Dispatches From a Waiting Room

Growing up, I had little experience with hospitals. The first one I really remember was the one where my grandfather had heart surgery. I was young enough that I didn’t understand what was going on. I was fascinated when my dad discovered that the dollar bill change machine in the hospital returned Susan B. Anthony dollar coins. We fed dollar bills into it to collect the coins. When I was older, my mom had surgery, and I got to see her resting in her hospital bed, clutching tight to the morphine trigger. I was shocked by how small she looked, small and still, but she recovered quickly.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I had my first real experience with waiting in a hospital. My grandfather, brought low by pulmonary fibrosis, entered the hospital, his final journey while alive. Our family passed the time in the limbo of the waiting room and comforted each other as best we could.

Now we’re in a similar situation, though thankfully the outlook is much better. Waiting in hospitals has a certain sameness, no matter how different the small details. When I was in high school, I took trombone lessons at one of the local colleges. The music building had a distinctive smell that ever after meant “music” to me. Hospitals are similar. The smell of alcohol, plastics, bedding, and sadness fill the air. The hospital we’re in now is fairly new and yet it smells like the old hospital from several years ago, which smelled like the hospital mom was in.

And so we wait. Every few hours we’re given a small slice of time to go in and listen to machines whirr and pump and watch them flash their multicolored emssages. In between we drink bad coffee and talk to others who are in our situation. We’re thrown together for a short time, passengers in a trip of unknown duration. Here’s hoping we can be content with where we end up.