Monday 13 June 2011

Journalism 101

It was a warm sunny day as I entered the doctor's office on a mission. My homework assignment for my online writing course was to write about an everyday place like a park or a coffee shop. I thought: Why not a doctor's waiting room? Since I had taught all day and I had to pick up my kids immediately after my appointment, I thought it was the only way to get the assignment completed and a great way to kill time.

Opening up my notebook, I pulled a pencil out of my purse, intent on getting a story eventhough I wasn't an official journalist and I didn't think I had that "go get 'em" attitude. Using my five senses, I described the scene which started to unfold. I mentioned the colours of the paintings on the wall, the periodic ringing of the phone, the sterile smell of the air, the regular calling out of surnames by the receptionist and the honking of the cars and trucks which passed by on the street outside.

Thinking that I was writing a mundane piece, I turned out to be dead wrong. I started to eavesdrop on the conversation between the elderly man on my left and the teenage girl on my right. The man asked: "How did you break your arm?" The girl explained: "It's a long story. I was driving around with my Mom when we were passed by a criminal followed by a police car. The police officer shot at the criminal and missed, hitting me instead." She described how the bone had been damaged and the man started to talk about how he hunted deer and therefore had some experience with bullet wounds.

My mouth dropped wide open. I had read about this the other day in the local paper. You might expect this type of story in Toronto, but not in Brantford. I started scribbling furiously to make sure I didn't miss anything. After several minutes, I put my pencil down, thinking that I had my scoop for the day.

After over an hour, the receptionist called for "Jonasson". I entered the doctor's office and he introduced himself. He examined my finger and assured me that he would be able to remove the hematoma safely. As the doctor wrote down the details of my surgery, I glanced at a large photograph on his wall with him in a white military uniform surrounded by his family. I asked: "Were you in the Vietnam War?" He replied: "Yes, I was a medic. I treated injured soldiers." Story #2. Apparently, he had to retrain as a doctor once he immigrated.

I continued to probe, asking: "How did you end up in Canada?" He answered: "I was a boat person." Story #3. Once again my mouth dropped open. I'd heard of the boat people when I was growing up, but I didn't realize we had one right here in our midst. I examined the walls further and discovered a picture of the doctor in a white gi with a black belt. He was a karate master. Next, we moved to the topic of music. He explained that he was an amateur jazz musician and had recorded a CD with his small group. Add another talent to his resume. I mentioned that my Dad was also a jazz musician. Pleased that I was interested in his family history, he offered me an autographed CD. I thanked him, shook his hand and hurriedly left the office, knowing that my children would be waiting.

When I had arrived at the doctor's office, I had been doubtful that I would get a story. Instead, a scoop had fallen right into my lap -- in fact, three scoops. I had entered that waiting room a patient and I had left a journalist. Open your eyes and ears; you'll be surprised at what you discover right under your nose!

Cartoon courtesy

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