What an unexpected recipe for cultural confusion. Mix pediatrics, panic and productivity with a generous helping of nurses and needles. Season generously with American efficiency. Toss in one missionary mom, three MKs and a rainy afternoon.
Such was the scenario when I took Eva, Isabel and Owen in to a new doctor's office in a new city to fulfill new requirements for their new school (actually, for new state laws) this past week. The three of them needed to catch up on vaccinations and they were not the only ones. Because of Pennsylvania's decision that students would not be allowed eight months bur rather only five days to fulfill immunization requirements, many families like ours were scrambling to find a doctor's office or clinic that could provide them.
Perhaps this is why the office we chose was so efficient that day, because many patients needed many shots. Or maybe they are always efficient and it was only magnified to me due to delayed culture shock. While in Chile we routinely wait an hour just to be seen; on this day we left the doctor's office less than an hour after we stepped in! Whatever the case may be, I was unprepared for the pace at which we were attended. Before I had filled in two lines of the first page (of a dozen I needed to sign) we were whisked away to an examining room.
By "we" I mean one mom, three kids and three nurses. Seven of us in one small room, and everyone talking at the same time. One nurse for one child, and each nurse asking me for shot records and rattling off requirements while leading her patient through weight and height and eye exams and the like. To make matters more stressful, one daughter had already been agonizing over this moment for weeks and was on the teetering edge of a panic attack. When I was told that my son needed not two but five immunizations despite the fact our mission doctor had confirmed the lesser number, my own blood pressure began to climb. I tried pulling up the e-mail to no avail, called my husband with a terrible connection, and talked down my son from his tough guy stance of, "I'll just do all five at once, Mom!" There was no way I was letting that happen. Meanwhile I was also refusing a certain vaccine for my daughters and signing the foreboding document designed to make mothers feel they are endangering them for doing so.
All I wanted was just a few moments to think! I could hear my own voice getting tense and to be honest these nurses were perfectly nice and just doing their job but they had no idea that I was coming from a place where things never moved this quickly. Of course as my frustration increased so did the accusing voice in my head saying, "Remember you're a missionary! You can't lose your cool!" which is always so very helpful at times like these. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply and I think I even said out loud, "I just need a minute. I just need a minute!"
Well, in the end it all worked out even though my frightened child broke out in tears and shaking and hives through the ordeal and we did refuse those extra three shots for Owen (at least for now.) And we met the doctor who is Italian and who chattily told us his relatives fled Venezuela for Chile and have made a good life in Santiago. To encourage my daughter he remarked, "Look at you! You're all broken out in hives! But don't worry, yesterday we had a sixteen-year old in here and compared to her, you are a piece of cake!" (I'm not really sure this had the effect he intended.)
When we finally returned through the rain to the car I looked at the clock and could hardly believe our harrowing experience had lasted only fifty-eight minutes. I turned to my children and announced, "Now THAT - was a cultural collision!" For the life of me I couldn't think of the word I wanted. It felt urgent that I define it. I exclaimed, "It starts with an 'e.' It's not 'expedient' but that's the only one I can think of. Argh! It's driving me crazy. What it the word? What we saw in there, everyone in the same room, doing everything in such a hurry. That is not a Chilean thing. That's an American thing. What is the word?!"
Thankfully my children know me well enough not to be too worried at my ranting but they could clearly see this verbal puzzle was adding to my stress. Eva in the front passenger seat was trying very hard to solve my dilemma and the angels sang hallelujah when she eventually blurted, "Efficient! Is that the word?"
Yes, efficient. The irony is not lost on me that what I have been guilty of whining for while on the field is the very thing that nearly made me lose it when I came home. It's true what they say - be careful what you wish for! :)