EAVESDROPPING IN THE HOSPITAL WAITING ROOM - 1010 Park Place
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EAVESDROPPING IN THE HOSPITAL WAITING ROOM

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I’ve been sitting in the gastrointestinal day surgery waiting room since 6:30 this morning. A male nurse with a carpet of fur peering out from the neck of green surgical scrubs has already taken my friend through a pair of double doors marked ‘Oxygen in Use.’

Even though I brought a book and have my cellphone, it’s difficult to blockout the conversations around me.

“My wife only has a third of her stomach left.” The older man paused like he’s gumming a wad of something soft on the roof of his mouth. His bird-like wife sits next to him, seemingly unaware that her condition is being discussed with a total stranger. “Doctors have to check it every so often.”

“She’s having a colonoscopy, you say?” the man across from them asks. His voice is louder than it needs to be, and he’s overweight and barrel chested and is tapping a metal cane against the leg of his chair.

“Her and her daughter don’t get along too well.” The older man is still gumming his invisible wad. “Only child. Been spoiled all her life.”  

I wonder if he’s referring to his wife and her daughter. The man with the cane says, “I’m here to have that big old thing removed.”

I eye his ample belly and shudder to think where that “big old thing” is located.

The waiting room begins to fill with patients wearing white paper wrist bands and family members carrying x-rays and insurance cards.

The wife has moved to a nurse’s desk in the corner and is fumbling through a purse that looks as old as she is. She holds the purse close to her face, her white-tufted head bobbing up and down like she’s pecking for worms on the bottom of the bag. “I’m too old to hurry,” she says. The nurse on the other side of the desk waits patiently to enter information on the computer in front of her.

Two women sitting against the far wall are carrying on an animated conversation. “To remember if I’ve taken my pills, I lay them out on the table.” The woman in blue is motioning with her hands as though she’s lining up imaginary pills. “Later, if they’re gone, I know I’ve taken them.”  

I wonder if she’s ever considered another option like maybe the dog ate them, or they simply rolled under the sofa.  

The man next to me is reading today’s paper and the headline on the back page catches my attention. “Sensual Qualities of Moles” I’m thinking the article is about beauty marks like the ones that adorn Cindy Crawford and Marilyn Monroe, when I notice another headline further down the page. “Color and Flavors of Moles Run the Taste Gamut” 

Eeew! The very thought gives a whole new slant to cannibalism until I see the man is reading the Food & Wine section. I stifle the urge to laugh because the article is referring to molé, the smooth dark Mexican sauce made with chocolate and red chilies. Silly me! 

On the other side of me a man is telling his friend, “I bought a new book yesterday. Born to Shop Paris. It’s fabulous! Antique silver thimbles, old Fortuny fabrics, chi-chi little Left Bank boutiques.” He presses his hands together with delight as though he were praying to the shopping God. “It tells you where to find them all,” he exclaimed.

The nurse across the desk from the older woman is asking, “Do you take any drugs?” The nurse’s backside is too large for the plastic chair and her hips and thighs spill over the edge like great sacks of grain. I wonder if the hospital administrators think she’s a good role model for a healthy lifestyle?

The barrel chested man is still tapping his cane against the chair. “I hear the equipment they shove up there has gotten a lot smaller.”

Just when I think the conversation can’t get any worse, I hear the nurse say, “Tell me about your bowel movements.”

My cellphone says it’s only 7:20… I hope they’ve started with my friend’s procedure.

Love, Brenda

36 Comments

  • Barbara June 8, 2019 at 6:21 am

    Can you imagine what it was like before HIPAA laws. Now at least, doctors are required to discuss patients with family in a private conference room.

    I can remember coming out to talk to family about their loved one’s surgery, and everyone in the waiting room would stop, shift in their seats to face me, and listen in! One time, I came out after completing an operation, and there was a huge family there, who all stood up to gather round and listen to me recount the story of their mother’s surgery. After a little while, I noticed some uncomfortable shifting around, and furtive glances. I stopped and asked if everything was okay. They all turned and looked at a man, standing in the middle of the huddle, who was not related to them at all, but was just enjoying my tale. He smiled, and excused himself.

    Hey…you now see why I love doing what I do! There’s is nothing more interesting than the human condition! Absolutely NOTHING!

    • 1010ParkPlace June 8, 2019 at 10:12 am

      And that’s why I love you, Barbara! You’re so honest about everything! I can’t imagine what you’ve seen and heard as a doctor and a surgeon. I’ve been in enough hospitals to know that even with HIPAA there’s very little privacy. Nothing more interesting than the human condition!! Love that statement, and it’s why, when I travel my favorite thing to do in an airport is people watch, not read or be glued to my phone. Way back in the day my favorite airport in the world was Miami International. On and off I lived at the Ocean Club on Paradise Island in Nassau, so I flew in and out of that airport a lot. Want to know what I saw more than anything else? Old white guys from NYC with a daffy, blonde hooker… I mean honey… on his arm, going to the Bahamas. What a hoot! xoxox, Brenda

  • Laurel June 8, 2019 at 8:26 am

    What a great capture of a waiting room and the crazy conversations we overhear. And yes, thank god for HIPAA. Wow. I’ve taken several people to that waiting room and waited during various procedures. I must live in a more reserved area, as I can’t say I’ve heard anyone sharing anything that interesting. ha!

    • 1010ParkPlace June 8, 2019 at 10:16 am

      Laurel, I will say that particular morning was unusually full of colorful characters. That’s why I wrote about it. I do believe people will tell you ANYTHING if you give them an opening to do so. Thanks sweet lady for stopping by and reading and leaving me a comment. Always great to see you here. xoxox, Brenda

  • Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au June 8, 2019 at 8:53 am

    Isn’t it amazing what people will quite happily “share” when they’re in a medical setting? I worked for a surgeon for a few years and heard way more than I needed to about people’s bowel motions and other internal workings. Another benefit of leaving that job is that I can go back to blissful ignorance again!

    • 1010ParkPlace June 8, 2019 at 10:19 am

      Hi Leanne, Does Australia have the medical privacy laws the US has? Even so, you can hear most everything if you just listen. My family physician’s office has thin walls and I always get an earful when I’m there. xoxox, Brenda

  • Pat June 8, 2019 at 10:42 am

    Hilarious post. Eavesdropping is one of my favorite hobbies and the lines we overhear make great fodder for writers. Sometimes the truth is funnier than anything we can make up.

    • 1010ParkPlace June 8, 2019 at 1:20 pm

      Pat, You’re right! I like to think I have a good imagination, but the things that come out of people’s mouths are priceless! xoxox, Brenda

  • Donna June 8, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    It is funny and appalling, isn’t it? I’m just amazed that some folks have no filters, whatsoever. I used to bring a good book to hide behind, but I’m beginning to think that bringing my Bose headphones, along with my book, will be a better option.
    I hope all went well with your friend!
    XO Donna

    • 1010ParkPlace June 10, 2019 at 2:34 pm

      Donna, Eventually I suspect “filters” will no longer be part of our DNA. The Bose headphones will take care of your ears, but what about your eyes? Oh, if I’d only had the nerve to take pictures of all these people!!! xoxox, Brenda

  • Alana June 8, 2019 at 5:13 pm

    Hospital waiting rooms, ERs (I spent enough time in ER waiting rooms in the last year or so of my mother in law’s life and the one in the bad part of town was especially interesting) and mass transit (buses, trains). For some reason, these are places where all notions of privacy are suspended. There must be a few others (coffee shops?) No wonder writers love to hang out in these places. I have a few stories myself. I just loved your descriptions, especially the one with the woman pecking for worms in her purse.

    • 1010ParkPlace June 10, 2019 at 6:46 pm

      Alana, Thanks so much! I liked the worm reference as well. Some days I’m firing on all cylinders. Other days I’m stuck in the mud. Privacy, especially now that we’re all on social media, is a thing of the past I fear. xoxox, Brenda

  • Sheila-Merle Johnson June 8, 2019 at 11:32 pm

    These snippets of people’s lives are poignant and messy. And you describe them so beautifully. I felt like I was there and could visualize the people and the scenes. @sheilamerle1

    • 1010ParkPlace June 10, 2019 at 6:47 pm

      Thank you, Sheila! I’m so glad you liked them. They were a “rich” group of people, that’s for sure. Lots of fodder for a writer. xoxox, Brenda

  • Beth Havey June 9, 2019 at 6:36 pm

    I love your post and I actually try to honor and understand folks when I over-hear what they are talking about. But sometimes you just want to
    walk over and say, really? Or give them the information they are struggling for. But this is a great post and you have a skill for capturing FOLKS, people
    with their worries and concerns. We are all so damn human. Beth

    • 1010ParkPlace June 10, 2019 at 6:50 pm

      I appreciate your kind words, Beth, and for reading. Can you imagine if we windup communicating with a lot of robots some day? I doubt they will be as quaint and interesting as people. We are an interesting species, that’s for sure. xoxox, Brenda

  • Rebecca Forstadt Olkowski June 9, 2019 at 7:21 pm

    Next time I sit in a hospital outpatient room I’ll have to put my listening ears on. I’m sure it’s fascinating.

    • 1010ParkPlace June 10, 2019 at 6:52 pm

      Rebecca, Here’s hoping we, and everyone we love, are able to stay out of emergency rooms. It’s a place where we’re all vulnerable and scared. Thanks for reading and leaving me a comment. xoxox, Brenda

  • Taste of France June 10, 2019 at 4:30 am

    This is hilarious. I have noticed the doctor’s waiting rooms here have the radio on a little too loud. The perky pop stuff, with lots of chatter. Makes it harder to eavesdrop. Also, the waiting rooms are often closed off with a door, so those seated don’t hear what’s being said at the reception desk. But the last time I was at the hospital (like you, as driver for somebody else and so left to sit in the waiting area), it was a big open space and I don’t remember the radio playing.
    But eavesdropping is so fun…

    • 1010ParkPlace June 10, 2019 at 6:57 pm

      TOF, Eavesdropping is great fun unless the people are in a crisis and then I feel like I’m imposing. Last year I sat at a table in a NYC Italian restaurant next to Billy Joel, his wife and his manager. We were kind of sequestered in a private part of the restaurant, so there was no place for me to go. I felt very uncomfortable, but they carried on with their conversation regardless. I imagine they’re used to not having much privacy. xoxox, Brenda

  • LA CONTESSA June 10, 2019 at 10:03 am

    Well, it made for a GREAT READ and BLOG POST!
    People are nervous in hospitals I would imagine and any chatter is better than SILENCE!
    I LOVED IT!
    XX

    • 1010ParkPlace June 10, 2019 at 6:59 pm

      Elizabeth, Great point! People are nervous… and scared… in hospitals, so I imagine it’s nervous chatter, and yes… anything better than thinking about their loved one in surgery. Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks! xoxox, Brenda

  • Elizabeth Panzer June 10, 2019 at 10:50 am

    This was a wonderful laugh! You captured the bizarreness of it all so well!

    My son has (Had?? We still monitor it closely so I cannot say “had” yet…) a very rare form of heart cancer that metastasized to his lungs before we discovered the tumor in his heart at age 10. We have spent YEARS in hospital waiting rooms. I have often wished I had the energy to detail the bizarre reality of it all. You did a lovely job here and it brings back good memories. (In spite of the pain of it all, Children’s Hospital has always been a place of laughter for me because of its staff and atmosphere. The juxtaposition of pain and laughter is difficult to capture in words at times.)

    • 1010ParkPlace June 10, 2019 at 7:04 pm

      Elizabeth, How frightening to have something so devastating happen to your child… 10 years old. I’ve spent far too much time in hospitals and they’re a great place to be when you need it. I’m always struck by how “up” and happy the nurses are to their patients who are scared and not at their best. Not sure I could do that longterm, especially when children are suffering. Blessings to your son and your family. xoxox, Brenda

  • D.A. Wolf June 10, 2019 at 1:08 pm

    OMG, I laughed out loud! Indeed, these are both fascinating (and dismaying) conversations to overhear. I’ve had a few instances of sitting and listening in waiting rooms lately, waiting for x-rays mostly (my shoulder, my hand… same old, same old), not to mention my second iteration of PT (at a hospital, where the range of conditions and conversations was, umm, not calming). It is always eye-opening!

    xo

    • 1010ParkPlace June 10, 2019 at 7:07 pm

      Hi DA, Glad I could give you a laugh. When I went through chemotherapy, I didn’t want to look around at the other chemo patients, because some of them looked so sick and scared. I buried my face and ears in every Sting concert I could find. I sang and hummed and tapped my feet and lived in my own little world. It helped me immensely. xoxox, Brenda

  • LA CONTESSA June 10, 2019 at 4:08 pm

    I think people are scared in Hospitals especially waiting for LOVED ONES or waiting to be taken in themselves.
    SO, Chit Chat of any kind comes out!It’s a nervous CHIT CHAT!
    YOU captured it BEAUTIFULLY!
    GREAT BLOG POST!
    XX

    • 1010ParkPlace June 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

      Elizabeth, You’re right. People are scared and nervous. Surgical waiting rooms are where the rubber meets the road. Doctors behind big double doors with scalpels and IV bags, hopefully helping people. xoxox, Brenda

    • NB July 2, 2019 at 1:52 pm

      So true. God bless anyone going through a serious medical/health issue. If it has not happened to a person, yet, it will some day….

      • Brenda Coffee July 2, 2019 at 3:41 pm

        NB, Unfortunately we will all have our turn at a health scare…. Thanks for reading and weighing in with your comment, Brenda

  • Rena June 11, 2019 at 12:18 pm

    My husband is usually the one waiting and he has told me some funny stories. He’s a talker who starts up random conversations with everyone.

    • 1010ParkPlace June 11, 2019 at 1:51 pm

      Rena, Glad you could get on to leave me a note! Thanks for coming back. Like Dr. Barbara Bergin said in the first comment, there’s nothing more interesting than the human condition. Nothing! xoxox, Brenda

  • Mithra Ballesteros June 12, 2019 at 7:29 am

    You capture the absurdities very well. This had a nice “David Sedaris” dark tone that I liked. Keep going!

    • Brenda Coffee June 12, 2019 at 3:01 pm

      Thank you, Mithra! Compliments from you are always valued. xoxox, Brenda

  • Carol S. June 12, 2019 at 7:58 pm

    That is really clever and funny. Thanks for the smiles tonite.

    • Brenda Coffee June 13, 2019 at 9:43 am

      Thank you, sweet Carol. I’m happy you enjoyed it, and I thank you for reading and leaving me a comment. I appreciate you! xoxox, Brenda

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