Illness is a waiting room. It punches holes in hours, days, and weeks. You wait to see or be seen, to tell or be told, to get the phone call, be released; for the pain to arrive, the relief to start, the picture to be developed, a piece of time when your life feels like the old one. Nearly every moment of action is preceded by waiting—not to be confused with inaction. Waiting is a very busy verb.
A story that included every moment of waiting would look moth eaten, shredded to a point that it would disintegrate. In Motherhood Exaggerated, the moments of waiting I chose to amplify reinforced one of two themes. The first was the growing separation between me and Nadia in terms of what we were experiencing. Waiting for Nadia to complete her first diagnostic test, a Panorax of her jaw, I recognized that this was the point our lives began to diverge. I was waiting; she was not, at least not until the test was over when we waited for different things—me for the results, her to go home. And there was the period of time when I had knowledge but had to wait to tell Nadia because my knowledge was still incomplete. During that time, all I wanted was to bombard Nadia with the same terms I was given—“cancer”, “round blue cells”, “toxic chemotherapy”—and to make her a partner in my despair. Of course, I did none of that.
The second theme waiting helped me to explore was my own helplessness. On the day of her biopsy, when Nadia was taken into the operating room, I was left outside and suspended, like being in an airport waiting area when you know there is a good chance that the plane you can’t avoid boarding is going to crash. When treatment started, I waited for Nadia’s counts to go up, her hair to fall out, her fever to rise, for her to explode from some catastrophic malfunction. And after treatment I waited for her to live.
Waiting rooms could give a writer material for life. They are filled with the mundane—the perpetual drone of CNN, old copies of Woman’s Day, AARP Magazine, Reader’s Digest, People. People knit, fill out forms, try to stay connected to the outside world with phones and ipads. But the waiting room always wins. The mundane lifts away and the purpose of this holding space is revealed.
Write about an experience of waiting. Set the external scene; use all five senses to describe where you are while you’re waiting. You might be carrying your wait with you, from the car to the kitchen to the bath. Next write about the physical experience—your shallow breaths, your shaky fingers trying to turn the page of a magazine, how often your shift or fidget or get up to go to the bathroom even though you don’t have to go because you have to do something with waiting’s unique cocktail or energy, anxiety, and boredom. Are you alone? How does that feel? If you aren’t alone, perhaps you are trying to make normal conversation with your companion ; weave a duet between what you are saying aloud with your internal dialogue. How does it feel when the wait is over—when the phone rings, your name is called, the name of the person you are caring for is called, the nurse comes to tell you you can see your loved one in the recovery room. You can do this exercise often with additional experiences of waiting.
Pick someone who is in a waiting room with you, someone who perhaps seems new or in need of support. What would you say to that person about waiting? What would you want to ask someone else? Does anyone look as if they could be a potential friend ? Would you want to make friends here?
Design a better waiting room. You can do this either in words or by creating a floor plan. Identify issues that are important to you such as privacy, lighting, seating, entertainment, temperature, color scheme, technology, etc. If you wish, look through magazines and cut out examples of furniture and fixtures you would want.