I just had one of those regular heart-tune ups: one where I spend some time in Emergency ward. Today was an especially good session: 5 hours of waiting in 3 different waiting rooms. I reckon they are essential eye and heart openers for me. I get to glimpse another world – one that is more precarious and vulnerable – a world that doctors and nurses inhabit everyday. I get the honour of experiencing other humans on one of the hardest days of their year. I get to remember that nothing much matters if you don’t have your health.
Intensifying the experience, I just finished reading “This Is Going To Hurt” by Adam Kay – a darkly funny and wrenching memoir by a UK doctor working in emergency wards. His words are emblazoned all over me still, the stories which broke him. Made my skin even more translucent to all the pain and hope and sweat around me.
It was a busy day on the ward: four days of public holidays have pushed people who usually go to the doctor into the hospital instead. I didn’t mind the wait, not when the others around us were suffering so much. Two women with fingers that needed stitches, a man with a bad spider bite, two elders who curled over themselves in pain, two people in wheelchairs with feet swollen twice their size. There isn’t any staff in this waiting room, just a doctor that comes in and out occasionally. I look around and realise I’m the only well and able one there, make my contingency plans: if this is shaking elder falls, I’ll try to cushion their fall and call for help. If this, then that. My kid and I made ourselves comfortable: I read, she did interior designs on my phone, her leg straddled over mine. We were cosy, we were fine. Please, look after everyone else before you look after us, I pray.
Three hours in, all of us are beginning to wilt. Everyone bar me & my kid are alone – because of Covid hospital restrictions. Most can’t walk. I hatch a plan. Me & my kid hobble down to the vending machine I glimpsed down another long corridor, load our arms with cold water & snacks, and dispense them out to our little waiting room family. They behave like they’ve won the lottery, and it’s the best money I’ve spent in ages. When the doctor sees us, he apologises for the wait. “No need to be sorry! We’ve had a lovely time eating chips!” He laughs, and says: “Where’s mine?” then bends over my kid’s foot with care.
We follow each other from room to room: emergency ward to consult waiting room to x-ray waiting room. Each time one of my water beneficiaries sees me, they thank me again. We trade stories of what we’re in for, discover neighbours we would not have known otherwise. We end up sitting beside Starry’s swim teacher, turn an associate into a friend. Meet a landscaper with a busted leg, he tells me he’s moved 52 times since being married.
We’re all invested in each other now: we want each other to be ok. For the scans to come back clear, for the cures to be easy, for this to be a beginning not an end.
The last time we see the doctor to review the x-ray, I bring him his own bag of chips. Again: jubilant. It is, in fact, quite cheap to buy someone’s joy for a moment or two.
We head out, say goodbye to our waiting room friends, noting the vacant places where some should be. Maybe they’ve gone home already. Maybe they’ve been admitted. Wherever they are, whoever they are, I hope for them all.