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Chance Thoughts
by Sue Chance, M.D.
May 1996

Keeping Cool Under Fire

Cars are great places for thinking, aren't they?

I was tooling along in mine the other day, and for some reason, I began thinking about the lengths we go to at times to spare our friends and loved ones embarrassment or a bad turn.

My friend, Harriet Lerner, says in her book, The Dance of Deception, that almost all of us fudge at times for the sake of others. Some might call it lying, but I prefer the sort of person who, if (s)he is thinking of a former significant other and is asked, "What are you thinking?" by his/her current s.o., wouldn't hesitate to lie like a dog. Then again, perhaps I just haven't attained full moral development.

The incident that came back to me, however, wasn't quite the same ethical dilemma.

To wit:

When I was a first year resident, I, along with several others, was invited to the home of one of our professors. He and his wife were both Europeans from prominent families, and generally more sophisticated than most of the people I'd known. They were so hospitable, however, that whatever intimidation I might have felt quickly passed.

Sitting in the living room, we chatted and had hors d'oeuvres until their year-old Irish Setter decided to join us. I cannot speak to the breed as a whole, but this one seemed to be suffering from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. All of us coped as best we could with the tail in our wine and the muzzle in our crotches, but I was singled out for a special treat. Standing there quivering as though with newfound love, the dog took a leak on my foot. I do not mean a gentle tinkle, as when overcome with excitement. I mean a veritable fire hose cut loose.

Now I ask, what's one to do in such circumstances? I doubt Miss Manners covered the topic, let alone a clinical psychiatry text. But I can tell you what I did.

First, I bent forward, setting my stuffed mushrooms on the coffee table while I strategically dropped my napkin on my foot. Blotting the excess, I arose and excused myself, walking in a very gingerly fashion so as not to squish. Once in the bathroom, I dumped the residue in the toilet, stuck my foot in the sink, washed it and my hands, then collapsed against the counter, holding my hands over my mouth so as not to allow the shrieks of laughter to emerge.

I'm sure they wondered about me, it took me such a long time to pull myself back together. When I returned, I not only kept a half-way straight face, I enjoyed the rest of the evening. And who knows? Perhaps the incident even lent added zest.

I think I did the right thing, but suspect I would have done as I did in any case, given my sense of humor and my dread of embarrassing anybody.

Now, if God a) approves and b) is truly merciful, my prof won't be on-line.