I watch anxiously, as the minutes pass by. The bustle of a thousand voices, the constant rummaging of footsteps, drown out the gnomes of my thoughts. Every word, loud and clear, the conversation is on replay in my mind.
” Don’t worry beta. Just relax, it’s only an appendectomy. It will hardly take an hour or two. You would normally be in there with me as well, but you know that no family members are allowed in the operation theatre. Trust me, and try not to stress on your day off “. Dr X flashes me one of his most encouraging smiles. He really is bringing out his A game to assure me. Day off ? What does that even mean to a surgeon? A day spent away from the adrenaline rush of surgery to laze around on my couch? Sure, sounds like a ball.
Having worked under Dr X for the past two years now, my respect for him has only grown. “It’s just an appendectomy”, I chant his words of encouragement as I watch him wheel my mother through the double doors of the operation theatre. I trudge grudgingly, towards the waiting room.
The waiting room is like the black hole in a doctor’s mind. Time stands still here, everything suspended in limbo. The hours go by, the blood pressure soars. We are, as a breed, trained to be more of a type A personality. Sitting around, anticipating to hear the result, hoping for the best has never been our strong suit. Over the years, we become accustomed to jumping to the worst possible conclusion. Just appendicitis? Oh, but what if it forms an appendicular mass ? Or what if it forms an abscess ? Or what if….. the list goes on ! We pride ourselves in being the highly able swordsmen, always dressed for combat in our labcoats, ready to conquer every complication that the human body can possibly conjure !
I take my seat next to an elderly man with a sweet face and worrisome eyes. “It will only take an hour or two” , Dr X’s voice reverberates off every ventricle in my brain. “So what brings you here?”, I muster my most earnest doctor voice. There’s always this joke going around in the medical fraternity about how our voice changes once we enter the waiting room. “The voice of doom”, we call it. Each one of us has a different way of delivering bad news.
He goes on to tell me about how he is praying for his wife’s recovery, ” We have been married for fifty five years. She was first diagnosed with colon cancer ten years ago. It was an extremely moving time for our family. Our daughter had just given birth, and we were overjoyed with welcoming our second grandson into the family. During that period she underwent surgery, and the surgeon had managed to completely resect it. However one year ago, there was a recurrence. They were talking about the cancer being more villainous this time as it had metastasized. After undergoing multiple rounds of chemotherapy, we are just praying for the best.” He flashes me a weak smile, as his frown lines deepen. ” I’m sure they are doing their best, trust in the medicine ” I hear my mouth, utter the words of a stranger. My distant, automated tone; disappoints, even me. My mind numb, I feel overwhelmed, by the weight of the problems that this room holds.
I look around the four walls of this space, and all the faces seem to register in my mind for the very first time. Each one, reflecting varied expressions. From grief, dejection, to hopefulness. Each person has concocted their own defense mechanism. I see the surgical residents goofing around next to the stairs. The waiting room dummies ; a surgeon who has to sit out of an exciting surgery to deliver news to the family. Every surgeon’s nightmare. Each one of us hopefully wishes to not be picked. However, glancing at the old man now, I re-evaluate. Can I really consider this, a major chore ?
As doctor’s, we are taught to disconnect ourselves from our patients. If we get too invested in a particular patient, it clouds our rationale judgement. That’s the reason why we are able to tender care to a number of people on the same day, and that’s why I was in the waiting room, instead of being inside the operation theatre. The real magic always happens on the other side. We always consider ourselves , the superheroes. Were we honestly , though? Digesting my surroundings, I realize how much constraint it takes for people to truly hold it together, whilst waiting for news. Hell, I wanted to fall apart while waiting for the outcome of a mere appendicectomy!
Maybe the actual superheroes are the inhabitants of this room. The grace they show, the perseverance and the trust! This is the place where the real magic unfolds. Where people learn more about themselves and their strengths, where god’s are summoned and grief is overcome on a daily basis.
“The surgery was a success, you can see her now “, Dr X’s jovial voice cuts my rumination short. I jump up, startled, as a myriad of emotions curse through my mind. I look for the elderly man, and I realize his body is bundled up in tears. He is shaking his head, in disbelief, at the doctor. I sigh, defeated , as I make my way out of the waiting room. I realize that I have learnt so much today, even without setting a single foot inside the operation theatre. I learnt that compassion has to be a doctor’s strongest suit. That maybe, the real battlefield was on the other side of the glass doors of the operation theatre. That room, like a sanctuary , houses the strongest fighters, clothed in their best armor.
Never again will I undermine being posted in the waiting room. Never again will I be just another waiting room dummy. I vow to be a more caring doctor. And, as I take the petite form of my mother in my arms, I feel myself finally smile for the first time in the day, with renewed vigor and determination.