Note: This is a vignette - not quite a post but not quite a short story.
It must have been the smallest sitting area for patients or family members that I had ever seen. And believe me, I have seen my share of hospital, clinic, and specialists waiting rooms.
The carpet was fairly new and in soothing colors, the plastic floral arrangement was tasteful, if artificial (much like the receptionist) and the walls were a muted pastel. The magazines, unlike at my dentist's office, were actually published this year, and one or two were even this month's editions. Amazing.
This level of attention to detail, however, only served to illustrate the medical staff's awareness of the level of stress those occupying this little haven would be under as they waited.
And yet, all this planned decor covered an area of no more than thirty-six square feet, about six feet by six feet. The entry door took up most of the first wall. There were two chairs along the second wall, at a right angle to a third chair on another wall. On the fourth wall was a chair/table/rolling stool affair with a small desk attachment adorned with various vials, equipment, etc. obviously for drawing blood samples.
I suppose if all three chairs were occupied, one would have to look away while occupant number four was punctured. Being a little needle-phobic, just the thought of this makes me feel queasy. But on this quiet afternoon, as the Muzak played Vivaldi's Four Seasons followed by some mellow Windham Hill arrangement, this small oasis was empty.
Thankful for a place to sit while my son, K., was pummeled by the noise of the MRI tunnel, I read a magazine article in jerks and starts, as I would jump up to look out into the hallway for news or noise from the room a few feet away where they worked on K.
After a few minutes, another individual entered this little cove of comfort, but oddly he was wearing only very thick socks, perhaps two or three pairs, on his feet without any shoes. He was trim, with neatly combed grey hair and twinkly blue eyes, surrounded by a well-lined face which bespoke many years of outdoor work.
He smiled as he seated himself in the chair at a right angle to my own seat. We then politely ignored each other for the next several minutes, much like strangers do in an elevator. No use getting acquainted for such a short interval.
But the minutes dragged on and eventually one of us spoke, and we established whether we were patient or family member - he the first and I the second. He admitted he was nervous, as he said, "The last time I sat in this room, I ended up losing a kidney to cancer, so I am a little nervous to be sitting here again. Are you a patient?"
"No, I am here with my son, who is having an MRI next door."
"Does he have cancer?"
"No, he is paraplegic from an auto accident, and recently had to have a very serious surgery. They are checking for infection in the pelvic bone."
"That must be hard. My wife is very worried about me. Heck, I'm worried about me, too. I hope I don't lose anything this time around. At my age I don't have many spare parts left." He smiled indicating he was trying to be cheerful, not whining.
A door opens, and I hear a nurse ask K., "Are you hanging in there? We need about two more pictures and it will take another four minutes each, with a few minutes downtime in between. Can you do that?"
What with medical transport time, waiting time, and in the tunnel time, K. has already been on the narrow, hard plastic gurney for over an hour and a half. Each minute increases the possibility of a pressure sore, as this kind of surface is not appropriate for his condition except on a short basis of extreme necessity.
Additionally, his wound vac machine has now been on battery power for that same length of time, and I am anxious to get it plugged back into a power source. My nerves are shot and we have yet another wound clinic appointment directly after this one, in another building a couple of miles away.
Will this afternoon never end?
"I hope your son does okay today. I'm here to see whether they are going to have to replace my hip. It is very cold in there where they do the MRI" , he states simply as he glances at his multi-layered sock clad feet.
"Thanks, but he will be fine. We've been through worse than this." I offer, trying to be cheerful and coming off as artificial as the floral arrangement. When we do get home, I learn K. was freezing and it took him two hours under blankets to thaw out.
"I hope your tests come out well, too." I say to this stranger, whose name I do not know, but whose anxiety I recognize instantly and intimately, as only those who have spent time in these rooms can.
We are strangers, but as sociologists would label us, we are "known strangers". We do not know each others' names, or birthdays, or family backgrounds. But we identify thoroughly with pain, and courage, and terror and resignation, and the peace in each other's eyes, knowing that ultimately it is out of our hands.
We sit here, the two of us, in quiet almost restful turmoil. And we wait ... while we learn patience and practice fortitude.
Until next time .... Marsha
# # # #
Have you shared an experience like this with a "known stranger"? If so, what did you gain or learn from it?