Waiting Room Family

“I don’t understand why they just can’t accept it and get on with their lives.”

There are so many interpretations of this statement. Is it about divorce, a breakup, losing a job or money, being unable to make peace with a friend or family member, or being unable to change someone’s habits, point of view, way of living, addiction, etc etc?

No, this statement had nothing to do with any of these life challenges, as difficult and fruitless as they might seem.

I had the distinctly uncomfortable opportunity recently to be in a surgery waiting room. Basically all day. It wasn’t fun. And I didn’t stay there the entire time, either, because they give you a pager so that you can walk around the hospital—such fun that was—so that they may summon you back to the waiting area when the surgeon had completed work and wanted to tell you how well everything went.

I was alone, waiting. I prefer that, because when others—family or friends—are around there is no relaxing and they become a burdensome a distraction. Besides I was trying to work remotely on my laptop—at the least the hospital had excellent wifi reception—and I needed all the shreds of concentration I could weave together. I spent minimal time in the cafeteria and the most time in a nice, long, windowed walkway. But toward the end of my time, and expecting that surgery would be done soon, I went back to the waiting room to, well, wait.

A family had taken over a corner. I was as far away from others as I could get, in a comfy chair with my laptop, and an earbud in one ear to deaden the sound of voices as much as possible. There was the elderly mother in a wheelchair, on oxygen, and a daughter curled up on the divan. They discussed a few personal things, mostly about when the father died while Mom was just getting supper, things like that. Then another daughter showed up.

She had a laptop, and her phone rang fairly frequently. More mild family discussions. The daughter with the laptop had an impatient tone to her voice, especially when talking to Mom.

Then two sons showed up. All of these folks looked to be in their 40s or 50s, maybe, strictly middle class. One of the sons spoke rapidly, with arrogance, and without staring at him to complete my assessment, gave me the impression of being high on meth. The other son appeared to be rational, keeping the conversation going smoothly. It appeared they were all waiting for Mom to go into surgery, but there was a delay. A long one.

Then the conversation turned to another relative who was not present. I never did figure out the consanguinity, but I couldn’t help but listen with rising frustration as they discussed them.

“Them” refers to the person they were discussing, a relative who seemingly suffered from gender dysphoria and was seeking a transgender identity. Mom was sure that they were unhappy with their sex at birth because their mother had raised them that way, made them feel ashamed to be the sexual identity they had at birth.

The daughter with the laptop made the opening statement at the top of this blog.

Meth-son disagreed. He would not stop trying to shake laptop-daughter from her belief that gender reassignment surgery was no use at all and a waste of money and time. When she would proclaim her opinion loudly, meth-son knelt beside her chair, trying to reason with her in a quiet voice. At least the guy was aware of others in the room, overhearing. I think the second time meth-son knelt by his sister, and goddess knows what he was saying to her, I packed up my stuff and left.

I can’t count how many elevator rides I took that day and the next. 15 or 20, maybe, in different pavilions and parking garages, one of the army of relatives and patients wandering the halls. When I was paged back to the waiting room to talk with the surgeon, the family in question was still there.

I sat as far away from them as I could get.

Granted it’s hard for me to remember to use a preferred pronoun, if someone bothers to tell me what they prefer. Even with this, and resolving in my mind the appearance of someone who is trans, I wish to welcome them. It’s hard enough to be her, him, or them, without people like the waiting-room family who, despite their oddities, at least had all joined together, impatient and stressed, to see their mother into surgery and out again–safely, one hopes.

When it comes to accepting diversity, and all the newness in a world I’ve known a very long time, I have to give myself constant reminders about acceptance. I wish more people could do that.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison

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