So, here I am back in the UK on a short-notice trip to see my Dad in hospital, support my Mum as she in turn supports him and give my sister the chance to take a vacation and get away (as much as she can).
Dad continues to recover from two major surgeries – the second a complication of the first – and we all have months of recuperation to look forward to, set against the backdrop that a significant compromise to his condition (from an infection or similar) could take him suddenly. This brutal situation is where love comes home.
I’m sat in Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge, Dad’s home for the last ten weeks and for months to come, drinking a coffee in the food court just inside the hospital entrance, waiting for a little while before I can go up and see him.
This could be a small shopping mall, with its collection of eateries and shops, were it not for the haunted look on the faces surrounding me – these are not shoppers, these are people – family, friends, colleagues – killing time before the next visiting hour or doctors’ briefing. These are people waiting to see whether the news is bad or good, whether the worst imaginable has happened, is happening, will happen. These are people waiting.
We are all waiting.
Like in the airport the other day, sitting in some ho-hum restaurant, eating too much food that I didn’t really feel like eating, biding my time while waiting for the flight. Waiting.
I offered the couple at the next table some of my over-sized appetizer – they laughed and, as Brits, we shared an easy, shallow joke about American portion sizes – a brief connection while we waited.
The guy who had stood in line before me at the coffee shop is back in line again. He doesn’t look like he’s queuing to make a complaint, so I’ve got to presume that he’s after another coffee. I’ve only had two or three mouthfuls in the same time – he either drinks really quickly through an asbestos mouth, or someone has joined him. I hope it’s the latter. Hospitals have to be one of the most depressing places to sit alone.
There’s a meeting going on at a table over there, three women huddled over charts and powerpoint slides. Not medical, these look like administrative matters. They look pressured but not stressed – focused on the task in hand.
The couple who have just sat down at the table next to me pound down muffins, coffee and orange soda – they’re not saying anything, comfortable in silence in that way that old couples have. They, like me, scan the area, observe the wildlife.
It’s only a couple of months since I sat in this same hospital, nursing a coffee after having to decide whether we would turn the machines back on if Dad slid downhill. Even now, the memory of that time brings familiar tears to my eyes. What must it be like to continually support patients and families through such decision-making, through a roller-coaster which seems to have way more troughs than crests – the staff at this and other hospitals have my love for work they do for my Dad and every patient like him.
There is calm here in this human gathering. There is peace and there is love. There is fear, anxiety and comfort. There is caffeine and sugar, newspapers and flowers. The constant movement of people going here, there and every which other else place there can be. And there are those of us waiting, waiting, waiting, surrounded by the flow.
Thanks for waiting with me.