My husband was discharged from the hospital following two heart valve replacements, and a week later was readmitted with a side effect of the surgery that occurs ten percent of the time. He was taken to his room directly from the ER. I hadn’t the foresight to bring along my coloring book and pencils—mindless relaxing activity given to me by a friend that definitely helped first time around. This time I didn’t even have a hotel room where I could go to take a nap, shower and change my clothes. Confined, along with my husband, to the cramped hospital room, I watched the cardiac monitor while waiting for the surgeon or his assistants to drop in and give the latest update.
After a couple of days, when my husband began doing better and the updates were less frequent, I left him in the care of the competent nurses and headed out the door, off the unit, and began to walk. The heat of the summer prevented me from staying outdoors for any length of time. I explored the public areas of the hospital complex: the old hospital—where my husband’s room was located—a new hospital and cancer center, children’s hospital and a clinic building—all attached by tunnels, bridges and corridors. Since it was the weekend, most areas were relatively deserted, especially when I ventured out in the evening. However, a steady stream of folks frequented the cafeteria in the old hospital lobby.
I followed a couple in their thirties joking with each other as they walked into the cafeteria in street clothes, normal looking in every way except the man pushed an IV pole. Later, after I had breakfast, I watched as hospital workers rushed to help the man who was prone on the floor by the main elevators. Then the next morning there they were again, walking toward the cafeteria, arm in arm, laughing.
A man with neat gray hair, dressed in a navy sport jacket and pressed trousers, sipped his coffee at the same table where a bare-chested man with a long white beard and multiple tattoos talked with a skinny woman whose eyes, lined in black, seemed vacuous. Mutigenerational families with children—children who could or could not be patients themselves—were common.
Sunday morning a young couple walked toward me in the sun-dappled corridor chatting happily. The woman pushed a stroller with a baby girl (pink outfit), while her brother, about three years old, toddled along with denim jeans, t-shirt and shaved head.
But it was the many women my age that sat alone in the cafeteria that made me curious. Were their spouses in a little room under scrutiny as was my husband?
How many times did I wish I could just reach out and grab a hand and say come sit with me and let’s share our stories?
That Monday we were back to the life we had before hospitalization, the surveillance had ended. Except the experience lives on—like a dream.