My night at the hospital

Published 8:00 pm Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Doctors say the best predictor of a fall risk is having fallen. So falling twice in the same number of days — well, that’s more like a sure thing. Thus begins a story that ends with the advent of a new rolling walker and the departure of a sofa/loveseat combo.    

But I must go back.

Tuesday night saw me heading into the local sports complex, ready to watch a friend’s son slug it out on second base. Before I could settle down in the bleachers, though, I got a text. Next thing I knew I was 50 miles north, vying for a spot among the masses in the waiting room at UMC. If you’ve never been in said waiting room for any length of time, you will not think much of my plight. If, on the other hand, you are experienced in such matters, you have an inkling of what my all-nighter was like.   

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First, there were the security guards who checked my bags for weapons. (Thoroughly, I might add, which gave me pause.)

Next, there was the cavalier receptionist. She had obviously been asked “how much longer” one too many times.

And then we had the ER patients-to-be, a cast of characters only Chaucer could satirize properly: the moaning lady in the wheelchair; a couple sound asleep in their pajamas; a policeman watching his blanket-covered prisoner.

I took up residence on a strand of interlocked chairs, east wall, central. Across from me sat a bandaged woman, a nice sort who sought to fill me in on her woes and the wait times of those around us. 

“Since noon,” she whispered, nodding toward the lady in the wheelchair.

I looked at her incredulously.

“The girl who was holding her head in pain — you know, the one that just gave up and left,” she said, patting a still warm vinyl seat. “Three hours. Three solid hours.”

My prime concern, Patient No. 1, arrived by ambulance. No delays for her in the waiting room. No, not there. Just interminable hours in the treatment area. Her first stop was a “trauma” bay. In this case, the only obvious trauma was inflicted by an over-active air conditioner. A nurse eventually moved her to a room across the hall (much more temperate) with two chairs. I was invited to plunk down on one of them, so I did. That was about 10 p.m., and we were assured all was well. I tried to catnap against the hard seat and an even harder wall. It was nearly my undoing.

Meanwhile, the clock ticked slowly onward.

1 a.m.

2 a.m.

At 4:30 a.m., Patient No. 1 was moved to an observation room. The chairs there at least had padding. My dad’s even reclined. In due course, we slept the sleep of hospital dwellers — interrupted and uncomfortable.

Hours later, an occupational therapist sounded the wake-up alarm. It resonated with the call for change, as in Patient No. 1 needed a new game plan. My time, from that point, was compressed. I took care of business.

List of medicines. Check.

Dad’s lunch (no pickles, no mustard). Check.

Call Aunt Marie. Check.

Parking pass. Check.

Therapy appointment. Check.

Wait to see doctor. Check.

Wait to be released. Check. Check. Check.

The next day I acquired Patient No. 1’s new wheels from a business I had never before had cause to frequent. I arrived five minutes before closing, but the nice guy at United Medical on Brookway Boulevard didn’t complain. On the home front, the muscles in our family had moved three tables, two sofas and a recliner to forge improved pathways in my parents’ living room. Rolling walkers, you see, swing wide.  As we played “Trading Spaces” with her furniture, Patient No. 1 waxed sentimental: “It is so very hard to get old.”

“You aren’t getting old. You are old,” my brother, 60, quipped. “It’s me who’s getting old.”   

He had just moved a heavy couch, so we will forgive his bluntness. But I suppose he is right. What is the hallmark of aging? Is it equipment to aid mobility? A Medicare card? Geriatric vitamins? The loss of driving privileges? It’s hard to explain rationally, but I think I saw it in scenes this week. My dad in the parking garage at UMC, his hair ruffled. (His hair is never ruffled.) My mom drinking a Boost through a straw. The resigned look on their faces when the oval coffee table had to go.

Underlying all such observations is a realization: We are the lot of us marching toward it, this aging thing. Some are further along than others, yes, but we are all on the same trajectory. May we agree? A hospital stay can be a good teacher. Oh, the lessons you can learn. 

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at