For 49 miserable minutes I had been waiting, pregnant and achy and irritable, sitting in my doctor’s waiting room. I was fidgety, “heavy with child,” and it was uncomfortable for me to sit for long periods of time. My baby’s robust 9-lb body (yes, 9 pounds, and my second baby was a 12 pounder) was crammed tightly into my tummy, jabbing into my ribs and pressing on my sciatic nerve. Pure misery.
It’s not that I’m especially impatient; it’s just that I value efficiency, I was miserably swollen, and was weary with waiting. It seemed ridiculous and unnecessary to keep a room full of pregnant women on hold for almost an hour. I had recently been called back to a smaller waiting room only to wait even longer. But even with the satisfaction of advancing, I still felt the misery of all of the pregnant women still waiting it out in the general holding area I had just left.
Frustrated for all of us, I internally fumed that the doctor should be more considerate of people’s time, or her staff should not try to cram so many people onto the schedule. I stared at the door to the examining room directly across from me, willing the doctor to open the door and invite me in already. I was snapped out of my grumbling thoughts when the door to the examining room suddenly swung open. My doctor stepped partially through the door to leave the room, still speaking in a soothing voice to the female patient sitting behind her.
I glanced past my doctor and caught a glimpse of the woman sitting in the examining room. Her face was flushed and wet with tears....pained red eyes from weeping....clearly traumatized...a look of devastation... I was startled. Alarmed, I sat up quickly in my chair. Unconsciously, I placed my hand on my own heart in a comforting gesture.
Oh no, oh no, oh no….what just happened in there??? What news did she just learn??? Something horrible. My fuming had evaporated.
Closing the door, the doctor disappeared down the hall into the nurse’s station. I sat there, wide eyed, caught up in this patient’s alarm, my mother’s heart pulsing with empathy. Oh no… Oh no… Realizing I had been holding my breath, I exhaled back into my chair, my own discomforts suddenly feeling so petty—my entitlement to a quick in-and-out exam now feeling shameful.
Comparing our situations, mine was discomfort. Hers was devastation. Mine was a plump 10-lb baby boy who was perfectly developed and ready to be delivered any day. Hers was.....I didn’t know.... news that her baby had died in utero? Or that she was carrying a severely deformed child? News that she would never be able to have children?
I suddenly appreciated the weighty task that my doctor had in delivering not only babies, but delivering sometimes terribly troubling news. I suddenly felt deep respect for my doctor in taking her time with each patient, as she did. I suddenly was unconcerned with my own discomfort.
I will never know what her devastating news was that day, but since then, when I am stuck in a frustrating situation that requires me to wait beyond what I think is reasonable, I often reflect back to her. Not knowing her name, I logged her in my memory as “the patient.” I remember her expression of devastation… her pained sad eyes… her face flushed with tears. In my mind, the examining door opens, and I walk towards her. I see us standing face to face… “the patient” and “the impatient.” And in silence, my hand returns to my heart.