The Waiting Room

Hospitals, much like airports, fascinate me, perhaps because both are hubbubs of activity; each is a microcosm: an intersection of cultures, of personalities, of humanity, and both are rife for watching, observing the breadth and range of relationships and emotions; both are peopled with determined humans walking purposefully toward their destinations (or maybe their destinies); likewise, both are populated with the aimless, the dazed, the tired, the bored, the impatient, the hopeful, the worried, the relieved, the kind, the rude, the broken – many wandering about; some huddled on uncomfortable chairs, trying to sleep or trying to appear as if they’re sleeping; a number gathered in groups, chattering and laughing and hugging and eating and drinking and drawing strength or comfort from each other; others reading newspapers or books or magazines, or talking on cell phones, or gazing at laptops and iPads; a few praying. It’s early summer here now, and many of those waiting are dressed for the season as well as the waiting, wearing shorts or capris and t-shirts or tank tops, tennis shoes or sandals or flip flops, and ball caps; some anticipated the chill of the air conditioning and came prepared with sweaters or sweatshirts (I am not one of those: it seems I’m always hot these days, and today is no exception); a couple are more formally attired: the elderly gentleman in starched, striped, button-down shirt, tie with clip, Coke-bottle eyeglasses, slightly worn and scuffed dress shoes, and Einstein hair, his cane resting against his leg; the elegant woman in classic Ann Taylor and impeccable pumps and Queen Elizabeth pocketbook sitting in a straight-backed chair, alone, along the rear of the room (I suspect these two would likewise dress to travel; they’re of that generation, a by-gone era). Most of the waiting are toting ubiquitous, nondescript, brown paper bags filled with patients’ belongings. I hear voices: some hushed; some elevated; some coarse and raspy, gruff and gravelly – smokers’ voices, these; some uniquely distinct – their words discernible, even from across the room; all of differing timbres and inflections; a few with accents – foreign and domestic; some imparting medical updates with obvious relief; others talking privately (too loudly) on their cell phones – one young woman taking a call from a creditor and then, embarrassed, nervously lowering her voice when making payment arrangements; many simply chatting, passing the time in companionship – new and old – striking up random conversations with other waiters.

Overhead, from somewhere among the fluorescent lights, comes another voice – a disembodied voice that summons patients and families to the information desk, sending them on their way or providing patient updates. A still different voice interjects overhead and warns of an impending test of the hospital’s fire alarm system, advising waiters to disregard flashing lights and blaring horns. The arrival of the complimentary cookie cart prompts a mad dash to the front of the room.

And then, my husband’s baby-faced surgeon enters and beckons me to the waiting room within the waiting room. My wait is over: all is well.