I'm staying this week at my sister's while she recovers from a hospital visit. It will, as such visits do, take time, though she seems to be doing well, on schedule expected. In the waiting room the day of her procedure, I was reminded that a) I had still not resumed my travel post from Scotland and Wales, and the few days in London before I left for Spain...two months ago, now; and b) people everywhere are an entertainment in themselves, aren't they? I'll begin with b) and when I return home, I promise I'll get on to the more picturesque travel posts. (That is not a misplaced modifier, by the way.)
In between making notes of Mary Ellen's progress that day, I began to take note also of those waiting around me for their patients. It kept me from biting my nails, though not literally...I had in hand the two things that keep me good company anywhere, a book and a pen and notebook.
There we waited,too, as the parade of visiting attendants...nurses aide, prep nurse, surgeon, anaesthesiologist, surgical nurses, each with sheaves of paper to read and sign and record, and advice on what would happen, or probably happen...probability is a constant herein. But then it was time for me to repair to the waiting room and its waiters...the ones you are waiting for me to get to...the ones who come in and out, sitting and rising, sifting through useless magazines, grazing the refreshment corner, talking sporadically, desultorily, or intently among themselves or, solitary, trying to sleep between checking their phones.
And its tenders there, too: a punctilious volunteer in a royal blue jacket, who answered phone calls and took our information and helped inform progress, and the hostess of the room, the Patient Advocate (herein after called PA), who ran between recovery rooms, patients, and waiters, charting progress, over and over thanking us for our patience (there, dear readers, is a medical first), and offering coupons for the cafeteria when hours turned into half-days and longer.
When I enter the lair, the PA, a friendly, sympathetic, quietly efficient woman whose clipboard seems attached permanently to her hand, reads me the drill about waiting times and their highly variable nature, and promises that I will hear as soon as possible not only my sister's fate, but my own. She walks room to corridor to room, checking on patients and waiters alike with concern...though, as she repeats frequently to one or another, she's not a nurse and can't begin to talk about medical progress; she can only keep track of where one is and how one's feeling. She does have a penchant for feelings.
By noon, I'm the second longest waiter in the as-yet sparsely populated room, the first being an elderly fellow, whose patient seems to be slower to recover. He is a patient person himself, nodding pleasantly at any news he receives, and napping between. There are two recovery rooms, the first unavailable to waiters except for mere minutes visiting with patients; the other suitable for staying with family. I am hoping to move to either one, soon. I've already asked for a progress report on my sister (still in surgery), so though I am tempted to ask for another, I don't, reminding myself that the surgeon will come out to inform me when he is finished. But then I ask anyway, and the PA goes off to find out that surgery is ending...they are stitching up; she's apparently called in a favor to the head surgical nurse to find that out.
By now the waiting room is more full of waiters, interesting to watch. It isn't, by the way, a place where people talk across to one another, except, as I mentioned, in their own private groups. Besides the elderly fellow, his thin, wiry frame slipped down in the chair, napping, a couple...a mother and her son...await the son's father's recovery. She is a short, sturdily formed woman...I'm guessing here, probably in her late sixties or early seventies. She is rather disinclined to any converse except with her mobile phone...she doesn't talk on it, just trolls...and her son, a chap with a wide open face and a smile always on the ready, portly and inclined to chattiness even without hope of response, jumps up and down offering coffee, guiding her to the rest room, seeing that she is in a comfortable chair. Told finally that they have hours yet before surgery, he suggests they go for lunch...and after a long blank look around, she, wordless, rises in compliance. We don't see them again for a long time.
Another woman, who has come in mid-morning and sat herself by herself in the far corner behind the receptionist's desk, asks nothing about her patient, a father or husband whose complications have caused concern that somehow leaks out through the Authorized Access Only door between us and the sacrosanct corridor that leads, maze-like, to the surgery and recovery rooms. Attractive, neatly dressed as if for work, her suit neat, her curly hair shaped as neatly, her brown coat held tightly around her, she looks as if she belongs somewhere else. She studies her mobile as if looking into a crystal ball, interrupted only by the PA's inquiry, Are you all right? She nods, yes, and says aloud her thanks. Except for a few words exchanged with a nurse later on, who tells her that her patient will spend the night, that's all we hear from her.
My eyes, shifting right, find a newcomer across the room from me. He has changed seats twice, hoping, I at first supposed, for a better view of the television on the wall over my shoulder. I am wrong...he barely gives it a glance. (In fact, I can think of only one person in the room that morning that bothers to keep track of the Property Brothers, busy magically transforming houses into homes their new owners adore in 30 minutes, with no delay or interference from inept construction workers or over-zealous inspectors...amazing. Still, no one watches these miracles...perhaps in this room reality owns no one is in the mood to believe it.)
This young man, hardly half twenty, is a picture himself. He wears the fanciest of brand-new hunter's garb, untainted by even the slush from the leftover snow outside. Down to his shiny green half-boots, up to his still stiff wide-brimmed cap, detailed with a logo I can't quite read, but probably haven't heard of anyway, popular as it no doubt is in certain circles, he sits, then hits the juice-muffin-fruit bar with stores for the long haul. His zebra-ed loose sweat pants droop stylishly around his knees as he lumbers. It's clear he has dressed his best for his wife's surgery. No hunter would actually wear such an outfit, it being impractical on all sorts of levels, but here he is, believing himself the image in the sporting emporium's window. Here he has sat and paced, his juice unopened, until the PA, her sixth sense of nervousness among her guests sending him, with coupon, to the cafeteria for a good lunch. He wants, however, to go home to wait, and insists several times that I'm only a block--4 minutes!--away. She takes his phone number and promises to call with updates, and he leaves, coming back only to pick up his left-behind juice bottle. When he returns, rushing phone in hand, out rolls a wheelchair to join him, in which we see, swathed in headscarf, neck scarf, and flannel shirt, his wife who, apparently, has endured the set of a dysfunctional leg in a strong cast. Even when she talks, huskily, she seems more like a man than a woman, but woman she is, cracking wit at him as relief floods his face.
But that is hours later. Meanwhile, Hah! smirks the white-haired, white-bearded mountain man also seated across from me. His wife is here for vascular surgery (we who listen to such things know this because we've just heard him discuss this with the surgeon, radiography in hand, about what will be done and what changes, ahem, need to happen after she goes home...though technically this is the day-surgery department, she will clearly be spending the night, at least one). He so far is the only one who crosses speaking lines to make comments about the weather, the news, the long hours he worked the day before, etc., and now his own experience with the cafeteria. I just came from there, he tells the room, including the patiently smiling PA, and they charged me 45 cents for each slice of bacon...do you believe it? Several of us shake our heads sympathetically, including the PA. She's good like that. Despite his 18-hour work shift and early rising, he can't manage a nap, as the older fellow across the room is still doing on and off, so he reads his phone, has a coffee, shifts back and forth smiling ruefully at the room, reads his phone some more, then gives up and just sits. Everyone else is settling down into their own worlds, too.
I settle into the book I brought, Joseph's birthday gift to me, a copy of Washington Irving's 1832 Tales of the Alhambra, a romanticized reminiscence of his diplomatic sojourn in that then much declined fortress. This edition had been re-issued by a Spanish publisher a few years later, making sure to insert footnotes "correcting" (though only here and there) Irving's impressions, especially when Spanish versions of history were at risk of being overshadowed by his more worldly facts. Between every few chapters are old watercolor illustrations, done by Spanish 19th century artists, of the courts and corners, people and intercourse of the Alhambra then. Though Joseph found a true bargain somewhere, it's a treasure neither of us suspected. Its plastic sleeve is cracked with age around the edges, but its text and cover has been well protected...in fact, hardly read, for the pages are still stiffly clean and bound. As I did not get to Granada on my Spanish journey, it gives me impetus to try again some day, for certainly, 200 years after Irving's memoir, something of whatever romance colors his impressions must be waiting for me around some shadowy corner there.
I am deep within the ghostly chamber Irving sought for his own, when a door opening draws me out. Without my noticing it, a thin, rangy young man with thick eyebrows and an academically careless demeanor, has come in to wait, folding himself into a chair under the window. His long legs extend almost as far as the next set of chairs. His jacket, a worn number one might (wrongly) assume was an old hand-me-down, wrinkles as he slips further down in his chair. He sleeps. There is no telling who his patient is, and the PA, after finding him there, asks him his name and phone number in case he is called by the surgeon, gives her helpful talk, then leaves him alone to his closure. Somewhere in the time I go for my late lunch, he disappears. Like Irving's chamber experience, he seems a ghost briefly met.
In his place is a family...five people in all...an older woman, three younger ones, sisters or cousins, and a man who smiles continuously but does not contribute a single word to their spirited conversation, which is sometimes serious, sometimes ruminative, sometimes cheerful banter...and though it is all in a language I cannot understand, I can appreciate the shifts in topic, for clearly they are sharing the talk of all families...I wonder how this will go?; now what about auntie? and always, remember when? When it comes time to visit the recovering patient for a few minutes, it is the older woman, whose English is the sparsest of all, who goes out the Authorized Access Only door and who will listen to what the doctor and nurses have to say.
Just before sundown, the last of the waiters appears. She is a hefty young woman, truculent and grave, shrugging off all connection with the space in which she is forced to be. The PA, ever vigilant, comes to greet her, but she has a hard time extracting a name and phone number from her, and the girl's answer to her question about relationship is even harder coming...husband, she barely breathes. Attempting to assure her that she means no intrusion, but wants to be sure that the surgeon and nurses find her when her patient is freed from his procedure, the PA finds only more truculence. Her husband, it comes out as the PA talks to her, has been admitted at the last minute, from some danger, and waiting a long time until they can fit him in is in her future. She turns away from everyone, and the television attracts her attention only briefly.
She, the family of five, and the woman in the brown coat are still there when I leave, finally, to see my own patient in her recovery cubicle. She has been up, walking, having a drink and dismissing the highly inappropriate late lunch of a white-bread turkey sandwich. (When,when will hospital nutritionists revise their inexplicably canned regimens for patients? It reminded me of Joseph's birth, 45 years ago, after which I was served a late lunch of salmon loaf, the color alone making me wonder about what the kitchen thought after-birth could stomach. Apparently not much has changed in those dietary dungeons.) On one of her checking-on-patients run, the PA shook her head and brought her a banana from the waiting room stash, with the caveat, Of course, I'll have to ask the nurse first if it's all right. It turns out the nurse, fully on board, has been running around trying to right the wrong, too. It is way past her leaving time, but the PA is still working. From there, Mary Ellen and I wait again, as the slow process of discharge begins. And then, at last, the waiting ends.