I hate waiting, especially in hospitals

by Bruce Stambaugh

I am not an impatient person. But I hate waiting.

For me, that is not a contradiction. There is a gulf between waiting and impatience. Delays in life, often inconvenient, are inevitable. New York City cabbies, with their persistent honking, are not my model for waiting.

When my son had surgery last week, waiting became part of the routine, more than either my wife, his wife or I cared to tolerate. His surgery was scheduled for evening one day, then postponed until early afternoon the next and yet delayed again. It was frustrating. But when you are at the wrong end of the scalpel, what choice do you have?

That state pertains to concerned family, too. When you are assigned to a room appropriately labeled “Waiting 1,” that’s what you do. Time seems to stand still. You feel stuck in an institutional time warp.

The hospital tried to accommodate relatives in 21st Century style. Each family was given a four-digit tracking number for confidentiality purposes. In turn, that number was displayed on a blue and white lined electronic board in proximity of each family waiting area. It was like checking the status of a flight at an international airport.

I grew a little anxious when my son’s number didn’t even appear long after he had been taken to the operating room. Finally when it did, the message simply indicated the original time of his surgery, information that we knew was inaccurate.

The sign continued to display numbers of other patients who were at various stages of their surgeries. Impersonal but efficient “Patient in OR,” “Patient out of OR,” and “Surgery start time” scrolled by in herky-jerky fashion.

About the time his surgery should have ended, the waiting room phone rang. It had rung earlier for other families, indicating that their family member was either going into surgery or was in recovery.

Our lovely daughter-in-law took the call. Wives always trump fathers. That’s life’s pecking order as defined in Robert’s Rules of Order or Hints from Heloise or Emily Post.

“He’s just now going into surgery,” our daughter-in-law said puzzled.

We waited some more. My wife called us for an update on how the surgery had gone. I had to tell her that the surgery had just begun. She arrived in Waiting 1 a half-hour later, and joined the Team Waiting.

We surfed the web via the free Internet service. We chatted quietly and took a few phone calls. And we waited and waited.

It was supposed to be a simple, in-and-out type surgery. In our hearts, we knew no surgery was indeed “simple.” Silent prayers were offered, and yet we waited far longer than we ever imagined.

Finally, nearly four hours after his original surgery start time, the sign said, “Patient out of surgery.” But we waited for human confirmation.

Shortly before 4:30 p.m., the surgeon informed us that Nathan’s gall bladder was so badly inflamed that an incision had to be made instead of the planned laparoscopy. Nathan was fine, but he would be in the hospital three to four more days.

Our wait was over. Only now another had begun, a wait that hopefully, would be more tolerable. We all were anxious to see Nathan, to hold his hand and hear him complain. For that happy reunion, we had to wait another long 30 minutes. But I would have waited a lifetime.

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