Projects · Writing

The Waiting Room

In the spirit of NaNo, I’ve decided to publish my work for the first time ever, right here on my blog. I’m pretty proud of this one, so without further ado…

The sterile smell assaults your senses as you walk into the fluorescent lights of the emergency room lobby. Weariness sweeps over all who enter, regardless of the time of day. Young nurses wait behind desks, ready to ask questions and scan your various documents. You will be seen in order of importance. Uncomfortable, easy to sanitize vinyl chairs hold waiting families, grieving mothers, and bored friends in the fluid of suspense. They wait for news, good or bad, to hear their names ringing through the air, to see the face of a loved one emerge from the ever swinging doors.

In the corner of the room, three teenagers sit in a cluster of chairs, heads lowered. Maybe they are praying for the wait to be over, for the good health of a friend. Maybe they are huddled around an electronic device, passing the time until someone tells them something they don’t already know. Situated on the path to the coffee machine, you may hear their story as you pass by, tepid instant coffee in hand. A friend, a little too much to drink and lowered inhibitions. Maybe she thought she could make it to her house, only blocks away. Perhaps she wasn’t thinking at all, brain fogged and full of cheap tequila. She’d turned the wrong way down a one way street, smashing head on into a car of Mexican immigrants returning home from a long day of contract work. Knowing they couldn’t hang around for the police to come, asking for information, they called for help and quickly fled the scene. Help found her, possibly a little too late, trapped in the car, bleeding from the head and completely unresponsive. Friends from the party happened to drive by on a beer run. They were now waiting in the cold, sterile emergency room, anxious for any news.

Close to the window, a man and child. The father, pacing anxiously while he tries to keep a small girl entertained. The toddler tries to focus on her handheld game but can’t help watching daddy pace. He chews his nails. He can’t sit still. Maybe he waits for a prognosis for a second child. A missing mother makes one wonder if mommy is the one behind the doors. Or both, mother and child, a pregnant wife facing the complications of a difficult pregnancy. The troubled look on his face is telling: this didn’t happen the first time around. Maybe she began to bleed during the last trimester. His first baby boy, a son he’s always wanted, his life in danger. You can see the thoughts racing through his head: What if his wife dies? What if they have to deliver a still born child? What if he will never see his son hold a baseball, attend his first dance, grow up to be a man? He stops to look toward the door every time it opens, and then continues his pacing once its closed, under the watchful eye of his daughter.

In the darkest corner of the room is a girl. Curled as tightly as possible in her squeaking chair, her eyes constantly scan the room, untrusting and cautious. Her entire body seems as though it’s covered in a thick layer of dirt, with hair so filthy it’s beginning to wrap into tightly coiled dreads. One look at this girl and the word junkie comes to mind. She sits, muttering to herself. It was just one hit. It wasn’t even that much. He just collapsed. He’s had bigger scores before. What am we going to do without him? Occasionally, she buries her head into her knees and cries, gently rocking back and forth. Eventually the urge becomes to much, and she quietly slinks through the automatic doors and into the night.

Seated near the nurses’ station is an woman in her 70s, her hands politely crossed in her lap as she watches the local news. A sensible beige sweater wraps her tiny frame, protecting her only marginally from the chill of the waiting room. Occasionally she grabs a rosary at her chest, bowing into it in a moment of silent prayer. Who were her prayers for? A family member? Where are the other family members and why aren’t they here with her for this silent vigil? Is a husband more likely? Perhaps a husband in the throws of cancer, having a particularly bad day. He fell trying to get out of the shower. She could not get him up, so she called for help. Now she waits here to learn that the cancer is eating more of her husband every day. The man she has loved for so long, her best friend, her rock, he will not likely walk out again.

Suddenly, our silence is broken by a fury of running feet and shouting voices at the door. A family of four wrapped in puffy winter coats bursts into the room. A woman, a mother, holds an unconscious and bleeding child in her arms. Her words are unintelligible through the pain and despair in her voice. The nurse pries for more information. What happened? When? How? Her questions go unanswered. Siblings stand by silently, eyes full of tears. The scrubs come from all sides, scooping up the child, placing him in a stretcher, running back through the ever swinging doors. They leave behind the pieces of a family, wondering if they’d seen the small child alive for the very last time. Moments later a man walks slowly and sadly through the automatic doors, into the cold activity of the waiting room. He walks over to his family, only to be received with anger, shouting, tiny punching fists of rage and hate. The mother calls for security. This man, she says, this husband of mine has hurt our children for the last time.

Time passes, names are called, blue clad doctors deliver bad news. This corridor of healing sees life come and go, stay and leave, live and die. But you will never hear my name called to go through the swinging doors. I am just a lowly chair in the waiting room.

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