As I sat there in the waiting room I grew gradually more and more uneasy. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly was wrong but at the same time I knew that things weren’t as blandly normal as they seemed to be. It was busy and there was the usual ‘waiting room’ – type atmosphere. Nothing dramatic was happening: patients were sitting patiently as patients are supposed to, the receptionist was looking suitably harassed and yet at the same time immaculately and forbiddingly efficient, and time was dragging its heels at the same completely imperceptible pace it always does in waiting rooms. That’s the psychology of the waiting room – time stretches, time dilates. The waiting is an end in itself. The waiting is the whole point of the exercise…
Yet I knew that underneath the placid surface-level appearance of things something intangible and decidedly unpleasant lurked. Some bad, something evil. The way I knew this was because the longer I sat there the more awful I felt, until it almost reached the point where I felt like screaming out loud. It was like being slowly drained of life, or being drained of there being any sense of having a reason for actually being alive.
Perhaps invisible psychic vampires were in attendance, flitting from person to person, feasting at leisure on the trapped energies of their helpless prey. Who knows? Perhaps this is the Secret Truth behind waiting rooms. The truth no one wants to talk about. I could write an article about it for the Fortean Times. Or maybe, it occurred to me – as it generally does sooner or later – it was just me. Maybe it’s all just in my head, maybe the problem is me.
Why was I always thinking like this, I wondered. It can’t be healthy for me to allow my thoughts to drift along in such a manner. But then again, the answer came back straight-away, if I was healthy then I presumably wouldn’t be here! I rallied at this point, making a bit of an attempt to pull myself out of the mental slump I was falling into. Maybe I was just having a bad day – nothing more serious than this. One has to take the rough with the smooth, I thought, entering into a more philosophical frame of mind. After all, life can’t always be a bed of roses. Sometimes it was bound to be more like a bed of thistles. Or a bed of nettles and brambles. Or perhaps sometimes it was more like a bed of deadly poisonous mushrooms, like for example Amanita Pantherina, the destroying angel. Yes, that about fits the bill, I mused, with a growing sense of satisfaction as I groped for an apt way of expressing my present predicament. Life can’t always be a bed of roses – sometimes it turns out to be a bed of destroying angels instead. A bed of destroying angels….
But that’s how it goes, I told myself – it’s all part of the rich tapestry of life. No sense in getting my knickers in a twist. I caught myself at this point and drew back in distaste from my own thoughts. Why did I have to attempt to comfort myself with banal platitudes all the time? There was something very unpleasant about this tendency of mine. Perhaps, I thought to myself with wry but somewhat tormented amusement, I could try to alleviate my distress at noticing my disgusting habit of resorting to bland platitudes by a further application of some even more clichéd pseudo-philosophizing. After all – what is sauce for the goose may well turn out to be a perfectly adequate culinary accompaniment to the gander also. But was that a platitude or an adage? I wasn’t at all sure. Maybe it was an aphorism…
Just then my name was called. Judging by the look of slight annoyance on the receptionist’s face it must have been for the third or fourth time. “Mr Williams?” she asked as I got to my feet, “Dr Davidson will see you now.” I was approached by a fresh-faced young man who briefly shook my hand. He proceeded to guide me into a small, rather stark-looking room. There was nothing in the room except for a desk near the window. There was a rather plush swivel chair on one side of the desk for the doctor to sit on and a more ordinary looking sort of a chair on the other side for me. A few books and the odd sheet of paper lay on top of the desk. The usual type of thing.
“Well Nick,” said the young doctor, leaning back in his comfortable swivel chair and looking at me in a relaxed, confident, professional manner, “what’s troubling you?” I found myself immediately struck with a strong feeling of dislike towards him, despite his easy, friendly demeanour, but fighting against this feeling I tried to answer his question as best I could.
“This is going to sound kind of weird doctor,” I began, “but I might as well come out with it anyway. As far as I can see I seem to have two problems. The first problem is that I keep finding myself coming out with bland platitudes about everything that happens to me, no matter what happens I always try to comfort myself with banal second-hand popular aphorisms. It’s like I’m living in a particularly bad Disney movie, the sort that comes with a corny moralistic voice-over. Even though it appalls me I can’t seem to help myself – cheap lines just keep popping into my head. It’s a bit like laughing inappropriately when you hear tragic news; my mind won’t stop producing inane, shop-worn sayings. It drives me round the bend, but I keep doing it anyway.”
I paused to see if he would say anything but he just looked at me and scribbled a few notes down. After a minute or two of silence he prompted me, “And the second problem?”
“The second problem,” I replied, “is that I seem to be stuck in some kind of unpleasant hallucination. In this hallucination I am sitting in a bleak interview room which looks more like the sort of place where the Chilean secret police used to interrogate unofficial detainees, and I am talking to a psychiatrist in a psychiatric day hospital.”
The young doctor was obviously unsure whether I was having him on or not, “But what makes you think this is a hallucination?” he enquired.
All of a sudden I felt very tired and no longer felt as if I had the energy to continue. I wished I hadn’t tried to explain in the first place. “Look,” I said wearily, “it’s a hallucination, take it from me.”
The young, professionally interested doctor looked at me anew then with just the slightest suggestion of a sparkle in his eyes. “I see,” he mused, after jotting down a few more notes. “Well, what can I say Nick? Life’s a funny old thing. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles I guess. No sense in crying over split milk. And after all, worse things happen at sea, or so they say…”