A broken machine lead me to spend a day of people watching. I had accompanied my husband to the Methodist Hospital Outpatient Clinic where he was scheduled to undergo a one hour screening to determine what, if any, changes have occurred in his heart since his surgery three years ago.
I had settled into the waiting area with my laptop and my phone ready to entertain myself. I was already thinking about where we might go for lunch and what we might do for a bit of fun afterward. Then came a text from my husband indicating that there might be a brief delay because the PET scanner was not functioning properly. I purchased a cup of chai tea from the Starbucks in the lobby and wrote a first birthday letter to one of my newest nephews to fill the extended time.
After I had finished that rather delightful task of writing to my nephew I found myself looking around the cavernous room at all of the people coming and going. I wavered between feelings of sadness and joy as the parade of people of every possible age and race passed before me. On the one had it was distressing to realize how many individuals were dealing with health issues. On the other hand I thought of how wonderful it was that they had a great place like Methodist Hospital to come to for help.
All but a small minority of those walking back and forth wore masks, a holdover from the pandemic. Signs indicated that the face coverings were mandatory but some rebels boldly disobeyed. I had mixed feelings about their recalcitrance as well since so many of the people who were there appeared to be elderly or suffering from severe health problems. I wondered how it was possible to ignore the needs of others.
The passing parade featured couples walking together, one with a worried look and the other appearing to be quite frail. Again a mixture of thoughts and emotions overtook me. I witnessed love but also a tinge of sorrow in each tiny group that I saw. On such a beautiful day it seemed quite sad for anyone to be cooped up inside and yet there we all were. We shared both the hopes and the concerns that such places engender.
There was a kind of bipolar feel to the experience as the strains of a lovely pianist and vocalist wafted over our senses in an effort to tame any nervousness that we might be feeling. My fascination with the humanity of it all made me want to linger, but my empathy was leading me into sorrowful places. I soon enough hoped that I would be leaving shortly, a dream that was dashed when my husband told me that the technicians had not been able to get the machine working again. He would have to wait for a screening in another part of the hospital. His test would be delayed about three hours.
My husband came to meet me in the waiting area looking annoyed and frazzled. He had fasted during the morning but the technicians told him that he would have time to get some lunch so off we went in search of sustenance. We became one of those couples like the ones I had been watching. I was hovering and he was mostly silent. I suspected that a lack of caffeine that was mandated by the test was the major source of his irritation. His back hurt and the thought of just sitting around in anticipation was not making the day go better. We decided to take a walk outside to grab at least a bit of the splendor of the day. Unfortunately being aimless for a time did not go very well for either of us, so we gave up and went back inside. It had become apparent that it was going to be a long day of waiting, so we attempted to make the best of our situation.
By the time my husband finally began the screening it was quite late in the day. To the credit of Methodist Hospital everyone was bending over backwards to accommodate both of us. The crowds had thinned out so much that people watching was not a particularly fascinating option anymore. I now sat in a tiny room with only one other woman who quietly and without expression just stared at the wall across from her. I settled on surfing the Internet on my laptop but my thoughts about all of the activity within the walls of that huge hospital kept returning. I sensed that miracles were happening even as I sat doing nothing. I also understood that perhaps somewhere on another floor someone might be taking a last breath. Some families were hearing good news while others were saying goodbye to someone they loved. The irony of such a place crowded the thoughts in my brain.
There was a time when I believed that I wanted to follow a career in medicine. I suppose that I might have been good at such an occupation but I am not so certain that I would have been able to endure the ups and downs associated with healthcare. At least as a teacher my focus was mostly linear, a progression of growth that was positive. The downside of being an educator was rare. My life in a classroom was generally happy and meaningful. Nurses and doctors seem to be on more of a rollercoaster. It takes a special person to experience that kind of changing emotions that can occur in a single day.
As of this writing I don’t know what my husband’s scan will tell us, but I am grateful that he was able to get it done in the top hospital in our state. I wonder if during my long day someone was also watching me, wondering why I was there. Ours was an interesting gathering of diverse people with the common bond of hoping to find healing. Perhaps when all is said and done that is what the whole of life is all about, our sameness and not our differences. We walk through this life hoping with each day that the news will be good, the miracles will happen. If we are lucky we will find people willing to help us try to make those things happen. We would do well to remember to thank them more often than we criticize them. They seem to be in a world of good days and bad days all at once.