Sitting in the waiting room at the local surgery, my appointment was at 10.40 on a typical Monday morning. But not to see a doctor, but one of the two nurses on duty, to give a blood sample for an I.N.R. test, in preparation for a lifelong course of anticoagulants, such as Warfarin, as a result of suffering from Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation, or to translate into English, an irregular heartbeat, following the cardiac procedure of having a new Aortic Valve sewn inside my chest back in February.
While one patient after another was called in to the office of one of the nurses, I remained waiting - and waiting - near the main reception. Then about half an hour later, another patient walks into the building and registers his appointment, then sits in the waiting room two rows in front of mine. My guess is that he was in his mid thirties. He was unshaven, maybe using his stubble to emphasise his look of feeling unwell. This must have done the trick, because just five minutes later, the nurse came out of her office to call him in by name. And that's the rub. Calling him in personally by name. Normally, the large computer screen on the wall does the calling. But not that morning, for the computer crashed yet again, which seems to be rather frequent in that particular surgery. Oh well, next time I have an appointment there, I'll make sure I don't shave beforehand. Because there was another half-hour wait before I was eventually called in, during that time I watched our unshaven friend leave the office and the building altogether and heading in the direction of the car park, while another patient, a female who spent her time moaning about her delay in returning to work, was called in by the same nurse a good while before my turn came.
What was the cause of a full hour's wait, when I should have waited just somewhere between five to ten minutes? First the computer crash screwed up that morning's schedule, keeping us waiting longer than was necessary. And secondly, and this is where I felt the real pinch, was that the nurse who eventually tended to my treatment was not the nurse I was booked in to visit. Rather, what she was doing was tending to all the remaining patients who were scheduled to see the other nurse, to whom I was originally booked in to visit.
Once inside her office, she took the blood sample so vital for the correct medication. But keeping calm in this situation was not easy, believe me. She herself expressed her anger and frustration, almost taking it out on me, as I cracked a joke in an attempt to ease the tension in the air. Her pent up feelings was aimed at her colleague literally next door, who had tended to just one patient to what must have been close to a full hour, if not longer. I could not help but ponder: What the heck was going on in that consultation room? A full scale operation? So it seemed. But that morning was one of the severest tests of patience I had to endure for a long time.
And that's the whole gist of it. So many people needing treatment, or of needing attention one way or another. Like the hell of superstore checkouts. As earlier in the day, when I went out to do the weekly shop. There were queues of shoppers waiting to pay for their items at the few checkouts that were operative, while there was a large area of deserted space testifying to the greater row of unattended tills, I believe, in some money-saving scheme. Then, lining up to be served, there is often so much unnecessary waiting while the (usually female) customer quibbles with the teller over the validity of a voucher meant to save her a few pence from the overall payment. But at least we are at present living in better days with the advent of the electronic bank card. I recall the dread of the old days when the customer being served reached into her handbag and fished out her chequebook. That was when I knew that I should have brought in my tent to set up camp there!
Then again, I have much to be thankful for. For one who does not own or drive a vehicle, I have managed to avoid hours upon hours of the daily commute. I recall a friend having to take me to hospital, either to visit a consultant, or for my wife to attend treatment, during the morning or evening rush hour. The unavoidable traffic congestion up ahead did pose a very real threat to the appointment, and I have wondered how one manages to get to his workplace on time every weekday morning. The frustration of it all when I consider the sheer lunacy which came with the invention of the motor car. I bet the original inventors had never foreseen or predicted the lines of traffic at a standstill due to a truck jackknifing when an impatient car driver swerves to overtake another, or due to some other miscreant. Or the natural habit of rubbernecking - a traffic snarl-up caused when curious drivers slow down to turn and look at something unusual on the other side of the road, or on an adjoining field.
Oh, the insanity of having such a huge, motorised box to move just one person from one location to another, when the same capacity can hold four, maybe five people at the same time. But then with such a convenient commodity, I guess there is something magical about the privacy of lone travel, and the full control of the wheel, which is not quite the same while having passengers, and certainly not while sitting in a train or bus. But being stuck in a jam, or even frustrated by a slow car driver in front, or that of an articulated lorry, or worst of all, held back by a slow crawling tractor on a narrow winding road is surely enough to blow the fuse of not a few drivers, yet as it has always appeared on the outside, there are hardly any instances of road rage. At least not over here in the UK, where narrow country roads are prevalent. On the other hand, out in the United States where freeways are wide and straight, there does seem to be far less snarl-ups, at least when I became aware of this while travelling interstate on the Greyhound bus network.
But here in Britain we are either icons of infinite patience, or perhaps our British stiff upper lips make us the most stoic nation in the world! And this was no better demonstrated as during the morning rush hour earlier in the week, when a power failure caused one of the busiest rail systems into London to have come to a standstill for up to five hours. According to the Press and related video clips, there was not a stir within any of the stranded trains except some mild complaints from one or two females over the stuffiness caused by trapped heat inside the carriages. A video was also shown of a train stuck in the middle of nowhere releasing all its passengers over a makeshift ladder attached to one of its doors. Each passenger might as well have been a zombie, as their faces were just as expressionless.
Which was a reminder, had I have been one of the passengers on that line, stuck for hours on board a train. One of the system's lines was the one linking London with Gatwick International Airport, then onward to the coast. Suppose I had a flight to board at Gatwick? That had occurred several times in the past. How would I have felt? Panic? Frightened out of my wits? To be honest, I have doubts whether I could have sat like a zombie throughout the ordeal, knowing full well that any chances of boarding the flight would have been scuppered. All sorts of thoughts would have passed through my mind. Would they let me board another flight later in the day? Or perhaps the next day? Or even a week later if they also allow me to return home a week later as well? If none applies, would I get enough compensation to make a fresh booking? I doubt that I would have been able to contain my emotions. I'll be wanting to talk, to hear an expert tell me the outcome of a missed flight. Anything but the dreaded silence of British stoicism.
And talking of Gatwick Airport, I recall 1978. What a blood curdling experience I had when I witnessed patience running out completely and the strong, stiff upper lip had melted. It was during a strike by the French Air Traffic Control workers. As a result, all flights across Europe were delayed or suspended. That morning, a group meant to fly to Spain stood waiting at the departure gate, ready to board the 'plane waiting outside. Then the intercom announced through the spacious corridor to all passengers for that particular flight to return to the departure lounge. Apparently, they had to be called back several times within the last few hours, possibly even overnight. A young man, about my age, suddenly let out a series of demonic screams, and I felt my hair stand on end. Such what happens when patience runs out. Fortunately for me, who was close by, my flight out to New York was unaffected by the strike, and it took off on time. But that scream was something I have never allowed to be forgotten.
The young man's scream at the airport was a direct opposite to the apostle's instruction to "Count it all joy when tribulation comes" (James 1:2-3). And I'm convinced that the British stoicism such as shown in a stranded train was not from James' writings either, as this stoicism is from the flesh, earthly, borne from unbelief, and as such, not from the Holy Spirit. Nor being stuck in traffic, or at a superstore checkout line. But at the doctor's surgery, I have found praying to be a good tonic. That was why I had it in me to try and cheer the nurse up after I was called in. Okay, so I got it wrong, but it would have been considerably worse had I allowed my natural feelings to predominate.
To be joyful in a hostile situation is as far from being natural enough to be classed as a miracle. Only being filled with the Holy Spirit can bring peace in a situation, for example, when being stuck in a stranded train while on the way to the airport. Through the power of the Holy Spirit comes the realisation of God's sovereignty, and that he is not only aware of the situation, but he actually planned it, for my own good. (Romans 8:28). Know of the omniscience, omnipresence, and the omnipotence of God would replace despair in my situation with a level of peace, if not actually with feelings of joy.
This is not mere words on your computer screen. I have known what it was like being stuck at the airport departure lounge for six hours, as I waited to board the airline for Israel. The delay was due to a part within the airplane in a state of disrepair, and in need to be replaced. At first I felt myself falling into despair. Then I watched a group of orthodox Jews taking in the situation calmly, then some in that group actually fell asleep. And here was I walking around the departure lounge like a beast in captivity, walking round and round the cage. The only way I could calm down was to pray, and ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Only then did I feel a greater sense of peace. That was in 1993, and it was a lesson well worth learning, as far more serious tests were to come in the years ahead.
Patience is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. As a natural man, the lack of patience is one of my main weaknesses. The Holy Spirit provides strength to meet every weakness in my natural self. And one of the strengths is patience, and it is there for the asking, since the Father in heaven is more than willing to give the Holy Spirit to whoever asks. He is glad to answer such a request.