The Waiting Room (A Different One This Time)

I was alone in the hospital waiting room.  My mother was in surgery somewhere in the hospital, with a tube down her throat, having a brochoscopy.  The doctors said this test would show whether or not the abnormalities they were seeing on her x rays were cancerous or not.

The doctors were extremely optimistic that this situation was not a big deal.  They were so optimistic, in fact, that my sister did not even take the day off of work for the surgery.  Since I was only student teaching half days, it was less of a problem for me to miss that than my sister’s paying job.  My mother told my brother to do the same, not to miss his paying job for the outpatient procedure.  My mother didn’t seem too worried at all that morning either, joking with me as I walked next to her gurney towards the doors of the surgical unit.

But sitting there alone that November day, I was anything but optimistic.  I was flat out scared.   I was the youngest person by far sitting here in the waiting room; every other person was at least twenty years older than me or more.  I didn’t know how to process the situation; I couldn’t marry the optimism of my elders with the facts of the situation.

I knew the odds were incredibly high that my mother would develop cancer at some point; she was a three pack a day smoker.  Every photo I had of her shows her with a cigarette in her hand.  She smoked all day at work, even though there was now a law saying she had to go outside to do it; everyone on the floor looked the other way and the smokers simply came to her office instead of going down 19 floors to the out of doors. She smoked so much that when she was pregnant with my sister that her doctor actually told her quitting smoking would be more stressful and harmful to the baby than the smoking.  At that point, she had been cutting  her cigarettes into pieces and smoking one fourth of a cigarette every fifteen minutes using tweezers.  My mother was a nicotine addict, and had been for a very long time.  Why was I the only person freaking out here?

“Hey.”  I looked up to see my friend Karen come into the surgical waiting room.  I was so relieved she was here.  While everyone else was willing to believe the doctors and their “no big deal” assessment, Karen didn’t like the idea of me sitting in that room all alone, imagining the worst case scenario for two hours.

“Hey, Karen.  Thanks for coming.”    Karen gave me a sympathetic smile.  We made small talk, she talking about her job at the local vet clinic.   Karen had decided to get a two year degree as a veterinary technician when we returned from college after our freshman year.  She wasn’t sure she wanted to be a full fledged vet, but she wasn’t sure yet what really else she wanted to do either.  The two year degree allowed her to get a job and earn money with the animals while she figured out her path.   I talked to her about where I’d been placed for winter term for student teaching; in a stroke of luck, I’d been put into an elementary school two miles from where I lived, in my own school district.  It was going take me longer to take Zach to daycare every morning than it would take me to drive to work.  I was very excited about this; your student teaching assignment often gave you a leg up in the school district for jobs the following year.  This meant that I might be lucky enough to get a job where I lived next fall.

The chit chat kept me distracted, and before I knew it, the surgeon appeared in front of us to give me the news.

“You’re mother is fine,” he smiled.  “She came through the surgery beautifully.  We didn’t find anything.”

I blinked in disbelief.  Nothing?  How was that even possible?  “Really?  I am sorry, I don’t understand.  How could there be something on the x ray that isn’t actually there?”

“Well,” the doctor began, “Sometimes there are malformations in our systems that are completely normal and don’t interfere with function.  We think this is the case with your mother.  We saw an abnormality, and with your mother’s history, we had to do our due diligence and investigate it further.  But we saw nothing.  That being said, your mother is at very, very high risk for developing cancer .  She absolutely has to quit smoking.”

“Oh, I completely agree,” I answered.  “I’ve been after her for years.”

“A nurse will come get you in a few minutes when your mother comes out of the anesthesia, and then you’ll be able to take her home.”

“Thank you, doctor.” I said, and watched him breeze out of the surgical waiting room.

“Wow,” said Karen.  “Looks like your mom dodged a bullet.”

“I can’t believe it,” I answered .  “I can’t.  But hopefully this will be her wake up call.”


2 Responses

  1. Nice story! People often needs important wake up calls in order to realizing to quit smoking. Hopefully your mom stops smoking too!

  2. […] of this was conversation that we’d had the last time out, so we all understood the gravity of the situation.  I couldn’t quite understand how […]

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