This afternoon proved to be one of those times that try a person’s soul. My wife underwent her third surgery in the space of five weeks. Now granted, this was a procedure that is performed thousands of time a day around the world. But there is no such thing as “routine” when a loved one is going under the knife, as it were!
I have gotten to know the surgical waiting room at the hospital entirely too well. As my wife checked in for her surgery, I stood firmly behind her; giving her the confident support that I knew she craved so badly from me. Yes, I was the Rock of Gibraltar for all of those around me. Inside, I was a bowl of quivering Jello; diced fruit pieces included!
My spouse was taken back to the pre-surgical prep area and I was asked to remain in the waiting room. I knew that it would not be long until they called me back into the pre-op ward, so I buried myself in a travel magazine. It suddenly struck me that I had never been to the Maldive Islands. The allure of the tropical huts silhouetted against the setting sun out on the ocean was overwhelming. Healthcare issues had been weighing on our marriage heavily of late; it was time to start planning the post-retirement bucket list of places for the two of us to visit together.
After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally called back to join my wife. The timing was impeccable; I had spent the past half hour on a whirlwind tour of the tropics, Scotland, Spain, and South Africa. For a moment, I was sure my magazine skimming had led to jet lag; all from the discomfort of a waiting room chair!
It did not take long for the surgical team to finish its preparatory work. We met with the surgeon and the anesthesiologist, final questions were asked, and reassurances were made. With that, my bride was whisked away down a stark corridor and through a pair of automatic doors. Feeling my heart dropping and my stomach rumbling, I decided to run down to the cafeteria for some quick sustenance.
It was already late afternoon, so I managed to hit the cafeteria between the lunch and dinner services. That left a narrow array of prepackaged food to choose from. I grabbed a grilled chicken salad and a stale piece of pizza. Taking my new-found gastronomical feast to-go; I hurried back to the waiting room and found a nicely uncomfortable couch to sit on. Between bites of salad and pizza, my mind reeled.
I was trying to stave off any negative thoughts about what my darling was going through at the moment. I began to casually observe the small crowd seated all around the cavernous waiting room. People watching has always served me well as a distraction; all the way from airport gate areas to standing in line at the motor vehicle bureau.
The spectrum of people in the room spanned the gamut. There were the elderly spouses sitting by themselves; veterans of having to sit and wait as their loved ones underwent a number of procedures. Young families were gathered, children trying to sit and behave, as one of their loved ones experienced an unexpected surgical intervention. Then there were the small groups of friends sitting quietly, lost in reflection on happier memories.
Emotion also ranged the entire experience of human sensitivity. Some sat stoically, surely in quiet meditation with their higher power. Others nervously thumbed through magazines, all in a vain attempt to anesthetize their feelings. Occasionally, my eyes would lock in on a poor soul trying their best to hold back a flood of tears. The remainder of the half-dozen or so people found themselves somewhere in between the mental and emotional states of their peers scattered across the room.
As one would expect, the moment an operation was completed, the surgeon would come out, locate the patient’s family and friends, and brief them on the outcome of the procedure. The pleasant part of this ritual is that rarely will bad news be shared. That is reserved for the “consult rooms” lining one wall of the waiting room periphery. Mercifully, none of those rooms was utilized during my wait.
While we all waited, there was that rare moment when I was able to lock stares with another person. We would share a temporary moment of common fear and insecurity; then somehow, no words spoken, we were able to gift each other a piece of reassurance. Whenever a surgeon would come into the room, all of us would watch as they sat down next to the family or friends. We sat on the edge of our uncomfortable seats anticipating the reaction of the group. The moment that we spotted a smile or positive reaction; there was a sense of mass relief among all of us!
It then struck me that I was witnessing humanity at its finest. All of us in that room had never expected to be there. In fact, many of us were still cursing the fact that we had been condemned to this medical purgatory! We all shared one common challenge; we had a loved one with a medical condition serious enough to require surgery. And now, all of us sat in a salon together, each of us feeling the epitome of helplessness.
At the same time, adversity had forged kinship between us. Knowing first-hand what each other was feeling; there was a sense of shared burden. That in turn formed the foundation for us to support one another. No words were spoken between us; instead simple smiles or looks of mutual empathy served the purpose. We were holding one another without arms, we were wiping away each other’s tears with no hands, and we were buttressing one another with no words. It was genuinely awe-inspiring to be sharing in this display of humanity at its finest! Hours earlier, we had been strangers; now we were brothers and sisters, linked at the highest of spiritual levels.
I have wondered over the past 24 hours why we cannot extend this experience to every situation involving two or more people. The answer still eludes me; and it may very well continue to do so for the rest of my life. The only thing I do know with any certainty is that I long to be back in that waiting room. Even if I never have to support my wife through another surgery; I would consider it a privilege to be back in that uncomfortable waiting room chair!