I leaned against the wall with my weight on one foot, the other cocked behind me and pressed against the wall. I looked down the hall through the cold light reflecting off the unevenly polished tile floor. Doors and curtains lined the hall which appeared to go on forever. Actually, I could see the end about thirty yards away but I knew there was more to distance than the physical. In groups of three, scattered along the length of the hall sat a number of brown vinyl chairs, faux leather, side by side. I looked the other direction and saw more of the same. I closed my eyes and took in the odor of the hospital, and underlying scent of slow death and urine. They could spray, disinfect, clean, and decorate with scented vials of lilac but you can’t cover the smell of dying. It’s an attitude of resignation and sadness that’s exhaled by the patients captive in this place. It sticks like greasy smoke. Across from me sat my wife and ten year old son in two of the chairs. I could read the worry on their face.
I heard footsteps coming from the other way. I turned and saw the doctor in a fresh white coat. He wore the answer to the question on his face. I looked over at my wife. Her look told me she was in denial of what appeared so obvious to me. My son looked at his mom hoping her denial was stronger than what even at his age was apparent coming from the doctor’s demeanor.
My wife and son stood and entered the room across from me. She knew my attitude about the whole hospital thing so I turned and walked down the hall. Hospitals. It’s the place where nobody ever leaves the same as they go in, patient, loved one, nurses, and doctors alike. I took a seat next to two older women. They spoke in hushed whispers. I listened in.
“What should I do?” asked the one nearest me.
“Wait to see what the doctor says,” replied the other.
“I know what he is going to say.”
“No you don’t. Everything’s going to be alright.”
“What if it’s not?”
“Look, why worry now. Wait for the doctor.”
“I can’t. I can’t. I can feel it. I have felt it for months.”
Months? Certainly no matter what the doctor told her, her life has changed just through the worry alone.
“Now, now. Let’s wait for the doctor.”
The woman nearest me began to cry. I could see her hands shaking. Her friend put an arm around her shoulder and began to cry with her.
I stood again and moved toward the end of the hall. I rubbed my eyes against the glaring light. A gurney banged through the door. On the wobbly thing lay a young man, teenager no doubt. He was in a football uniform. His forehead and chin were taped to two orange cushions that kept his head from moving. Two men in white coats pushed the gurney by me. I saw the boy’s eyes. One wide and unseeing, the other half closed and looking off to the side. He was strapped down tight. It didn’t take Doctor Sanjay Gupta to know the boy had a serious injury. Behind them walking quickly was an ashen woman, tears streaking down her face. I watched them pass, then saw the gurney take a hard left leaving the woman standing alone in the hall. She was lost. She looked at the chairs then back at the closed doors that shut her off from her son. She looked up and down the hall, perhaps hoping her husband would show or a doctor or someone to give her some news, any news. She moved her purse to her other hand then back. She turned and went to a chair. She sat, then stood, then sat.
I looked back at the closed door where my wife and son had gone only moments ago. I continued away from that door and moved further down the hall. I stopped beside a room with the door half open. Inside sat a man and his wife or girlfriend or sister. I saw a ring flash. Wife. I listened in.
“If this doesn’t work should we adopt?”
“Maybe we weren’t meant to have a child.”
“I don’t think that. Meant to or not is BS. We either do or don’t. It’s a choice.”
“I mean adopt if we have to. That’s all. Having our own…well we just have to try till there’s no option.”
The doctor brushed by me and entered the room. He took a seat facing the couple and ended the debate.
The two hugged, the woman cried.
“Twins,” said the smiling doctor.
I left them in their state of joy and wandered down to a curtained room. Inside sat a middle aged man. On a bed under covers, lay his wife. He held her hand uncomfortably, arm suspended in the air. Taped to her arm was a needle, an IV. False bravado beamed from her face as the man simply chewed his lip.
“I’ll be fine,” she said.
The man looked up, smiled a half smile and then looked back at her hand as if he were memorizing it. I tried to put myself in his place. What would I be like in a similar situation? I would hate being there helpless, unable to slay whatever had infected her. I would hate having to breathe the air in this place, looking at the plastic furniture, and listening to the quiet swish of machinery and white uniforms passing by, like death in his robes. My wife. I would fear that something may go wrong, they may find something worse. I watched the man reach out and trace the lines in her face, softly, slowly. I understood. I would do the same, memorize every line, every curve. No guarantees under the knife. The doctor walked in.
“Hi Mrs. Johnson, Mr. Johnson,” he said as he reached for the chart.
I watched hope spring into the man’s eyes.
“It should be a simple surgery. In and out in about 45 minutes,” the doctor continued.
I could see a question form on the woman’s face and then watched as she swallowed it. I had to leave. Fear filled the room like a cold fog and I didn’t feel well.
I decided I couldn’t avoid the inevitable any more. I walked back to the room where my wife and son sat. Although it felt like it had been hours since the doctor escorted them inside, it had only been minutes. I slipped inside. The doctor sat across from them, still wearing the solemn look. My wife kept her head high but tears streaked down her face. My son looked back and forth between his mother and the doctor. Did he even understand what was being said? As I stood there, I knew once more the hospital had irrevocably changed 3 lives.