I have friends who can navigate the labyrinth of hallways and departments of the local hospital with equal measures of grace and ease, as if they are walking through their childhood homes. These are friends who do not work at the hospital, though. They are not doctors or nurses or radiologists. They merely have had the misfortune of an accumulated number of instances in which they’ve been forced to endure the suffering of being there.
I myself am thankful that I require very specific directions on where to go and for what. I don’t like the hospital. Never have. Aside from the birth of my two children, every thought connected to it is a bad one.
And now I can add one more to the list. Maybe.
A few weeks ago I exercised every bit of grace at my disposal and slipped on some ice disguised as snow. The thump resulted in a bit of salty language and a sprained shoulder, which required a trip to the seventh circle of hell and its radiology department.
I was not alone. The forty-something lady beside me offered a hello and then resumed her crocheting. When I asked what exactly she was creating, she said she had no idea. That was when I knew I was in trouble.
The retiree on the other side of me paused in his crossword puzzle, shook my hand, and asked what was wrong with me. I was halfway through my childhood before he clarified and asked what was wrong with me physically.
A two-year-old girl, sweetly unaware of the pain and suffering around her, was using the chair across from me as a jungle gym.
Among the dozen or so others were the young and the old, the professional and the blue collar, the bruised and the broken, all shepherded by two nurses with tired faces and thick glasses who guarded their flock with Nazi-like efficiency.
I spent the next ten minutes leafing through an old newsweekly (Can Obama Win? asked the cover) and the ten after that listening to the two-year-old girl screaming in agony because she failed to stick her landing off the chair. I was about to ask the crossword-working retiree beside me if I could borrow his pen and jam it into my eye, effectively putting myself out of my misery, when an announcement came over the intercom that someone was stroking.
A flurry of activity outside the open door. Nurses quick-walked. Electronic doors whooshed and shut. Elevator doors pinged.
Despite my normally stoic and reserved nature, the whole experience was beginning to wear on me. I decided x-rays weren’t all that necessary. People went for thousands of years without x-rays. And in a way I’d be healthier without having all that radiation zapped into me. I grabbed my hat and coat and sat them on my lap in a first step toward leaving.
The truth? I didn’t want to be around all that pain and suffering. I didn’t want to be reminded that life was in fact a fragile and fleeting thing. Life makes much more sense outside of a hospital than in one. It’s more permanent, more solid.
But then mixed in with the cacophony of beeps and sirens and chatter came a noise I did not expect. Wafting through the door came music. Someone had decided to sit at the baby grand piano in the lobby to score the day’s events.
I checked my place in line with one of the nurses and decided I had about twenty minutes to spare, then I strolled out the door in the direction of the tinkling ivories. There at the piano sat a young man in faded jeans and a leather jacket. A pair of sunglasses was perched on top of his head, which moved back and forth a bit in concert with his melody.
The songs varied—classical, jazz, and blues. Especially the blues. If there was ever a place for the blues, it was a hospital.
The nurse stuck her head out the door to tell me I was on deck. I never got a chance to talk to that man. Never got an answer as to who he was or why he was there. He was gone by the time I left.
But I like to think he played that piano often and for no other reason than he felt he should. For proof that music can be created in even the worst places.