I think I must have been taking a smoke break or something the day patience was handed out. I know this. (I am nothing if not self-aware, even when it hurts.)
So this is why last Friday, when I was taking my father to a hospital in the city for day surgery, I prepared myself. I knew there would be a fair bit of sitting around in the waiting room. But how long could it take to remove a kidney stone, anyway?
The answer is: 11 hours and 12 minutes.
Yes, that’s right. My sorry ass was in that chair for ELEVEN HOURS AND TWELVE MINUTES.
But I get ahead of myself. Let’s back up.
The day started out optimistically – Dad was in good spirits, I had a bag filled with survival tools (three books, one of which was a brand-new copy of ‘Long Way Down’ by Ewan MacGregor and Charley Boorman, which I’d been dying to read, my dayplanner and to-do list, candy and water). It was sunny, a great day for a drive to Halifax. I was also psyched because I happened to know that this particular hospital had a kick-ass food court with this awesome Lebanese place, and I planned to score some dolmas and falafel and tabouleh to take home with me.
Dad’s appointment was for 1:20 pm. We got there with lots of time to get him registered and things went as planned for a while. We made it to pre-op. That’s when things slipped into the Twilight Zone.
I was a bit worried because my dad had never been under general anesthetic before, and he did have a heart condition…and it didn’t help that every show that came on the television involved some sort of graphic video footage of operations in progress or corpses…and every magazine I picked up was filled (I’m really not kidding) with articles about medical screw-ups – like where the guy goes in to have a mole removed and ends up having his liver removed or something. I was a wreck.
One-twenty came and went. The waiting room began to empty out. At around 4:30 pm, the nursing staff shut down the computers and went home. I was starting to get light-headed from lack of food or water, but since Dad hadn’t been able to eat or drink anything since midnight the night before, I couldn’t bring myself to eat or drink anything if he couldn’t. I was already fantasizing about the water in my bag…the hummus downstairs was calling my name….
YES! Five pm – they take Dad away. I offer the least sincere ‘good luck’ ever as I race for the elevator to take me to the cafeteria.
It was closed. I swear to fucking god. FIVE PM!!
All there was left to choose from was a bare-bones version of Tim Horton’s, and a fridge full of nasty-looking iceburg-lettuce-based salads and a few old sandwiches. So I begrudgingly purchased an egg salad wrap, which I ate quickly with large doses of self-pity. But it was okay, because they had told me that the procedure would only take about 20 minutes, then about 30 minutes to an hour in recovery…and we were out of there. I might still make it back to town in time to hook up with my friends at the pub.
I returned to the waiting room around 20 minutes later, just as they were wheeling my dad’s bed back down the hallway. And any worries I’d had were quickly dispelled – he looked wide awake and alert and not in any pain at all!
“Done already?” I asked, full of boastful pride at our good fortune.
Ummm, yeah, no. False alarm. They weren’t quite ready yet. They needed to wait for space to open up in the recovery room before they could proceed. So they thought he’d be more comfortable here where he could watch tv.
Sooo, we settle in for a bit longer. At least I had been able to drink some water and had eaten something, even if it was an amazingly soggy sandwich. Poor Dad’s lips were starting to crack.
Now, I’m not sure if this happens to other people, but when I get bored waiting for things, my inner anarchist takes over. I start plotting revenge. Though I have never so much as shoplifted a lip gloss in real life (oh, okay, fine, there were those few articles of tavern signage that struck me as particularly funny – but it was on a dare and they were just photocopied paper posters), my inner anarchist begins to calculate how much of that tasteful faux-Tuscan furniture I could fit in the back of my dad’s station wagon. I was thinking that painting might look sweet above my fireplace. I was sure I could find some use for those neglectfully left-out prescription pads. I couldn’t understand why Dad didn’t want to take me up on the offer to have a wheelchair race in the hallway.
At 6:30, I accosted a nurse passer-by, who explained that they were now waiting for the anaesthetist, who was running late in his previous surgery (six hours late?)
At 7:10, they finally take my dad away, for reals this time. And the nurse said reassuringly, “Well, at least it’s a quick procedure.”
By this time, the waiting room was deserted. They had shut off every light in that wing of the hospital exept the light directly over my head. It was like the hotel in The Shining. The room was freezing – I was curled up with my coat over me like a blanket. I could hear not a sound beyond that room – no signs of life anywhere. But it was okay – Dad would be back any minute and we could be off.
An hour and a half passed. Any minute now.
The janitor came in – a person! A real live person! In what was likely a desperate attempt to confirm that I was still real myself, and not some doomed spirit waif, destined to haunt that tastefully decorated waiting room for all eternity, I smiled my biggest smile and lifted my feet for him, asking if I was in his way. He smiled his biggest smile and gave me a ‘don’t-speak-English’ kind of look. I heaved a sigh and snuggled back under my coat.
Another hour and a half pass. Okay, now I was freaking out a bit. It was past 10 pm and they took my father away 3 hours ago for an operation that should have taken 20 minutes?! I searched everywhere for an intercom, a buzzer, a ring-bell-for-service…nothing. I toyed with the idea of setting off the fire alarm.
This was when my inner anarchist took her leave. Now my inner panicker was taking over. Where was my daaaaaddddy??? Had he been taken to an evil parallel dimension? Would I ever see him again? Was he still in this dimension, but deader than dead due to an unforeseen allergy to the anaesthetic and how would I tell my mother? I could no longer sit still.
At the end of the corridor, there was a huge sign that read “Hospital Staff Only.” I peered as far around the corner as I could, without feeling like I was being ‘bad.’ (I told you, my inner anarchist had long since thrown in the towel. Probably went off to find a falafel.) I could see nothing in either direction. I whistled a little tune and tapped the clickety heels of my boots, hoping to possibly remind someone that I was there. I strained to listen for signs of life. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
My heart started racing. The clock now read 11:10 pm. I had been there since 12:35 pm. I was this close…
HEY! There’s a guy! Walking toward me down the Forbidden Corridor! Wearing a coat, carrying a backpack, looking kind of doctor-ish!
I threw myself at him.
It turned out he was the anaesthetist. And in true Drea style, although a few hours ago I wanted to drink his blood for breakfast for making me wait so long, he was instantly forgiven (partly because he was pretty cute, but mostly because he was sososo nice and I was sososo grateful for information.) Apparently the operation went great and they were about to release him. Of course. Now that I’d already had a heart attack.
Top the day off with a late-night hour-long drive home with a streaky windshield and a chatty father that was stoned out of his mind on painkillers and you have the whole story.
I wonder if the kidney stone would have been less painful? At least it would have got me some drugs.