Lessons from the waiting room

My father’s SPECT scan (single-photon emission computerized tomography) was scheduled for 7:30 in the morning. We rushed to get to the hospital on time only to find out that the Nuclear Medicine department hadn’t seen the order yet and therefore didn’t have the radioisotope they needed for the scan. The technician said he could have it delivered by noon if we wanted to wait. It was a difficult decision. Dad had one other test scheduled for that morning. The additional down time would make the wait just long enough to be seriously aggravating, and just short enough to make a round-trip home seem like too much work. Our assistant, Nana, my dad and I opted for the aggravation.

We found an empty waiting room to hunker down in. Before long we were joined by a couple who appeared to be roughly my age and a younger man in his twenties. The young man tapped on his phone and the couple chatted. I gathered, through shameless eavesdropping, that the couple’s daughter was the patient and she was pregnant. I couldn’t deduce, however, what specific problem had brought them to the hospital. None of them seemed unduly upset so I assumed it was not a big deal and resigned myself to playing games on my iPhone to pass the time.

After a bit, the young man left and then the older man. A nurse came in, looking for someone else, and the woman said, “Is there any news on my daughter?” The nurse said she’d check. She returned a few minutes later, while the woman was still alone, and said, “They took out her appendix and the baby is fine.” The woman, who had been the picture of equanimity, burst into great big, wracking sobs. The tension exploded out of her. Her face got bright red and she sobbed into her hands. This was in response to the most wonderful news she could have hoped for. The force of her raw emotion made me want to run over and comfort her. While I debated the appropriateness of that move, the men returned and provided all the hugs she needed.

When I was a little girl, I would sometimes go with my dad to the hospital on Sunday mornings when he did his rounds. (The nurses would exclaim, “You’re Doctor Mintz’s little girl!” like I was someone special. I loved the attention and it made me proud of my dad.) One time, he parked me in a waiting room for a bit. There was another little girl in there with a man. I don’t know what the relationship was, but he was telling her something in a quiet voice, to which she responded, wailing, “But who will take care of her money?” Even though I have no memory of anything else that was said, I’ve always known that the man was telling her that her mother had died.

As I child, I was confused and distressed by that little girl’s response. As an adult, I understand that emotional responses don’t always look or sound the way we might expect them to. But to this day, I am bothered by the fact that whoever that man was, he didn’t sweep that little girl up in a great big hug.

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3 responses to “Lessons from the waiting room

  1. And that, my dear, is the basis for a story. Should you be the little girl, or should you be the man? Or should you be the doctor? Or should you be a nameless narrator? Only you get to decide…. Why is the question about the money the first reaction, if it is the girl’s mother? Oh, the questions this raises! Now I want to write the story! But no, I am wrapped up in my MOOC writing poetry, of all things. (courses. writinguniversity. org)

  2. This is a really emotion-evoking post. I like your points of view from who you were and who your father was at two very different times of life. It’s also interesting for you to see the expressions of joy and grief. I wish that man hugged the little girl too.

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