God In The Waiting Room
Sitting in the urgent care waiting room, I fought back nausea and thoughts of fifty worst-case scenarios. The pain in my lower back thrummed with my breath, ebbing and flowing like waves. I stared at the dark wood floors, with their thick and uneven wood grain stretching like ribbons from wall to wall.
The pastel yellow interior paint was already scuffed around the baseboards with black marks from errant wheelchairs and dollies. The coral fabric chairs that seemed so bright and cheerful when I entered ten minutes ago had morphed into a collection of ink blots, sweat stains and spilled soda.
The grey-haired man entered the room and scanned the empty chairs, then me. Our eyes met and I looked away quickly, barely catching his warm smile. He headed to the window, picked up the stack of forms, and exchanged the usual pleasantries with the receptionist.
Some well-intentioned staff member decorated the lobby for Valentine’s Day – even though it was only mid-January – by hanging a garland of tinsel and paper hearts over the intake window. But the hearts were overtaken by the myriad signs warning about travel to West Africa, about the insurance plans they did not take, and about wearing a face mask if you had flu symptoms. I wondered idly if this man had Ebola.
He sat across from me with his clipboard and pen and papers, and I watched as he pulled out his wallet and fumbled for insurance cards and identification.
“Pain in the ass,” I said. “All those forms.” I don’t know why I said this – I mean, the forms were a pain in the ass, but I was never the kind of person who talked to strangers in waiting rooms. Both my mother and father were, when they were alive, and I have stores of memories of teenage mortification at their overtures to strangers about the weather or whatever. But here I was, striking up a conversation with some man I’d never met before. He probably thought I was hitting on him, even though I felt so asexual and undesirable that the thought of getting naked with someone brought a fresh wave of nausea.
“Part of modern life,” he said, his brown eyes bright and warm.
“It’s ridiculous,” I said, words tumbling out of me. “And these insurance companies. Mine sent me to one clinic already today, and then that clinic turned out not to be part of my network, so then they told me I had to come here instead. I must have driven twenty miles out of my way today. Wasted day.”
His pen stopped moving across the paperwork, and he studied my face like I had his insurance policy etched there. Normally, if someone stared at me, I got uncomfortable fast and tried to break the contact, but this man was so, I don’t know, caring and kind that I just looked right back at him and let him see the fear and sadness lurking under my impatience.
“Don’t be scared,” he said. “Part of modern life is also good modern medicine. They have good doctors here.”
The tears flared in my nose before springing to my eyes in a rush of emotion so strong I forgot to breathe.
As though reading my mind, he said “It’s not the cancer coming back. The pain is a kidney infection. That’s all.”
Even as I blinked in surprise that a stranger would say this to me, I felt relief flood through my body. My shoulders sagged and my stomach muscles loosened. Even the pain ebbed for a few beats. The tightness around my jaw vanished.
“How do you know?” I said. It came out in a low whisper.
“Your mother watches over you,” he said.
“Who are you?” My nostrils flared with the sob I tried to hold in. To unleash it would be to let forth a torrent of emotion.
“Don’t you know?”
The door to the examination area opened, and a nurse with a short black ponytail and pale blue scrubs called my name.
“God?” I said. “An angel?”
He just smiled and went back to his paperwork, like nothing happened.
When I came out of the examination – kidney infection confirmed and prescription for antibiotics in hand – he was gone. I tapped on the intake window glass, and the receptionist looked at me through thick-framed glasses.
“The older man who was here before…did he leave?”
“Older man?” she scrunched her nose. “No one else has been in for the past hour or so. Just you.”
more by LYNN LIPINSKI
photograph by Rolands Lakis