In the past four months, I've spent something like thirty-six hours in the waiting room of the surgery wing at Roanoke Memorial Hospital. Halfway through, I thought maybe I would learn something from people watching--I remembered being in ninth grade and my English composition teacher used to sometimes take us to Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea downtown and tell us to sit down, watch someone, and write about it.
The exercise was good, but I don't know if I ever learned anything about the people. I'd sip my coffee and look around, jot down a few notes, and we'd have to go back in time for our next class.
But spend twelve hours sitting next to a stranger who also has a loved one under the knife, and you learn things.
There was the overweight twelve year-old who wanted new boots for Christmas, hated the seaweed snacks her sister brought in an attempt to be healthier, and cried when she got frustrated. She seemed younger than she was and was hilarious despite some very deep insecurities.
There was the pastor who dropped everything to be with one of his parishioners as she waited to hear about her husband's surgery that was unexpectedly moved up a day. He complimented me on my ring, saying that it reminded him of the one he gave his wife when he proposed.
There was the mom whose kids were at home and whose husband got an infection after his appendectomy, and she was livid that he was going to be kept overnight for observation. I think she was just disappointed and worried but she acted angry, and called what seemed like everyone she knew to let them know that apparently there's a new privacy regulation in place that prevents families from visiting their people in the recovery room.
There was a lady who overheard me talking about Ender and couldn't wait to tell me stories about her own pup. We probably spent an hour talking about how much we love our dogs.
Yesterday I sat on my computer and worked most of the day, but I ended up drinking too much coffee and when my mom's surgery took an hour longer than the doctor estimated earlier that morning, I started to panic. I tried to keep myself busy with my laptop, but every time someone walked through the hallway into the waiting room, my eyes automatically darted up in hopes of finding the surgeon. Every time, I made eye contact with the woman across from me, who was also there alone. She smiled every time and yet I didn't really think about her until later, when she was sitting near the parking lot and struck up a conversation.
"Are you finally going home?" she asked.
"Not yet! I'm spending the night, I just need to move my car. Are you heading home?"
She wasn't leaving yet, but once her husband who had spine surgery was put in a room, she was going to spend some time with him and then go home for the night.
"Did you eat dinner?" she asked me, genuinely; and I realized that other than my mom's doctors and nurses, she was the first person I had talked to all day.
A few hours later I sat on the edge of my mom's bed and we dipped French fries in Ranch dressing, giggling over a successful surgery and feeling totally exhausted from waking up so early for such a long day. We held hands and took two slow laps around the unit and I realized that, even though these past few months have been so incredibly scary, I will look back on them one day with a smile. I'm so proud of my mom, and so grateful that I could be here with her every step of the way. I just wish I had taken the time to write down the things she said while coming off the anesthesia.
The waiting room can be scary. But we have to try to push through.