Monday, October 11, 2010

Listening In

Here I am, back from the emergency room. My agonizing knee pain remains unresolved, something my non-existent family doctor needs to take care of by ordering MRI's and physical therapy. Some people might consider the 3 hours spent at the ER a waste of time, but I'm a writer. I'm a nosy writer. I'm the wallflower that sits or stands invisible on the sidelines while observing those surrounding me. And for a writer sitting silently, what an interesting collection of individuals can be found at your local ER.

Not only the patients and their motley complaints and ailments are fascinating, but also the nurses and doctors. They roam the stark white corridors talking freely while patients sit in exam rooms with the doors wide open with nothing to do but eavesdrop on the conversations taking place. That date the dark haired nurse had last night did not end well. It's the last time she's letting mom set her up with the neighbor's son. The doctor's son got an A on his chemistry quiz. He's a chip off the ol' block.

Okay, so not all the conversations overheard are extremely fascinating, but as a writer, you can use creative license to redo the scenario in your head. It makes me wonder what happened on the nurse's date. Where did he take her? What did they talk about? And how did the date 'not end well'? Did she find out he stilled lived with mom and dad or did she discover he was unemployed and expected her to pay for dinner? Maybe his ex-girlfriend arrived and in a fit of rage told the nurse exactly what she thought of him.

I admit, it's the patients that are the most intriguing. During the last ER visit we had with my 2 year-old son, who said he swallowed either a sharp and pointy screw or a piece of paper (turned out to be the paper), we were bunked with a charming individual who smelled like a broken ashtray shattered on the floor of a bar room who came in complaining of pain in his hand. He told the nurse he tripped and fell down the stairs at his home.
(In my mind I interpreted his slurred speech indicated instead that he swung and struck his neighbor on his way home from sleeping the night in his pick up truck. After waking up and not remembering how he got there, he found his way home only to see the neighbor talking to his wife. Now his hand hurt.)

He went on to graciously confess, as if he were doing the nurse a favor, that he had only one can of beer for breakfast. 

(Meaning one case.)

Half-way through the exam, he mentioned a slight pain on the side of his head  

(where his neighbor struck back)

and also mentioned he couldn't understand a word the nurse was saying  

(meaning he was still so drunk as to not know where he was, yet again.)

I don't know how closely my interpretations came to the mark, but it was obvious even to the poor misunderstood nurse that there was more to his story than what he was admitting. I probably wasn't too far off and even if I was, it doesn't matter because from this bit of overheard conversation, I now have a character for a story. A stinky inebriated one, but a character nonetheless.

Remember, you don't have to endure the emergency room to observe those around you. Take a walk through the mall, grab a bench and listen in. The local mall has just as many interesting people. Or keep your ears open while you're in line at the grocery store. Even sitting in your car at a red light can give you great snippets of conversation. Even if you don't hear them, imagine what they might be saying while they gesture with their hands. This might stir up story ideas you might not have otherwise imagined.

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