Over the course of many years, I have spent a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms hoping for good news and, at the same time, dreading the bad. I can remember clearly moments of time suspended by a pounding fear resounding in my ears like a thunderous cannon firing relentlessly.
Sometimes in a waiting room, you simply wait. Wait for your loved ones to get better or go through routine tests. There is an art to surviving and thriving in hospital waiting rooms, an art my sister, Louise, perfected. For the record, if you have to twirl your thumbs as long minutes of time drop painfully slowly into history, you want to be with Louise.
You do not want to be with John Tinker.
The reason is that Louise is a proper Southerner who gets involved in other people’s lives. Tink is a proper New Englander who believes that asking "How are you today?" is an invasion of someone’s privacy. As I have often said: the Tinkers stay out of other people’s business. This drives me crazy.
A day in a hospital waiting room with Louise will deliver countless stories. Before we leave, she will know everyone in the room, which of their relatives is there and why as well as their mamas’ maiden names. She will know the story behind the story. She will become so involved that she will be invited to all their future birthday parties, attend their funerals and exchange Christmas cards with them.
Now, before any non-Southerners judge me on this, just let me say this: People love her caring. They eat it up. They will come and share their updates and stories with her. She will revel in their triumphs and sorrow over their sad news. I’ve always enjoyed this about her. After all, it makes time pass in a dreary waiting room when you can get both live-action reports and human-interest stories, but I really appreciated it after several days spent in a hospital waiting room with Tink. He sees nothing, asks nothing or knows nothing, so he has nothing to report.
One late night, the solitude of our waiting room was interrupted by a grim-looking man and his daughter, who was sniffling and crying. After a respectful period, I began a conversation with them and, bit by bit, doing the proper Southern inquisition, I learned that his wife had been discovered lying unconscious, facedown in their neighborhood. She had been transferred from the emergency room to ICU, but the doctors were clueless as to what happened — a heart attack, a stroke, an accident — no one knew. They were standing anxiously on the precipice of uncertainty and fear. Tink joined me in consoling and sympathizing, but he asked nary a question.
When I was called back to check on our loved one, I knew I was in trouble. I hesitated for a moment to leave. I looked over my shoulder regretfully. I felt certain that leaving Tink in charge would assure that I would never know the end of the story.
An hour later, I texted him from the hospital room and asked if they came to get the family.
That’s about the extent of what I learned from him. I fired off a series of questions which he couldn’t answer until, finally, he asked, "What, are you writing a book?"
"I’m invested," I responded.
They had shared their story, and I was emotionally invested because I could empathize. I know how it feels to wait for news on your unconscious mama. For the rest of our time in that hospital waiting room, I took charge and did my own investigation. I did not count on any secondhand information, primarily because I couldn’t count on it.
So if you want to know how that story ended, I can tell you this much: Don’t ask Tink.
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