Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Waiting Room

Yesterday, Nathanael had surgery to correct an abnormality in his "little boy parts". Everything went well, but I noticed that the outpatient waiting room is a study in human stress response. If you ever want to know how tense people look and act in public, go sit in the outpatient surgery waiting room for an hour or two.

While I was sitting there, wishing they had a library (as were other people who were wandering the room looking for something they hadn't read yet), I started listening to the people around me. Turns out people in surgery waiting rooms share pretty private information ina place that is actually really public, but somehow also very isolated. I suppose they feel alone, so they act like they are alone.

For example, I learned that at least two people there had detached retinas, and one was possibly going to be blind even after the surgery, and that one of the others was there on time and going to have to wait for 7 hours until their surgery, but still wasn't allowed to eat now, and that one little girl was having surgery for an accident that involved bb guns, and that the receptionists have to walk the fine line between efficiently getting their jobs done and not coming across as callous and even aggressive with people who are tense and uncomfortable (and downright scared) and really need someone to reach out to them and comfort them and let them know that things will be fine (which the receptionists obviously can't do).`

The prep room and recovery room was equally intense an experience. It was very open, with beds divided by curtains, and no pretense of being private at all--I heard all kinds of conversations that should have been not public information. Like that an elderly man had all kinds of health problems because of a catheter that got infected (this kind of thing lead to the eventual death of my grandfather, so I really heard that) and that the nurse was peeved that the doctor had crossed off EVERY SINGLE pain medication from the list, so there was nothing she could do to help him once he woke up. And I heard them prepping a baby next door for the same surgery Nathanael was having, and the nurse said, "He'll be really sleepy for the rest of the day," and the poor mother (who was young--in her early twenties?) said with a sigh, "OH good. He never sleeps." And the nurse said, "Well, take advantage of it by sleeping when he does, because he might not sleep at all the rest of the week." My heart ached for that mommy and I wished we could just chat about it. Another baby next to me was being prepped for a surgery to remove a quarter he had swallowed that was blocking his esophagus, so he couldn't eat (and they didn't know why he was throwing up everything for several days, so it had been 5 days and two hospitals since he swallowed the thing). His mother, 3 months pregnant, was starving so his grandmother started walking the baby (they can't eat in front of him because he can't swallow, but he doesn't know that so he thinks they're just being mean by withholding food). I started talking to them because their baby wanted to look at Nathanael, and I ended up sharing toys with him. After we had commiserated for a few minutes and shared each others' stories, a nurse came a yelled at us because a patient isn't supposed to leave his curtain cubbyhole because the anesthesiologist was ready to talk to him (never mind that the patient was 13 months old and his parents were in the right place!).

Anyway, it struck me that what all these people needed was to connect with each other--to hold each other's hands, to talk about their mutual problems and their frustrations--and how dreadful it was that the nurses in the prep/recovery room wouldn't let us, and somehow everyone's common stress and fear prevented them in the waiting room. Even just me saying, "go ahead and take those magazines, I've already read them" to an elderly man who was obviously prowling for distraction was visibly comforting to him.

Even now, 24 hours later, what I want is to go back and hug them all and listen to their stories and offer what comfort I can, even if it's just to hold their hand and sit silently while they talk and talk.

See, this is the thing I've re-learned over the past six months.

People need each other.

When the scriptures say we are to bear one another's burdens that they may be light, it's a big big deal. We don't have to remove other's burdens. We can't take them away, most of the time (although that is, to a great extent, the calling of doctors and teachers). But people need someone to talk to, to listen to, to love. Loving and listening to someone else eases your own burdens and theirs. A culture, like we have, that is too embarrassed to admit we have burdens is a tragedy and a curse on us all. In trying to look good, and right, and like we have everything together, even in the face of stress, we deny ourselves and others the relief and comfort we so desperately need.

While I was sitting there, I knew that, were Jesus there, he might not take away the sicknesses and deformities, but he most certainly would be wandering and sitting down with each person one at a time to listen, talk, and comfort.

We need to be able to do that for each other!

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