Permission to Ask for Quiet

Having metastatic breast cancer means I spend a lot of time in windowless rooms. Exam rooms. Gowned waiting rooms. Scan rooms. Radiation rooms. Infusion rooms. Bathrooms. 

Every three months–when I go for my echocardiogram to make sure Herceptin is not damaging my heart–I spend 45 minutes in a dark, windowless room with just one other person, a bank of eerily lit computer screens, and the sound of my heartbeat. 

I like to be the first patient, so I usually schedule the 7:00 am appointments. On a particular day in August, my sonographer is prompt and courteous. Her firm yet caring voice offers me clear instructions about what she is doing, and she commands the ultrasound with adept skill. I feel safe, secure, and relaxed. 

After 45 minutes, I leave feeling refreshed, but I realize this type of quiet is rare. 

Usually, I find myself having to engage in conversation or ask questions. Sometimes, because I am a captive audience, I unwittingly have to listen to stories about someone’s bad dates and even worse jobs.

Granted, I know myself and sometimes I feel like chatting with my tech. I ask questions, tell jokes and share stories about my life. And granted, I also understand that for many people silence in a dark, windowless room makes them very uncomfortable. 

But the quiet of this morning reminds me that I can give myself permission to say no thank you, I don’t want to talk and again walk away feeling refreshed: 

It’s Not My Job to Make People Feel Good:

I often have to remind myself that it is fine not to want to engage in conversation with strangers in dark rooms. I have been socialized to think that I need to make people feel comfortable, that I need to respond to their questions or even ask some of my own, and that I am supposed to be interested in their lives. 

I am sure all of my echo techs have interesting and full lives. And yet, in the 45 minutes that I am there, I do not need to feel like it is my responsibility to engage with them, make the time go faster or the silence less awkward.

Be Honest and Kind:

I know it is sometimes difficult for me to be honest and sound kind. Most of the time when I am speaking honestly, I sound judgmental (ask my children!). So I am practicing how to say a simple I don’t feel like talking today and having it sound like I honor and respect them, and I am clear with my desired boundary.  

I value the work of my echo sonographers, and it is because of their ability to adeptly slide the ultrasound over and around my heart in order to transmit pictures of the structure and function of my heart that I am able to continue taking Herceptin. And because I am able to continue taking Herceptin, I am still alive! 

And, with all of that, I can still give myself permission to kindly say no thank you without feeling guilty or responsible for someone else’s feelings. 

Lean Into Silence:

When I get my hair cut, I know the moment when my stylist turns her full attention to my hair. All conversation stops! I love this moment because it means that she is deep in pure concentration, and I know my hair will look great!

I plan to lean into thinking that silence (in many, not all, cases) equals concentration. This will offer me the opportunity, if I am not up for talking one morning of my next echocardiogram and my tech is, to remind them that it is fine for them to be quiet, so they can focus on their very important job. 

NEXT WEEK: How I transformed my echocardiogram medical report into a poem. Sign up for my Transforming Medical Reports Into Poetry writing workshop

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