Friday, December 27, 2013
Remembering a Waiting Room
John’s surgery today. I’m at St. Peters Hospital in the waiting room. I watch the other waiters—family members, loved ones of patients. Some are young parents and their little ones are in surgery, some I think wait for an older patient—adult children are the waiters, some, like me, are spouses.
I get my coffee and read my new Louise Penny book. Inspector Armand Gamache is such good company here. Wise and calming.
I am aware of the routine of this room. The docs come out to chat, to give an update, to tell how the surgery went. As they speak to the families in this room I hear joking, “Oh she’s awake—giving us a hard time.” I see the tension relieved. Docs squat or get down on one knee—eye level with family. Never stand over seated family to deliver news.
But I stand up to stretch and see the row of doors behind me—closed doors, no windows, each one labeled: 2915 Consulting Room (In Use), 2916 Consulting Room (Vacant). And I stand and I stare at those doors.
I was 18 years old. Allegheny General Hospital. My father was in Intensive Care. I was in the ICU waiting room with my mother and brothers. Other family members came and went. We sat with other patient’s families and talked to them for those three long days. I watched the pattern of movement. Even then I was a watcher.
Sometimes—like here—the doctors came out to the family in the waiting room and talked to them—gave an update, described changes in status.
But sometimes a nurse would call a family into one of the small private rooms and those families never came back to waiting. Once, when I was in the hallway, I saw a family leave the little room. They stood near the elevator, crying. I knew.
So when, on the third day, they asked our family to step into the small private room, I knew. I knew before my mother did. I knew before the doctor took her hand. I knew before my brother held my arm.
Today, at St. Peter’s I look at those doors at the edge of the waiting room and I wonder at the collective pain that gathers there. I wonder if it aggregates and if they ever use sage to “clear” the rooms or if they bless them when they are empty, or maybe sprinkle holy water on the tables where wives and brothers drop their heads in surprise, shock and grief? I hope they do.