The hospital surgical waiting room is an interesting place. It's the place where parents go to sit, wait, worry, pace, and cry as their children are being operated on. This is my 18th time doing this. I've been in three different waiting rooms at three different hospitals, but they are all basically the same.
We are all together in the same room, waiting for our child to go to recovery. The surgery could be something as simple as ear tubes, something quick but worrisome like a biopsy, or something very serious like a brain tumor. But no matter what the reason people have come into the waiting room, we are all concerned about our children on that operating table. In that, we are all the same.
As I look around right now, I notice the furrowed brow of the mom trying to hold it together as she worries about her child. I hear the laughter of the large group in the corner who have gathered to distract the family and try to keep their minds off of things. I observe the young Jewish father wearing his Tallit and softly praying. I listen to the nervous chatter of the parents as they count down the minutes until they can see their children.
Some of the parents in here are veterans, like me. I can tell because they are armed with the essentials: snacks, drinks, and items to distract. They plant themselves near an electrical outlet to charge their phones, and they don't walk out of the room for even a second so that they won't miss an update. They pack lightly and efficiently, knowing that they will have to carry around whatever they bring. Their experience is also evident in their eyes, and I smile gently to acknowledge their strength and bravery.
Others are blessed to have never dealt with this type of waiting before. They are first-timers, and their tears and wringing hands give them away. They have large bags filled with items to keep them busy, but they rarely look at any of them. Instead, they repeatedly glance at the O.R. board for information about their child. They look around for snack machines and realize there aren't any, so they must make the 10 minute walk to the cafeteria to get food. I smile at them in understanding, because I've been there. It's not that we veterans don't worry. Oh, we do! It's just that we know that worrying won't change anything and we know it's better to just try to distract ourselves.
This is why my husband and I have a system. We both bring our electronics with headphones and either watch mindless shows on Netflix or play silly games on our phones. We rarely talk to each other and prefer to just tune out the noise. I text updates to family members as we get them, but we otherwise just try to escape. It may seem strange, but it works for us.
But we have also learned not to judge how others cope. Those who may seem carefree and jovial may just be dealing with the situation in the best way they know how. Others who wail and sob loudly for the several hours they are in there are just expressing their concern for their loved ones. We don't judge--we just put our headphones in and turn up the volume!
I wish I could say that #18 will be the last time I enter this waiting room, but it won't be. I envy those who will walk out of the hospital with their child later today, because my daughter will be admitted for over a week. But I choose joy, because that little girl on the operating table right now is the bravest girl I know. And she is worth 30 more visits to the surgical waiting room.