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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jonathan Hoffman

Major Emergency or Minor Aggravation?

Updated: Jul 15, 2022

Is it just me, or are some of us having difficulty telling a true emergency from a false alarm? Or a temporary inconvenience from a life-altering catastrophe? I can almost imagine scenes like these occurring in South Florida’s emergency rooms in the not too distant future:

  • A 62-year-old male, clutching his chest from acute heartburn, shows up at a Boca Raton ER. He complains loudly to the intake nurse about his salad not having enough onions when he dined at a local restaurant. He states bitterly: “My entire meal was ruined.”

  • An 18 year old female presents in academic crisis over getting a “B” on her English paper at a university when she though she deserved an “A.” She was particularly distraught because not even a call from her mother to her professor helped.

  • A 32-year-old homemaker who has lost her status is airlifted from the mall in severe sticker shock. She tells the paramedics that her husband does make as much as her friends’ spouses do. Consequently, she is stuck with a no-name handbag.

  • After putting his house on the market 20 days ago and still not receiving and offers at his asking price, a 52 year-old male indicates severe suffering from symptoms of a buyers market. Reminding him that he has doubled what he originally paid in 10 years ago, even if he lowers his price, fails to give relief. He is immediately put in isolation, as this condition is now known to be extremely contagious.

  • A 40 year-old divorcee goes out with a man she met online. The gentleman excuses himself after 30 minutes alleging he “forgot something important.” She shows up at the ER bewildered, saying that her ego has been in a bad crash. She may never be able to enter a chat room again without assistance.

A.T.W. Simeons, in his aptly titled Man’s Presumption Brain, theorized about why people seem to react to symbolic or relatively small problems as if they were life-threatening events.

His idea was that, while social and technological changes, have occurred very rapidly from caveman times, the evolution of our brains has not kept up. Thus, we may remain physiologically primed to respond to threats as if we were still in Ice Age days of scarcity and constant danger. So, unless we make a conscious effort to recalibrate our sensitivities to match 21st-century life in South Florida, many of us will be prone to overreactions-even extreme ones.

A case in point is road rage. Someone cuts another person off and the aggrieved party responds like they have been attacked for real. As we all know, people have been killed over minor accidents on out highways. Another example that comes to mind is the extreme reactions some people have to minor rudeness or insults. In fact, there is a whole subculture of those for whom a “diss” (short for disrespect) is worth a fight. They pride themselves on being “hard” and “not taking any sh*t.” Could it be that, in their own 180-degree misguided way, they are matching their mental state to physiological arousals about which they lack insight.

Maybe we are all dressed up physically for the Ice Age when we really are living in a time of global warming, so to speak. We are prone to feel traumatized by blows to our self-esteem and have metaphorical chips on our shoulders that seem to us like actual bone damage. In our land of plenty, we might look at others who have even more and suffer consumer envy – as if we needed what other cave dwellers have to survive a harsh Ice Age winter, And we defend our self-esteems as if they are subject to literal slings and arrows – not symbolic ones. In short, we might react similarly whether it is arm or our comments that are abruptly cut off. If you think this is hyperbole, just observe how angry some people get if you interrupt what they are saying.

The next time you think you have an emergency, think again. You might only be suffering from a minor case of aggravation. Take two deep breaths and call me in the morning.

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