The Waiting Game

The surgery waiting area of a hospital teems with activity and, throughout an 8-hour work day, takes on a life of its own. The faces may change daily but the theme is the same: an individual or a group of individuals await word on a loved one’s surgery.

The room is mostly full in the morning, and the crowd tapers off by late afternoon. (My own father’s emergency surgery in 2010 began about 8 a.m. on a Saturday, so the usual crowd wasn’t present. This is the exception rather than the rule, and looking back it was kind of eerie to be there without so much of the normal activity.)

St. Francis, the hospital where I work, is relatively small, yet a commonality among all such waiting areas is that drama resides there. And high doses of anxiety. Coffee. Food brought in. Nervous laughter and often tears.

A sweet woman named Zelma staffs the desk, and she receives a steady stream of calls all day long, communicating between the surgery suites and the families. “Ms. Zelma” is a real pro. I have never seen her flustered. Similar to an air traffic controller, Ms. Zelma has to keep up with who’s who and who’s where. She writes on a piece of blank paper on a clipboard, in pencil.

If I wonder what it must be like to wait–did he make it or did he not? How is she?–I remember I do know. In those critical hours of unknown, whether my father would live or die, we passed the time by talking to one another. We made phone calls. We drank copious amounts of coffee.

Our clergy and other friends, as well as my chaplain friend Lora, came by for more conversation, prayers and reinforcement. “Do you need anything?” Usually the answer was no, or rather we needed nothing in practical terms, but I found what we actually needed was each other.

May the waiting rooms in your own lives–awaiting news about surgery or otherwise–be filled with such love and support. And coffee, if needed.


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