). Some were clearly in the throes of some kind of unpleasant wasting illness, there were one or two disabled young folks and a smattering of middle-aged, grumpy men (not at all like me, however).
I took my little numbered ticket, looked at the electronic counter on the wall, immediately calculated that I had approximately the rest of the year to wait to be called, and found myself one of the two remaining seats, at the end of a line. Despite the fact that we were sitting on separate chairs, this act clearly discomforted the hat-wearing and slightly jelly-like raisin that I sat down next to. He huffed, puffed and shuffled on his chair, moving an inch or two further away before low bone density and inelastic tendons had him slowly sagging in my direction once again. Pointedly, I moved my chair away from him, thus teaching him a lesson he would never forget. I settled down for a long wait, symbolized by the absence of any attendants at the counter, and polite but firm notices indicating that they were all busy, so we had better stop reading them and get used to the idea of looking at the walls. I do enjoy honest, informative and slightly interactive notices.
I've been there before, of course. In my capacity as the household diabetic, I have become depressingly familiar with laboratory, hospital and doctor's waiting rooms over the years. Before my pancreas decided to stop working, I had been the picture of health, and my visits to medical establishments were limited to patching up rugby injuries or having my teeth filled. These days, however, I'm a familiar face/set of test results to the doctor, and a well-known vein down at the lab. This is, as I'm sure you'll understand (and if you don't I'll never speak to you again), reason enough for general grumpiness around the whole concept of waiting rooms.
But things are made immeasurably worse by the people. This may cause you to think that I'm not particularly tolerant of other people, but you'd be mistaken; I am indeed very tolerant - if, that is, by tolerant you mean that I don't act upon my frustrations. In that regard I'm probably too tolerant - which doesn't help keep my blood pressure down.
Let's take 'Raspy Voice Woman' as an example. Hardly had I placed my none-too-delicate derriere upon my chair, when she started talking very loudly to someone across the room. It was obvious (from the fact that she finished off a sentence that she'd obviously previously paused) that she had stopped talking in order to watch my arrival. With a voice which sounded like old leather being dragged over broken oyster shells, she educated us all about her ailments, while skilfully eliciting similar information from her unfortunate but rather too accommodating victim. Sixty seconds of this loud, unsolicited nonsense had me wondering how she had come by that gravelly tone in the first place; I already wanted to shake her by the throat.
The blancmange-type fellow next to me punctuated the all-too-brief pauses with heavy, wet-sounding breathing which sounded distressingly like a pair of bellows inserted into a bowl of custard. I wanted to stop him making that noise because it made me feel slightly nauseous, and because I already hated him with a passion after that whole bum-shuffling thing he had done. Once in a while he would sag a little more than usual and nudge my shoulder, at which point I would manfully resist emitting a blood-curdling scream and cleaving him in two with my mighty war axe just to remind him that I am not to be fucked with...or gently leaned upon. I am a man of peace, after all.
Across and slightly to my left sat a long, stretched-out looking fellow of approximately eight hundred years. His paper-thin eyelids were closed, and for a moment I wondered how many weeks he'd been sitting there. He seemed to be asleep or unconscious or...dead. My attention was diverted suddenly by a voice calling out a number nowhere near the one that I was holding in my hand. There was no response. The holder of that number had either left to carry on with the rest of their life, or perhaps expired while waiting for assistance. The next number (33) was called, which prompted a sudden movement from the left hand corner, and from somebody off to my right at the same time.
The two contestants regarded each other, much as gladiatorial opponents must have done in days of yore. With a combined age of almost two hundred, and a list of ailments between them which would keep several teams of specialists occupied for years, two titans of the medical waiting room duked it out silently - and without moving. Finally, the crackling atmosphere was ripped asunder by a devastating broadside from the question-mark-shaped crone to my left. "I'm number 32! They missed me out!" All eyes turned towards this aged buffoon, and twenty sets of withering looks began speeding their way towards him, wishing him ill. He had clearly been through this kind of thing before, however, and artfully dodged our withering photons by moving millimetre by painful millimetre towards the enquiry counter, even as his protagonist to my right uttered words of remonstration and promises of a terrible revenge if only he could make it across the room in time to do so.
The Question Mark eventually arrived at the counter to remonstrate about his number not being called, and then to argue about whether or not it had in fact happened. The five minute drama only ended when one of my fellow teeth-grinders finally shouted "They called your fricken number, give her a break already!" Some time later, when the object of our hatred had shuffled his way around the corner, excitement began to build as number 33 was called, and the man to my right, who was still on his feet and making his way across the room to tackle his nemesis, diverted his headlong rush in order to arrive at the counter in only a few more breathless minutes. Once there, he began to make numerous requests about which butterfly valve they were going to use, which catheter he should open up, and whether or not he needed to void his bowels in the presence of witnesses. I may be slightly exaggerating, but you get the idea; it was all stuff that nobody else had any business hearing/learning about.
Once he had been whisked away at the speed of a slug, time began to become elastic, and the walls of the room began to develop a certain familiar quality. Any new arrival was greeted by venomous looks by all of us lucky enough to be already seated. Once in a while, the door would open, there would be a brief pause, a quiet profanity, and the prospective visitor would turn on their heel and leave without taking a number. Knowingly, we stalwarts would exchange looks and gently shake our heads, safe in the knowledge that we were hard-core; that we had what it took to get to the end of a long and frustrating wait.
After a period of time which allowed several local glaciers to lose up to a hundred metres in length, and after several more befuddled raisins had approached the counter, seemingly astonished to be required to produce the documents that we all have to produce on every occasion (and while I'm on the subject of surprise, why is it that older women in a checkout line will always reach the cashier and seem astonished to be asked for a method of payment, and then spend five minutes rummaging for a card or cash???), the number before my own was called. My spirits rose from the depths of homicidal rage to a serene level of mere uncontainable frustration. The large man shambled over to the counter, dropping items from his hands as he went. Upon arrival, he answered the standard questions and declared that he did not have a medical card (something every resident is issued with and without which, has no access to the health system), and had no idea what such a thing was. He may have been suffering from dementia or some other memory-affective ailment of course, but such considerations count for little when a person has reached the fever-pitch of aggravation, frustration and simple rage that I was experiencing at this moment.
I couldn't take it any more. With a roar, I stood up, picked up the foolish one, raised him above my head and threw him over the counter in a shower of paperwork, splinters and catheter tubes. I picked up chairs and threw them across the room, impaling several old ladies and pinning them to the bloodstained walls in so doing. Incandescent, I ripped the counter from its moorings and pushed it across the room, crushing two raisins against a life-size picture of a Yucca plant. Fire broke out in a plant pot in the corner, quickly spreading to the drapes and the clothes of an immobile little old lady, who beat at them with a handkerchief while she made a loud tutting sound. Oh; the humanity...
When the red mist disappeared from my eyes, however, all was calm. No blood, no pinnings, no crushings. Even the shambling buffoon was gone from the (intact) counter. Clearly, I had experienced a Clint Eastwood-esque 'Firefox' moment. It had all been a...
My number was called. As the final syllable reached my processing centre, all my hatred, anger and fury magically fell away. All my rage vapourized as if it had never been there. A smile began to spread across my face as I stood and approached the counter, safe in the knowledge that for a moment at least, everyone in that room despised me with murderous savagery in their hearts. "Hello!" I said brightly, with that delicious feeling of accomplishment spreading within me. I had, after all, made it; I'd conquered my personal Everest, overcome my personal demons - until, that is; the next time...