Talking to Strangers? Best Hobby Ever.

Posted on Mar 1, 2012 in Life of a Medical Student, Life, the Universe, and Everything | 0 comments

I got into a car with a stranger this morning. Yeah, I really did that. And it’s moments like that which make my life so great. So the story: I got to campus today to find the UPMC garage that I often park in when I’m running late full. “No Event Parking – LEASES ONLY” sign out front. Really, at 8 in the morning? So I grumbled to myself and drove on to park at UPMC Montefiore. This has happened before, usually in the afternoons, but I’m accustomed by now. After my 8am class, I had to walk past the first garage to get to the garage I was actually parked in. One of the really friendly security officers was managing the chaotic traffic trying to get into the garage (this is typical of when things like this happen – it involves a lot of people trying to pull in, discovering they were really serious about not letting people in, having to make eight point turns to get back out, all sorts of fun frustration and traffic back-up). She was talking to a woman in a car waiting to turn around, so I stopped and ask what the event was. Swimming competition.

The woman’s daughter was swimming in it (but by this point, her frustration was to the point that as far as she was concerned, the swimmers could all just drown. Her words, not mine). She was desperate for parking, and the security officer directed her to Montefiore. She was worried she wouldn’t be able to find it, but the security officer and I assured her it was really easy. Then I jokingly said “I’m walking there to retrieve my car – you could follow me.” And she suggested I get in the car. So I did. To drive a quarter mile down the street. And then, she let me out at my car, I pulled out, and she took the super awesome spot I got at 8am before the rush.

Some day this behavior might get me killed. But that’s ok. Interactions like this are worth it. We had a great five minutes and while she probably would have found it on her own, I was able to relieve some of the aggravation, put a smile in her day, and give her a great parking spot. And I had fun in the process. It’s the little things. And this leads me to – why I love talking to strangers.

Strangers have no expectations of you. People you’ve never seen before, might never see again, interact with you every day. But those strangers are people, too, we all have things going on in our lives, and we’re all having a day (whether it be a good one or a bad one). And there’s some intrinsic satisfaction in being able to elicit a smile from a stranger. It’s all about exchanging energy. If you give someone a positive vibe, they often return it. Whether or not it gives them satisfaction as well is impossible to tell, but that doesn’t really matter.

I have a lot of interactions with strangers. There’s a security guard in the medical school building. He’s a little man, not too old and not too young, and he has a shy air to him. I said good morning to him once as I was walking by. He looked so happy to receive it and returned my smile, so I did it again the next day. Now I do it every time I see him. Sometimes two or three times a day. And I don’t know about him, but it makes me feel better every time. I’ve sat in the chairs in that lobby waiting to meet with someone before – I’ve only ever seen one other person acknowledge his existence just to say hi.

There’s a parking attendant at a garage I used to park in. He has to validate your ticket every time, which means you have to interact through a little window once a day, five days a week. That’s a lot of 30 second interactions. Assuming I’ve parked there at least 250 times in the past 5 years (maybe more), that’s at least two hours I’ve spent interacting with the man. He knows how my schoolwork is going, he tells me about how his dad is in the hospital, how he’s biking to work, the community college calculus class he took. He loves calculus, he thinks it’s fun, and he works through a book of problems while he’s sitting in his little booth killing time. I think that’s inspiring – he’s working a job that doesn’t require a lot of eduction, but he’s seeking education because he enjoys it. He doesn’t take calculus because he thinks it will get him a better job. He took it simply because he wanted to learn it. And I never would have learned this if I hadn’t taken the time to find out how his day was going.

Being a doctor is all about interacting with strangers. Especially in the ER or in the EMS work I used to do, you sort of hope that you’ll never see any of these people again. People don’t come into the ER because they’re having a good day and want to say hi. They come because something really awful is happening to them. And they expect you to fix their physical problem – they don’t necessarily expect you to brighten their day. But, sometimes, it’s trying to brighten their day that makes all the difference. And I like to make that a goal. I’d like to make my patients feel physically better, but I also want to get them to smile at least once during our interaction. It doesn’t work for everyone, and you have to learn when to put the smile away because frankly sometimes excessive cheerfulness really pisses sick people off. But for the successes I’ve had, it’s always always worth the effort.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: