I spent much of last Friday at the hospital with my wife, who had been feeling particularly ucky of late. The doctors had (and as I write this have) no idea what’s wrong. Tests were in order. So off we went, her to be poked and prodded for two hours, and me to pass the time in the waiting room.
As I am not a fan of feeling ucky or being poked and prodded, hospitals rank just above funeral homes on my list of Places I Wish Not To Go. It isn’t the germs that bother me, not the echoes of coughs or the abundance of wheel chairs and gurneys. It’s the despair, I think. That thick dark cloud of inevitability that seems to hang over everyone and everything. Going to the hospital makes me confront the fragility of life. That’s something I’d rather not consider.
I brought enough work to keep my mind off things. I knew the waiting area had a television, but the possibility of watching Sportscenter all morning quickly evaporated when I was told the only channel offered was HGTV (according to the nice old lady with the clipboard, anything else may be construed as “controversial.”) I had a notebook—1,000 words a day every day is what I was taught, even when you’re sitting in a hospital—and my i-Pod—the new Trace Adkins album? Gold.
I was ready, oh yes I was. The only pondering of life and death that day would come from my characters rather than myself. Yes sir, I was going to mind my own business.
The only thing I didn’t take into account was that there would be other people in need of the sort of modern medical technology that only the local hospital’s radiology department could provide. Though the waiting room was relatively empty when we arrived, by the time my wife’s name was called, it was nearly full. And five minutes later, I had company.
The woman who sat down beside me with the crutches looked eighty but swore she wasn’t a day over fifty-seven. We exchanged hellos and I resumed my scribbling. She asked what I was doing. I said work (never say you’re a writer, I was taught that as well). She nodded and leafed through a ten-month-old magazine for exactly thirty seconds, at which time she sat it back down on the wooden table between us and asked what was wrong with me.
“I don’t think you’d have the time,” I joked.
She chuckled and touched my arm—eighty-year-old women who swear they’re not a day over fifty-seven love to touch arms—and said, “I mean what brings you here?”
“My wife’s getting a once-over,” I told her. “You?”
She tapped the crutches and then felt her leg. “Busted myself. Fell down the stairs. I blame the cat.”
“Cats are evil,” I said.
She gave me a knowing smile.
“Cats are not evil,” said the woman across from us. A sling was wrapped around her neck which made her left arm form an L. She looked as though she were leaning on an invisible fence post. “I have three, and they’re darlings.”
“Bet your cat did that to your arm,” I said.
“Nope. I fell out of a wheelbarrow.”
“Pardon?” the woman beside me said.
“Yep, wheelbarrow.” She looked down at her arm and up to us. The look on her face was a mix of embarrassment and pride. “My son said I was too chicken to let him push me down the hill in it. Guess I showed him, huh?”
“Guess so,” I said.
The man to her left had been listening this whole time under the guise of being immersed in his sports magazine. I doubt any of us thought he was actually reading it. Hard to do with a neck brace.
“I did that once,” he said. “Made it down our hill just fine. Shut that cocky son of mine’s mouth up, sure enough. I don’t take chances anymore, though.”
“What happened to you?” the old lady beside me asked.
“This?” He pointed to the brace, just in case she were asking of anything else. “I got up off the couch. Seriously. All I did. Felt something pull, just…pop goes the weasel.”
I never got any writing done. It was better to sit and talk, I think. Better to be reminded of the fragility of life, that strange thing that seems so hard but is instead so soft. I was reminded of just how clumsy we all are and how we can get hurt even when we take no chances.
Because our existence is but a thin strip of breath upon which we teeter and totter and, eventually, will tumble off.