It is eerie to be the only person in a very large surgical waiting room. The only reason I am even allowed here is because the person I am waiting for is my 12 year old son. He has broken the same arm twice this year and is having surgery to place metal pins, to promote stability and healing.
Earlier there was a man with a grisly-looking beard also waiting. I spent too much time looking at him and wondering about masks and beards. With a thick beard, does a mask even matter? It creates so many crevices for the air to get in and out.
The man with the beard left a while ago with a woman who seemed too ‘with it’ to have just had surgery, but regardless, they are gone and I am alone again.
It’s me and the big fish tank and the player piano a few floors down in the atrium. It’s playing very jaunty holiday tunes. I thought it would make me crazy, but I’m actually enjoying it.
Occasionally someone will walk by, usually a hospital staff member in some level of scrubs, but it’s mostly just me and the fish. We are alone enough that when I had to use the restroom I silently gestured to the man at the desk about leaving my belongings where I’m sitting and he nodded with a shrug. No one here to take anything.
Waiting for a loved one in a surgical waiting room is a special time and place. You are afraid, maybe somewhat detached as a coping mechanism. But you are usually surrounded by like-kind. Not now, not during Covid.
I am going to file this under ‘things we didn’t know to appreciate’. I never thought about the silent camaraderie of physical company in a waiting room. I never knew that being literally alone would feel so lonely.
This situation begs you to think about all the patients who came here alone because they had to. Perhaps they were dropped off by a family member or taxi. They followed the steps and procedures by themselves and waited to be put to sleep for any number of ailments pre-surgery and they did it alone. No one was there to hold their hand or distract them with mindless chitchat.
My heart aches for those people forced to go without emotional (and in some cases, physical) support during a medical event. Covid has taken so much away from us. We are having to learn to be stoic because we have no other choice. We have to check ourselves into a hospital alone and wait for the comfort of closeness of friends and family until we are discharged.
I am not particularly religious, but this feeling does call to mind the concept of prayer. Or maybe we can call it ‘vibes’ to be more moderne. Me, the fish and the player piano are the only ones here to circulate all of the good vibes needed for all those being opened up, manipulated, and hopefully healed back in those cold ORs.
At least I get to be here with my son. Me and these fish and the player piano. We are holding the space of hundreds of loved ones who would do anything to sit here and wait for their people back in the ORs.
As I wait more anxiously with every passing minute for my son’s doctor to come out and declare victory, I am wishing there was a friendly face to make eye contact with. Share a small smile of solidarity. But there is no one is here.
Fish are not good at eye contact.
When you are left alone with your thoughts too long in an empty surgical waiting room, and your child’s arm surgery is taking longer than expected, strange questions arise.
Of course you worry about complications. What did they find in there? Did something happen with anesthesia? Why did it take so much longer than expected? These are logical thoughts. My mind buzzed through these rapidly and landed on ‘what if his bones are made of marshmallows?’ I am not kidding. I spent more than a minute wondering about this.
Who is taking care of me? As a cancer survivor I know how real the co-survivor is. This is not the same thing, but every caregiver should get a caregiver. 1-1 ratio on caregiving, please.
Why must every hospital employee coming out of the surgical area make eye contact with me? I know I asked for eye contact, but not from people wearing surgical caps who are not here to give me an update. If you are not here to tell me about the well-being of my son, look away, okay?!
Would it kill them to send a roving social worker around the area when there is a wild-eyed looking lady with an edgy haircut pacing and demanding fish look at her? Anyone? (there is a fish tank)
Is it me or has the player piano switched to that ominous, dramatic music they play just before a stand-off in Wild West movies? (there is a player piano)
I am reunited with my son in the PACU. He is in pain. It is affecting his vitals, but so far normal-ish for immediate recovery.
The contrast between here and the waiting room is jarring. The waiting room, as you will recall, was me and Nemo. The PACU is quite literally, packed. There must be 10-15 people recovering in here with what I would guess is a 2-1 healthcare provider to patient ratio.
Things are beeping, wheels are rolling, feet are scuttling in their surgical booties. This place is filled with life. Well, life on a very low volume.
I’ve been back here for about 20 minutes and have already noticed a few things on his person and vitals that I have asked to be addressed. They have led to something real that did need addressing. This begs the question, who is advocating for everyone else in here who is alone without a loved one, let alone a loved one who is trained in patient advocacy?
I have been a doula for over a decade, so patient advocacy is kind of my thing. Between that, my cancer and my mom’s health issues, I am a bit of a backseat medical provider. I know what the beeps and lines on the machines mean. I also know what to look for on the patient themselves, usually the most ignored metric.
Please understand that these nurses are working HARD. And it’s a Pandemi Moore, for gods sake. But they are busy and spread thin. They can’t sit and stare at patients like I am doing for my son. They don’t know their patients well enough to see signs of quiet distress like mom can.
Here we are in the private ‘Tier 2k’ room where he has to prove he can tolerate the pain meds they are sending us home with plus eat, drink and pee. Amazing how quickly one goes from a total invalid to a lucid, order-barking preteen.
This day is hardly half over and I’ve ridden quite the wave of emotions. Pianos, fish, bleeps, bloops, helping my kid pee into a plastic container while barely awake. It’s a lot.
When we arrived today in the veil of early morning darkness, I had no idea I would be writing. The writing came to me when I needed an outlet.
If I publish this, it will be seen and absorbed by many sets of eyes. Perhaps some will be glad to have something to read for a few minutes or maybe it will make others in similar situations feel less alone. But I write because I need to. Like a compulsion. My weird little safety blanket.
Thanks for listening if I do, indeed, have an audience. You’ve helped me get through a rough day.