Last Wednesday afternoon, my daughter and I headed uptown to get an MRI on her knee. After registering with the front desk, we found two empty seats and settled in. Good thing that the seats were sort of comfortable, it proved to be a long afternoon.
A little while after we arrived, a woman rushed in and tossed her coat onto the seat next to mine. She disappeared for a moment but then came back and sat down. She asked, “Have you been waiting long?” The room was packed with people but no one seemed to be going anywhere. Responding, “no, we haven’t,” placated her momentarily. But then she started fidgeting and rifling through her purse.
Obviously, I was only concerned about my daughter. But this woman – I’ll call her Ruth – decided to chat. If I had been on my own, I might’ve been more receptive to it. But, right out of the gate, I was feeling more annoyed than friendly. Each time she said, “What’s taking so long? I wish they’d just call my name already,” I got more stressed out. I even texted my daughter, “I wish she’d stop talking to me!” I feel badly about that now.
More than an hour after our scheduled appointment time, the technician appeared at the door, ready to collect my daughter. They’d estimated that the test would take about 30-40 minutes. It dawned on me that I was facing a lot of small talk. Suddenly those 40 minutes seemed like hours.
As I watched them walk down the hallway, I felt a mix of emotion. Fear about potential results and sadness that she had to get the test done at all. Ruling out cartilage defects, tissue damage… all of it loomed large. It’s still blazing bright on the marquee in my brain. “What’s wrong with her knees?” Please, let the answer be something easily remedied and noninvasive. I returned to the patient lounge and sat down. At that exact millisecond, my new friend started saying something like, “I hope she doesn’t need surgery. I really hope that she doesn’t need surgery.” Ugh. I took a deep breath and said, “me too.”
After a few minutes, Ruth started relaying her story, a genuine medical nightmare. This is what got my full attention. A bad fall resulted in four failed hip surgeries (two arthroscopic, two open), at two different hospitals. Six surgeons performed those procedures. Afterward, an additional six doctors – from different specialities – said that no one should’ve operated on her in the first place. And – finally – four dismissive lawyers said she had no grounds for a lawsuit against the surgeons or the hospitals. What a mess! To add insult to massive injury, she lost her job. Sleeping for more than two hours at a time is all but impossible. Sitting is brutal, especially since she gets searing, spastic pains through her lower abdomen and hips.
To top it all off, she’d spent the night before in the ER with her parents. Her father – who has Parkinson’s and takes blood thinners – had a nose bleed that wouldn’t stop. They had to rush him to the hospital just before midnight and didn’t get back home until after 3 a.m.
At some point in the conversation, I turned to really look at her. What I saw broke my heart. Here was a woman who had reached her breaking point. She was obviously exhausted, anxious and fed up. Who could blame her? She was getting two MRI’s done that night, one on each hip. And she was there alone. “Look at me,” she said, “A woman in her 50’s with all of these problems….. how do I start again? What am I supposed to do?” I obviously had no answer. But what I could do was listen. I could validate her experience, her feelings. What Ruth needed most at that moment was a friend.
Periodically, she kept checking the time, saying she had to update her mom. They live in the suburbs, about an hour & a half from the city. At the rate the line was moving, she would be there until 9, at least. If it hadn’t been a school night….. if I had been on my own, I’d have stayed until she got called in. But I couldn’t. As it was, our own trip home would be long and my daughter had homework.
When it was time for us to leave, Ruth thanked me for listening. “At least it’s a friendly waiting room. That makes all the difference.” She’s right.
We’ve all experienced a super quiet or even hostile waiting room, with everyone anxious and impatient. I know I have. Sometimes, the thing that calms the nerves is having a friendly face smile back. Someone who distracts us, when we need distracting the most. Despite my inner grumblings, I distracted her. Ruth didn’t deserve the rotten outcomes she got. Four times no less! We deserve better, as patients and people.
I’m usually a pretty good gauge of folks in need. But the mama bear in me was irked at my focus being pulled away from my daughter. I couldn’t expend that energy, not at first. I’m seriously praying that Ruth gets better news from these new MRI’s. I’m praying that my daughter’s results come back quickly so we can figure things out. I’m praying a lot, for a lot.
Here’s hoping that the many unexpected advocates find us when we need them most. Here’s hoping that the many Ruth’s out there get a break.
Here’s hoping the universe hears me.
Sending peace and good wishes to all of you.
Be kind to one another.
Peace and painlessness,