I enter the small waiting room, a bit early for my appointment made long ago.
The room is crowded with others who also wait,
each one quiet in their own private thoughts.
A woman sits, head tipped to the side…her eyes open and close drowsily.
Another woman alternately looks through her bag, stuffed with papers and texts on her phone.
An elderly man in a green baseball cap flips through a magazine.
A mother attempts to pour a pouch juice drink into her son’s bottle as he sits in his stroller, his mouth wide open in anticipation.
With no place to sit, I stand off to the side and begin waiting.
I have forgotten to bring a book; so instead, I ponder the possible situations of my fellow patients. I can’t help but notice that each patient falls into the “Obesity in America Crisis” category and carries the “belly fat” that Dr. OZ discusses frequently. This makes me sad. I look down at my own belly and feel a twinge of inclusion, yet a sense of contentment at my recent health gains, weight loss included. I watch the mother puncture the juice pouch with the tiny straw and think of the patterns continuing. My own children drank those juice pouches and loved them. I think of the cycles, the spirals that get carried along even with an onslaught of ‘new’ information, lessons on how we as a people can live healthier lives.
Soon the mother pushes the stroller out into the hallway and I am able to take a seat.
Within a few moments a woman pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair and a man enter the confined area.
I find myself swooped into their story by virtue of no place else to rest my eyes and an intense interest in people watching.
The caregiver parks the wheelchair close and sits down while the man greets the elderly man in the green baseball cap, who stands up to shake hands. The younger man speaks with a strong voice in an accent I cannot quite discern. The elderly man moves over and sits beside the caregiver, warmly greeting the elderly woman in the wheelchair. They know each other I think to myself.
Suddenly the room is no longer small, confined, but it is an intimate space filled with care. The caregiver gently strokes the back of the woman’s head, smoothing her straight gray-white hair down.
Down her hand travels in repetitive caressing gestures.
The woman sits quietly, shaking as if cold. She moves her feet off and back on the wheelchair footrests, her slip-on sneakers and argyle-socked feet causing her legs to bounce continuously.
Her caregiver pauses to flip the tips of her hair out of the warm collar of her vibrant purple sweater and pulls the hem of each side closer together on the woman’s lap. Then she feels the woman’s hands, rubbing them as if to warm them up.
I recognize the silent confidence as the caregiver slowly, rhythmically moves her experienced hands while trying to make the elderly woman comfortable.
I feel a sense of sameness in those who care for the young and those who care for the elderly. I reflect on this relatedness, mesmerized by the caregiver’s level of attentiveness.
The two men have already moved through the typical greetings to each other. The elderly man asks about where they parked and how the traffic was. He then asks the woman how she is and if it took her a long time to get ready. He comments that while he got there one half an hour early, he forgot to check them in and he goes to do so. He repeats many of his statements over and over as his eyes stay riveted on the elderly woman. He comments that the doctor must be late as it is past their appointment time.
Looking at the clock high on the wall, I realize that their appointment time is 15 minutes before mine. I already know what I will do, so I wait.
The younger man with the accent sits apart from the others. He reads a book he has brought.
The elderly man sits on the edge of his chair, leaning in to talk with the woman. His voice is loud and up-beat and he pauses between comments, listening intently to her response. In between he leans back in his chair with a pensive look. When he thinks of another thing to say or question to ask, his face perks up and he leans forward once again.
“Are you cold?” he asks, cupping her clenched hand in his own sturdy fingers. He speaks to her of people they know, his voice big and encouraging and her voice barely audible.
And as he speaks, he rubs the knuckles of her curved fingers.
His thumb moves around
in circular motions
I can feel him attempting to connect.
Searching for that hit-and-miss certain something that will bring a response.
He talks of things to come, of things planned.
The old man asks her if she had any of the cookies someone had brought over.
She noticeably raises her head and her voice rises with indignation as she tells him that the others ate them all.
He assures her that they will get more and her eyes twinkle as she asks in a girl’s voice hopeful of convincing the one in charge, “Today?”
No, not today, but soon he tells her.
Her eyes dim and she again looks f a r a w a y…
He says maybe tomorrow afternoon, after the doctors.
She says in a firm voice, laced with a wry sense of disbelief, “We’re at the doctor’s now!”
The caregiver smiles and softly chuckles while the elderly man erupts in laughter.
The elderly woman smiles, laughing softly and finally that sought after connection falls into place.
He laughs and tells her of his own doctor appointment the following day and she accepts this explanation.
One, maybe two other topics catch her interest, I no longer recall. I am left only with the sense of longing, of the missing of something by the old man and the quietness of the woman.
He continues to try. He continues to search for that next subject that will bring her back to him.
It is at this point, as I watch this dance of conversation, of communication
This very slow fragmented waltz before my eyes,
It is at this point that the receptionist points the remote control out of her windowed space and turns on the television.
It’s colors of children’s programming and loudness barges in, jarring and invasive.
She quickly turns it down a decibel or two, but it is still loud and he can’t her the elderly woman’s limp answer.
I glance over at the receptionist. I’m thinking unfriendly thoughts based on the assumption that not one of the adults in the waiting area seems to be interested in the children’s program and no one had asked for the television to be turned on. I eventually realize that she is tucked away at her low desk, behind a partial wall and window.
The receptionist is not aware of life unfolding not four feet away.
I glance again and she turns down the volume to barely audible, like the elderly woman’s own voice. But the colors and movement continue flashing near the ceiling, pushing the dancers apart once again.
She closes her eyes.
Her head tips forward, chin resting on chest.
He asks her if she’s sleepy. He turns and comments over his shoulder to the younger man that she is getting sleepy.
He looks to the caregiver for additional information.
I feel his searching.
She sits back up again and elbows on the armrests of the wheelchair, her knuckled hands rub at her eyes.
“Don’t rub your eyes sweetie”, he says and takes hold of her contorted hand.
He begins rubbing again and tries to spread her fingers open.
“Let’s open this up a little”, he says gently.
Her eyes remain closed.
The door to the inner office opens and my name is called.
I glance up, not moving I gesture across the aisle
and state, “their appointment time is before mine”.
The nurse looks from one patient to the other and goes back in, the door closing behind her.
The elderly man looks over and I tell him my appointment was at 10:30. He states again his appointment time and that he did not check-in upon arrival.
Before I can answer, the nurse returns and calls them in.
As the elderly man moves to follow the wheelchair in, he glances back and says, “That’s my wife. We’ve been married 67 years.”
I smile at him.
My heart swells.
And in a voice as quiet as his wife’s, he adds, “Things haven’t been too good recently” and disappears behind the door.
Emotions bubble up as I think, that’s what love looks like.
Story by NAE ©2011
Story by NAE ©2011