The Family Surgery Waiting Room at Stanford University is a true sample of the population. Surgery doesn't discriminate, nor does it wait for a convenient time. To my right are the cowboys, brothers I think, they sit in silence except for a few short, concise comments and a couple nods. To my left is an Indian family- everyone has an Apple device and the younger generation has their headphones in. There's the Chinese family that came prepared with plenty of snacks. Their snacks are the imported kind...I can almost taste the rice cakes that I used to buy in Beijing and I'm convinced that if I stare a little bit longer they might notice and offer me one. The lady across from me is reading a romance novel, but she's so distracted that she hasn't turned the page in about 10 minutes. I notice that her bookmark is for the Quality Inn down the street.
A couple days ago no one in this room expected to be here. But here we sit together, and much like the culture of an airplane- with norms that help to guide the environment. Whenever a surgeon in blue scrubs and a hair net comes through the double doors, everyone hushes, stops what they're doing, and waits for a name to be called out. The surgeon gives the news to the family in a quiet tone to protect their privacy, but we all remain quiet and shift our bodies in their direction. Humans are curious by nature. We've been sharing this space together for hours and made guesses in our minds about why each person is here- Was it a gall bladder removal? A heart transplant? Removal of a tumor? Is that the wife or the mother?
A man a couple seats down has just snored so loudly that he has woken himself up. The comedy of this crosses every culture and we all look up to laugh and make eye contact, some for the first time. The snoring man laughs heartily and acknowledges how little sleep he's had. Everyone here looks like they could use some sleep. When you get the call that your family member needs emergency surgery, you don't take the time to apply mascara. You jump out of bed, into your car, and rush... you rush to the waiting room.
There's free Starbucks coffee around the corner, but the cups are only about 8 ounces. The small cups give you an excuse to get up and refill, but more importantly, you can walk by the electronic board that says the status of your friend or family member. Each person has a number and those numbers are color coded for the status of their surgery. A couple minutes ago the lady with the Quality Inn bookmark got really upset when her husband's name turned red. Apparently red means they're almost done... I would have chosen a different color.
We sit together. We're in this together, kind of. And the waiting continues- a woman knits a red scarf, the cowboys appropriately gnaw on beef jerky, and everyone gives the kid wearing Crocs and playing a loud video game the 'stink-eye' hoping that he'll mute his Nintendo DS. The double doors open and even the Croc kid knows it's time to pay attention. The news is for the knitting lady and as the surgeon walks toward her I can see she's clenching the red scarf tightly. After just a few seconds, her furled eyebrows have relaxed and she's nodding. It went well, she can see her husband in about an hour. She's going for a walk...and the rest of us will sit here and wait.