Make Room For The Stuttering

Hospital Observations

Posted on: February 17, 2009

You see a lot of the human condition while spending time at a hospital. There are always people milling around, at all hours of the day and night. It is a place where you can see the whole gamut of human emotion, just by observing people. You see sorrow, grief, anger, happiness, joy and fear. You see novices to the hospital scene and you see sadly familiar faces, those who have been there and done that.

I have spent a lot of time in emergency rooms and hospitals, accompanying my partner, who is chronically ill. Hospital visits are becoming an unfortunate routine, as his health declines. The emotional part doesn’t get any easier, despite being almost regulars.

Last weekend, we went to the Emergency Room, for what became the start of another 10 day hospital admission. The ER was typically hectic for a Friday night. Hospital people are easily identifiable. Even if they are not clinical staff, most employees wear scrubs and ID tags, and soft soled shoes. You don’t always hear them coming up from behind with their soft shoes, particularly if you are lost in thought. That has happened to me more than once. I have been startled by someone seemingly just appearing out of thin air.

Family members are easy to identify as well. Spouses and parents have haunted expressions. You can see the weight of the world on the shoulders of people worrying about loved ones. Sometimes you see fear and resignation, particularly in the eyes. I have often found myself thinking I am intruding in another’s emotional landscape when we find ourselves sharing waiting space.

I remember sitting in the ER last weekend and seeing a woman sitting with a man, who I assumed was her husband. This woman looked so sad. It was in her eyes. She was knitting and murmuring to herself and to the man. I could not hear what she was saying, but I imagined they were gentle, comforting words. When nurses came to talk with her, she stopped knitting momentarily and her eyes filled with hope, as if good news was possible. Then she would go back to her knitting and self-talk.

She learned a lot about me that evening too, though we did not share a conversation. Hospital camaraderie seems a universal force. I was reading a book, for I have learned that it can be a very long wait in the ER until a bed opens up somewhere in the hospital. I have done this many times- read, gaze, wonder, hope, and breathe. I remember to breathe.

This night I seemed more composed than usual. However, when a financial counselor came to talk to me, my dam burst and the tears came. The counselor took one look at me and apologized profusely, and gave me a hug. I could tell it was genuine, and as she pulled away from me, as I still sobbed, she had such a patient, understanding look. I knew I had as much time as I needed to collect myself to finish the difficult conversation we needed to have.

She discreetly steered me behind a curtain and we finished our talk in relative privacy. Other people walked by, looking curiously respectful and discrete, again, signs of that universal hospital language.

When I stepped back over to the curtained area where my partner was, it was time to go upstairs. He was sick enough this time that we didn’t have the usual hours-long wait. As I followed his gurney to the elevator, I noticed the woman across the way gazing over at me, with such a look of compassion and empathy. In that split second, our eyes locked, and we spoke volumes to each other, without saying a word. Then she mouthed “good luck” as I walked away and she went back to her knitting.

You can learn a lot about other human beings just by paying attention to what is not said.

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