My sister and brother-in-law had warned me that my dad’s follow-up eye appointment would take a while, perhaps even several hours. But I wasn’t worried. I had cleared the day to give them a break from the parent care-giving duties that had kicked up a notch in the past several months. Plus, I thought the previous appointments had been long because they involved a procedure. This was a follow-up appointment. Even if we waited for an hour, we still had time to swing by and pick up my mom and go to dinner. How bad could it be?
My optimism is a really a fascinating thing.
At first it was typical waiting. They shuffled us from one waiting room to another for a couple of eye tests the doctor would need. Fair enough, and I kept thinking of it as passing the time we would already be waiting, and it would bring us closer to the actual appointment. We waited maybe 20 minutes for each test, and each test took about 5-10 minutes. So far, not so bad. And we got there early, so I was thinking we were actually ahead of the game.
I work in a large academic medical center. You’d think I’d know better.
After about an hour or so we landed in what we came to think of as the Final Waiting Room. The inner sanctum, the final boss fight. It was smaller than the others, and there was only one seat available when we got there. Soon after a woman got up and left, so we sat together. Time passed. My dad and I chatted pleasantly, had spells of companionable silence. We tried to get some of his favorite news websites to come up on my phone, but nothing would load at first. When they finally did, it was the mobile version, which was unfamiliar to him, and he couldn’t find the articles he wanted.
Outside the late fall afternoon light started to fade. I checked my watch. 4 pm. Still time to see the doctor and pick up my mother.
Suddenly a newcomer swept in and started chatting, asking questions. The spell of quiet of the Final Waiting Room was broken. The woman was new to this doctor, and she was quickly told by the old-timers that the wait could be 3 or more hours. They were mostly sanguine about it, and were soon telling stories of past waits like we were huddled around a campfire, which considering how dark it was getting outside, would have felt kinda nice. My dad and I are introverted in those kind of situations, so we just listened. But then people began sharing their appointment times. I perked up, expecting our 2:30 time to be the earliest.
I sometimes wonder if unbridled optimism is something that needs to be treated medically.
People started chiming in: 1:45 pm, 1:15 pm, 2 pm, 1 pm. Turns out there were two of us with a 2:30. I marveled that the energy in the room had not changed. People were actually kind of laughing, as if we had cracked a code. We had no idea when we’d get called, but at least we knew the order. The assistant came into the room and called out a name — it was Mr. 1 pm; we all cheered for him. The assistant looked surprised and a little uncomfortable. That’s right, lady, I thought, we’re all in this together now, so you just keep calling those names, and we’ll be just fine. The talk turned to recipes and food, so I tuned out (read about my glorious food fails). Outside, the predicted storm had begun with a steady rain.
The assistant came in and called Ms. 1:15, and now we were really getting into it.
“Goodbye!” “Good luck!” “Have a great weekend!”
The woman next to me leaned over and said, “I feel like we should have handkerchiefs.”
“Yes!” I answered.
So when Ms. 1:45 got called, we waved our hands like handkerchiefs, and sent her off properly like the Queen Elizabeth leaving Southampton.
At 5 pm I asked my sister to tell my mom we were running late. At 5:30, it was finally our turn. There were only a few of us left at that point, but the pretend handkerchiefs waved just as energetically. We got sent off, the doctor was happy with my dad’s progress, and we did, eventually, get to have dinner with my mom.
I just looked up at the Eckhart Tolle calendar I have, and this month it says, “Waiting is a state of mind. Basically, it means that you want the future; you don’t want the present. With every kind of waiting, you unconsciously create inner conflict between your now and your projected future. This greatly reduces the quality of your life by making you lose the present.”
Wise words — I would only add that waving handkerchiefs in the now works too.