The Waiting Room | Allie Griffith
In the hospital waiting room, we harmonize as we wait. A woman clutches an emesis bag to her lips, setting the rhythm: short, rapid breaths in and out — a whoosh then crinkle of plastic. A boy coughs in wet, staccato bellows. Half-asleep in her wheelchair, a woman chants, “I used to live in Fairlawn, Ohio,” to no one and everyone. On cue, the man on the phone next to me segues into the bridge, “‘What do you do for me?’ Bitch, I pay bills.” A moan, sneeze, hiccup. A cell phone alarm and groan.
A sign on the wall: Please note that emergency room patients are called back according to priority level based on medical history and current condition, not arrival time.
I weigh my mortality against the sounds in the waiting room, listening for the most pressing diagnosis. Which cough is Level 3 (“Urgent”)? Which whimper is Level 4 (“Semi-Urgent”)?
In the seventh hour, the waiting room reaches capacity. Our melody crescendos into a desperate requiem, a spiritual polyphonic score that stops time. Coughs become battle cries and moans mark last wishes. A teenager paces up and down the aisle, yanks at his hair. We have transcended South Bend, Indiana and have arrived in purgatory.
I sigh, softly. My own symptoms (sharp abdominal pain, fever) have muted and I start to wonder why I am here. I want to transpose the entire song, offer up my revisions to the composer.
About the Author:
Allie Griffith is a writer living in the Midwest and an MFA student at Antioch University.