Intimate Strangers

We noticed the other family the first day at the hospital.  There was an attractive, energetic mother/grandmother in her early 60s, and a young matron with a bright-eyed baby.  They were dark-haired and small.  The strong family resemblance made it obvious the two women were mother and daughter. 

The Family, as we called them, kept vigil all week, like us.  Two other children, a boy of about 8 and a girl of 6, and two other young women (the young matron’s sisters?) were often there.  But the two women and the baby were the constants.  

We didn’t know who they had in the neurology wing, and of course we couldn’t ask.  The absence of men in the family group led us to believe one of their husbands was in a room there, as was our sister, Lib.  We didn’t see The Family down our hall, so we assumed intensive care.  I went down that hall only once.  The bustling, silent urgency of the place was unnerving.

I imagine they speculated about us, as well.  There were five of us the first days.  They probably guessed we were sisters.  Besides the physical resemblance (all fair and hearty), there is something about the way we interact; comfortably, with the ease of long practice.  Old, familiar annoyances bubble to the surface, but underneath is a deep bedrock of love.  Two of us, Mary Kay and I, were left as watchdogs for our family.

The other family spent a lot of time in the long, window-walled corridor that linked the regular neuro rooms with neuro intensive care.  It was lined with benches, tables and chairs.  They fed and entertained the baby there.   We admired his sweet disposition.  They smilingly replied that he was not always so good.  

The corridor was, at heart, a thoroughfare.  Physicians walked and talked briskly by, trailing residents and medical students like the tail of a comet.  Carts squeaked along carrying food, drugs, and supplies.  Gurneys smoothly, quietly moved their burdens to the next round of tests with a minimum of jostling.  Their riders looked so ill. 

What was Lib doing in this place, the imposter, healthy and laughing?  Soon, we knew, the flocks of doctors that flew in and out of her room would realize this was all a funny, terrible mistake.  They would scold her for wasting their time.

The Family made themselves at home in a small waiting room down around the corner, especially when the older children were there.  They spread their books, electronics and snacks across a table and the women took the two, comfy chairs, the baby in his stroller between them.  They had enough paraphernalia for an army on the march.  

We were in and out of that waiting room all the time.  We needed the long walk to stretch our legs, and to give our sister some privacy.  Too, that’s where the coffee was.  We consumed endless cups of that horrible brew.  The pot was often empty, but my sister and I quickly mastered the Bunn machine.  Once a visitor asked for directions, mistaking our brisk competence at the coffee machine for the efficiency of employees.  

One afternoon they were trying to lull the baby to sleep.  We whispered about how hard it is to get a child to nap when you want him to, the four of us meeting over the shared bond of motherhood.  We did not discuss why we were all there.

Something bad happened on the sixth day.  There were no children that day.  The mother/grandmother sat alone in the corridor, staring out of the window.  She did not meet my eyes this morning.  Hers were red and swollen; her face, a study in despair.  The 3 daughters were there, huddled down the hall by the elevators, talking in hushed whispers.  They approached her solicitously from time to time.  We decided then that the person lying in the room was her husband – the father/grandfather. 

The Family left early on Thursday, and we feared the worst.

But on Friday morning they were back in the waiting room.  The wife/mother/grandmother looked tired, but composed.  Maybe a crisis had passed?

Friday afternoon and it was time for us to go.  For good or ill, our sister was being sent home. 

We took one more trip to the waiting room to top off our cups of weak coffee, and stopped short on the threshold.  The room was packed.  The Family was there, along with others – sons-in-law, aunts, uncles and cousins.  This was a day of farewells for both of our families.  It seemed that their farewells were to be more permanent.

We wanted to stop and offer condolences, to speak some words of comfort to the people we had come to know, on some level, in our shared waiting.  But we didn’t.  We had no right.  After all, we were strangers.

About pegoleg

R-A-M-B-L-I-N-G-S, Ram...Blin!
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23 Responses to Intimate Strangers

  1. Jackie says:

    This is a very touching and very beautiful post.


  2. bigsheepcommunications says:

    There’s nothing harder than that constant state of waiting.


    • pegoleg says:

      It’s a whole other world that I didn’t know was there. I feel for families of those with chronic illness, because there is nothing you can do but wait.


  3. sukanyabora says:

    Hospital stays/visits are tough. Your post reminds me of the time when my FIL suffered a heart attack and had to undergo a quadruple bypass. the unit he was in was packed with patients with similar health problems and one of them passed away while we were waiting for my father/in-law to recover. it was sad and supremely scary not knowing what our fate could be.
    lovely post.


  4. Theresa says:

    Interesting and well-written post that I can definitely relate to. My oldest daughter spend a considerable amount of time in the NICU and pediatric cardiac ICU during the first 18 months of her life. ‘Intimate strangers’ is such an appropriate title for families we met and had something of a relationship with during that time.


  5. Not just the waiting but the knowing that it’s pretty much all out of your hands. Lovely piece of writing.


  6. Ah, such a powerful post. Yes, the waiting. My youngest son was in a near-fatal auto accident some years ago, and we spent a couple days in a secluded part of the shock-trauma unit for family members, waiting, while he was on life support. All ended well, but I will never forget the waiting.


  7. Tar-Buns says:

    I looked at your web just before lunchtime at school. Called MK after lunch to tell her about your new post. She said you’d called last night and warned HER that it was somber. Well, sure wish I’d known that before I read it at work. Burst into tears at the end of it, then madly tried to get myself composed for the afternoon classes. Thank goodness it was lunchtime and I could go for a quick spin to cool down.

    Well written, as usual. You continue to astound me with your strong prose and insights.


    • pegoleg says:

      Thanks, Sis. Remember those people? Not my business, but I wish we knew what actually happened.

      Checked out the Costco post for a cheery end to the day – teehee. There are a lot of good writers on WordPress, aren’t there? And some, not so much…


  8. Cheryl says:

    I love your posts, Peg. Just this walk you are having with another family… a similar walk, yet you don’t really know the details, just sharing the waiting and wondering in this unfamiliar place. You have loved ones, they have loved ones, you are connected, yet not connected. I like your picture of the hallway at the hospital, very fitting for your post. It’s interesting this bond, this connection with this family you know nothing about and will probably never meet again.

    Maybe its because we’re all connected on our walk in life.. similar experiences, yet different. (Or maybe I’m feeling melancholy due to the 2 glasses I’ve just indulged in on a work night!)


  9. Libertarian says:

    I never got to meet “The Family…” interesting to see that side of my hospital stay! 😉 We patients have a very different view of the hospital as compared to our loved ones who are making treks to waiting rooms for coffee and brief respites from the stress of the situation… thanks for sharing, Peg!! And thanks for spending nearly a week of your life being my comedienne, comforter, insurance guru, and overall amazing sis!! 🙂


    • pegoleg says:

      I’ve got as many weeks, months and years as you need. And we should have hauled your butt out of bed for walks every day, instead of letting you get away with that “sick person in the hospital” routine. Pu-lease!


  10. MKC says:

    Thank you so much for the warning the other day about this blog. I teared up as soon as I saw the subject. You and I were very impacted by this family we came across in the hospital. I think of them and pray that the results were better than we thought they were and of course, we continue to pray that Lib’s results are what we want them to be-non-threatening . Great writing Peg.


  11. joe jackson says:

    Very interesting and touching post. I like how you describe the scene.


  12. Pingback: Blog Update: Intimate Strangers | Ramblings

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