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Thoughts from the waiting room

April 8th, 2005 · 1 Comment

I’ve been thinking of Robert Scoble this week as he’s been living in a hospital waiting room while a loved one is undergoing care.

Lots of waiting in hospitals like the one I’m writing to you from. Waiting. Waiting. Then some terrifying moments shatter the silence. Mostly of doctors telling you more surgery is needed. Or worse. Thankfully I’m not hearing those bad words like cancer or, worse, “don’t know.” I hear Peter Jennings just found out that he has lung cancer. A friend of mine died of that in the 1980s. But others are hearing those horrible words all around me. In my room it’s not cakewalk. There’s constant intrusions. Blood pressure checks. Blood workups. Flowers! Bathroom walks. New IV’s. Phone calls. Beeping machines. Even some running Windows! (Can’t they make nicer sounding beeps?) Room-mates making weird noises. No privacy for some things that otherwise are very private.

the first waiting room I remember

My earliest memory comes from a hospital waiting room somewhere in Kansas City. More than three decades later I can still see the walls, white, the heater built against the windows and the long fall down to the parking lot floors below. I was scared of heights and too timid to sit near the windows or even get near the glass.

not the happiest birthday

I celebrated my fourth birthday in that hospital waiting room. My younger brother had had surgery for his brain tumor. I don’t know if I understood then how close he came to dying during the treatments. Once in a while I would be able to get a glimpse of him. Nurses would wheel him out in the hall, close to the waiting room. I’d see my baby brother lying like a doll in the crib, white bandages wrapped around his head, his toy lion watching with paper eyes from the corner. When I think of the waiting room, I think of the color white. Sterile. Uncertain.

For my birthday someone gave me a box with an purple elephant on it and a red toothbrush inside it. Funny the things a little girl remembers. The kindness of strangers. Thank you, whoevever you are, wherever you are.

reading = coping

I survived the weeks with Highlight magazines and books others gave me to read. I could read at the time. I don’t know how well I could read. But it was enough to help me survive. Books would become my coping, as Wifi is helping Robert get through the days. Little did I know how my ability to devour books would affect my life. It would be a handy survival skill through the years when I had to amuse myself while my mom cared for my brother and younger siblings. Books brought me into new worlds and saved me, literally (ha!). But books also broke me, bringing an ache and longing for relationships I couldn’t have or find.

no intrusions please

For most of my life I’ve never been excited about hospitals. I spent too much of my childhood in them. Giving birth to my children revealed these feelings raw. My first labor was hard because I didn’t get along well with my nurses. I didn’t like being in the hospital. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want all the intrusions and interruptions (as Robert described so well). Once we arrived, my labor slowed: it was psychological.

waiting for the blogpost

Waiting in the waiting room is difficult. I haven’t spent many hours recently hanging out in a hospital. But I have waited for phone calls, emails and blogposts. I’ve waited to hear the news that it would be all right. I’ve wanted to hear that ring or see that the baby arrived and is healthy. I keep checking the clock, refreshing the browser window, examining the email, making sure the phone is on. Time feels like torture when we are waiting.

I was happy to share

Michaela’s surgery earlier this year was probably one of my best experiences in a waiting room. Although I don’t like sharing a hospital room, I was happy to share the waiting room with other parents and families. Somehow seeing other kids who also needed surgery gave me comfort. We learned we weren’t alone. We families had different concerns but many of the same concerns too. I remember watching the couple ahead of us as they waited for their child to come out of the operating room. We would be next. I took notes.

Then Michaela left with the crew. I tried to relax and trust God, knowing it was all out of my control at that point. We went and ate lunch, then returned to the room, waiting for news, hoping to hear Michaela was okay.

joy or sorrow

Waiting rooms can be terrifying and lonely places to be. As Robert points out, surgeons can bring news that crushes hearts and changes lives. It can be a time of joy or a time of sorrow.

With Michaela’s surgery there was the possibility of complications. We had to wait a few weeks to know the final result. The doctor said that he would call if the results weren’t good. Otherwise we could assume the best. In the quiet, I still wondered, hoping all was well. When someone called me a week or two later, I was surprised and scared. But this staff member of our doctor’s office was simply calling to tell us everything was fine.

waiting to finish waiting

Waiting continues in life. It is most intense during times of crisis, such as when those we love need medical care. I believe though that in some sense we are always waiting as we live. We are waiting to find out what is next. We are waiting to discover what comes around the corner. We wait to see when we are finished waiting.

waiting as wading

Waiting can be wading. As I’ve waited to get married or have a baby or put my daughter under anesthesia, I’ve waded through the insides of myself, examining the mix of emotions within me. At times I can feel overwhelmed by the flood of feelings that pours into the pauses. It’s frightening to think of what might happen. Possibilities loom large. Anxiety is easy. I’ve had to remind myself and grasp for what is solid in the midst of the sea of waiting.

good things can happen in waiting rooms

My first waiting room experience and my last one have a common element despite the thirty years between them. In both situations, strangers gave me gifts. During the first one, I was a four year old receiving birthday presents from strangers who became familiar faces. In January I was the mother of a four year old, talking with strangers, connecting through our children, encouraging each other as we marked the minutes until surgery.

Not all of us hang out in a hospital during the day, but many of us have our own inner waiting rooms, our own private hells and torture chambers we carry inside us. Even if we’re not physically forced to be together within a room of white walls, I hope we can still learn how to help each other. Sharing what’s inside us and listening to others, whether in person, on the phone, on paper or in blogs can begin to build the bridges.

Horrible words hurt. But I believe we can help each other find hope. May the waiting become wading into a new way to live. May we find what matters most to us and hold onto it. May we become kids again, splashing and playing in the waves instead of being overwhelmed by them.

Tags: journal

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Jan Bros // Apr 9, 2005 at 11:40 am


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