It looks just like you would expect a waiting room to look. Comfortable looking chairs in groups along the right wall encircling low tables. Perfect for family groups to spend time chatting with each other. Potted plants scattered throughout and tea and coffee making facilities off to the left hand side for those wishing to make their own rather than take the trip downstairs to the food court area.
Separating the waiting area from the ICU is the reception desk, meeting rooms and amenities.
The first time that I walked into this room, I wondered at the meeting rooms. Why would you need these in a hospital area? Sadly, before the week was up I knew exactly why.
Scanning the room on that first day, I saw sadness, joy and hope on the faces of those clustered in their little groups before spying my own group toward the back of the waiting area.
Etched on the faces of those I loved was concern. Concern for each other and concern for the person we had gathered to hold vigil over. None of us expected to be there and couldn’t fathom how quickly the human body can fail. It was only yesterday that I had been chatting with him on the phone. It was only yesterday he had told me how much he loved me and I had replied that I loved him too. He’d asked me not to tell our parents he was in hospital, telling me that it would only worry them. I broke his promise but I’m sure not even he knew just how bad things were going to get at that point. I’m glad I did. It meant that they too could have a conversation with him before he lapsed into a coma.
So now we wait. Looking around our family group, see concern on their faces although I could sense the laughter lurking just underneath. Strange isn’t it? How something as precious as a life hanging in the balance could elicit laughter in the vigil keepers. We are a strange bunch our family. Laughter is one of the many threads that bind us together. We knew that he wouldn’t mind. He had the keenest sense out of humour of all of us.
I examine the careworn faces of my mother and step-father. They are struggling. He is their baby and the only child they had together. They have already lost a son each and now another is laying in another room fighting for life. But they haven’t given up hope on him. He is strong. He’s come through Leukaemia and battled illness for the past ten years. He’s proved that he is a fighter. This virulent strain of ‘flu is not going to beat him.
My step-brother and his family join us. My brother is loud, obnoxious and has the worst dress sense. He is also hard working, hard drinking and has the largest heart I know. I love him dearly. My sister-in-law is not coping. My baby brother is her little brother also. He’s been a rock for her on so many occasions. Her tears streak her face.
Around us, life in the waiting room goes on as usual. Nurses pad noiselessly in and out. Other families greet each other or leave with solemn faces. Voices are muted and conversations are strained.
And then there is our group. We begin to see humour in the world and laugh out loud at it. My mother shushes us on many occasions, reminding us of just where we are. We haven’t forgotten. We wish we could. Laughter helps us.
At the end of the day, we have our first meeting in the meeting room with the doctor. They are doing all they can. They are trialling a particular medication. They are hopeful.
The days blur together as each morning we greet each other at the door to the waiting room. Faces of those we know and love join us on occasion. They stay for a while and then leave to continue their lives. We can’t. Our lives are suspended in time. It revolves around the waiting room… and the meeting room.
I begin to dread the meeting room. Each meeting leaves us with less and less hope until the last meeting when we are told to wait for the inevitable as my brother has given up his fight. His body is shutting down.
We leave the waiting room to visit him on occasion, usually singly or in pairs. They don’t want large groups in the ICU. We glove and gown up and go to stand at his bedside. But it’s not him. I don’t recognise this pale person looking like someone from a science fiction movie with tubes and wires everywhere. We talk to him. Tell him jokes. Implore him to wake up and stay with us.
Tears streak our faces as we spend time with him. The nurses never leave his side. They are as sombre as we are. They feel our pain.
Until the evening we are called in to say our last goodbyes. My parents are with him as he takes his final breath. We leave the waiting room for the last time and congregate in the hallway. Grief is easier to deal with in the hallway. The hallway is the next step after the waiting room.