by Janis Patterson
There’s something unsettling about hospital waiting rooms. The very air is saturated with thick and not always pleasant emotions. I’m here while a dear elderly friend has a fairly minor day surgery, waiting to take her home, but some of my waiting room companions are not so lucky. There are several clumps of people waiting with me, but there is no friendly interaction between us. I’m sure that’s not from any sense of dislike or snobbishness; on the contrary, I think it is a manifestation of focusing on what is important to them - their loved one, some of whom are having not-so-minor day surgeries.
And that’s the way it should be. Everyone’s attention and energy should be on their loved ones. There are other times for chatting with strangers, or caring/praying for others who have problems, but when it is your loved one whose flesh is under the scalpel, some familial selfishness is understandable.
I’m here alone, for my elderly friend has no local relations, and we have been close for decades, so to help the time pass I am shamelessly eavesdropping. Not that I couldn’t even if I didn’t want to; the waiting room is small, and it can’t be helped.
Everyone here has a story; one group’s uncle is having a hernia repaired; another’s sister is having benign cyst removed; another’s mother is having a badly ingrown toenail attended to; one patient is a child having her tonsils out; my friend is having a cataract removed. None of them are life threatening, or even very scary procedures, nothing like what is seen in emergency rooms and major surgical suites every day, but still... the idea of a human body - a beloved human body - being invaded with scalpel or laser or Heaven only knows what is still terrifying.
I know that a viable story could be generated from every story in this waiting room. Human experience is the genesis of all stories, but sometimes they come too close to your particular bone. It’s one thing to make up fanciful or grittily realistic tales about what happens to someone and another to think about what is happening to a loved one at the moment. Later, perhaps, when all is happily resolved, the emotional memory can be taken out and reshaped to make a story, but most definitely later. Not now, when the stomach is clenched and the mind full of possible horrors.
Someone said of writers that everything is all research to us, and that’s true. Most things that happen to us will sooner or later turn up in some form in a story. There’s no rule, however, that this involuntary research has to be pleasant.