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The Waiting Room

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I sit alone in a row of chairs, waiting.

They've done what they can to make the room inviting. The chairs are upholstered in trendy colors. They've stuffed fake greenery into ceramic pots. But you can’t get past the pungency of this place.

People die just down that hall, behind those double doors.

This room aches.

I stare at the digital board that identifies my husband by a number and a status: “715803 – Surgery in progress.”

His is the last surgery of the day – all of them “routine.” And I’m alone in the antiseptic chamber where people worry or pray. Or both.

I choose prayer, but it’s a fidgety kind of prayer. I open the Gideons Bible to read about the peace Jesus gives. I put down the Bible. I pick it up again. I flip to the Psalms, then count ceiling tiles. I roll his gold wedding band between my thumb and forefinger, like a prayer bead. I stare right through the naked center of a perfect circle worn daily around the finger of a farmer.

Before they wheeled him down the hall, I told him they wouldn’t let him wear the ring. “But I never take this off,” he said. I held out my palm to my husband, and he obediently wrenched the band from his finger.

Fifteen years we’ve been together. I put the ring in my pocket – another thing stripped from a man wearing only a thin hospital gown. I folded his denim Carhartts and flipped through the laparoscopic surgery brochure – busy tasks to hold hostage the tears that wanted to spill.

I scolded myself. I mean, this wasn’t open-heart surgery, for Heaven’s sake. His gall bladder was being removed. By sundown, I’d be tracing country roads back home with my husband in the passenger seat.

Wouldn’t I?

I mean, this is routine, right?

A nurse handed my husband a cornflower blue hair net. I kept this one thought to myself: my strong man, who hefts seed bags and loads hogs into trailers, looked small. I didn't have to say the words out loud. He knew it, too.

“I guess I’m not Superman,” he said.

I swallowed, vainly trying to dislodge the knot in my throat.

“Pray with me?” he asked.

I knelt on the linoleum floor, gripped his work-worn hands and squeezed my eyes tight. I prayed. Hard.

I didn’t really think he’d die. He didn’t either. He told me that.

But those weeks of pain – source unknown – exposed his mortality. We are all going to die someday, and we will leave people behind who love us, maybe even need us. Maybe the renewed awareness of his frailty was a sort of Kryptonite.

And maybe that was OK.

That’s what I’m thinking here in the waiting room, just outside the double doors of the operating room where my husband lay still under general anesthesia. I spin a golden ring between my fingers. For better or worse. In sickness and in health.

Two hours later, the surgeon summons me. He apologizes for the longer-than-usual wait.

He asks a nurse to lead me to the recovery room, where my husband greets me with three familiar words: “Pray with me?”

And again, I kneel beside a farmer.

Later, I drive my husband down the country roads – past our country church and his darkened cornfields – and turn slowly into our long, soggy lane. We are home. He sinks into the recliner, with one long sigh, and laces his fingers across his chest. I come to his side, grab his left hand and say: “I have something for you.”

And then – only then – I slip a gold band around the finger of my groom.

Photo by Chelsea Stirlen. Used with permission via Flickr. Post by Jennifer Dukes Lee.

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