I recently went for my second vaccine shot. The verbal warnings from well-meaning others streamed through my head like a bad TV montage:
“Take off from work the next day—you’ll need it.”
“It felt like an invisible weight was pulling me down.”
“It’ll hit you about 12 hours later. You’ll see.”
“I wanted to die.”
So, it’s no surprise that I approached the nurse (*Jenny) a little nervous.
My anxiety typically manifests in a desperate need for small talk. There is this comfort, however fleeting, found in small talk for me. And according to a 2018 study by psychologist Mathias Mehl, my instinct to schmooze is understandable:
“Small talk…is associated with more happiness than one usually experiences when one is alone.”
I certainly didn’t want to be alone with my mental montage of dire physical warnings. I needed to focus on the sunny room of the vaccination site and the warm smile of Nurse Jenny.
Too late—I already saw the almost comically long syringe. Too late, I asked Jenny how she was, inquiring about her children as well (a small detail I recalled from our earlier dialogue the few weeks prior) as I turned my head away.
Too late—Jenny let out a big sigh—a hot air balloon puncturing and plummeting fast:
“My husband is an awful man—just awful. He’s been cheating on me and now he’s suing me in our divorce. I just can’t—”
Too late—Jenny’s emotional turmoil was let out on my arm.
I saw stars.
“Why does that hurt so much?” I asked.
“Oh, you poor thing—I’m so sorry. You’re bleeding. I hit a vein.”
Once the blood was cleaned up, Jenny wrote her name and number on a neon Post It.
“Call me. We need to get together—go for dinner.”
Somehow, a Small Talk Attempt to ease my anxiety had caused Jenny to think we were…Friends? Therapist (me) and patient (her)?
Mathias Mehl’s findings regarding our tendency to find happiness through small talk may be true, but if that small talk signals another to lay down on the metaphorical Freudian couch, perhaps we need to refrain from trivial banter with people holding sharp objects…