Sunday, March 18, 2012

In the waiting room

My daughter got hit with strep throat on Monday, so I took her to the doctor's on Tuesday. When we walked inside of the pediatrician's office, we were greeted by a roomful of glum faces filling the waiting room. There weren't even any seats available; that's how crowded it was. Immediately I knew that we had a long wait ahead of us, and that most likely we were last.

Thinking in advance, I had packed my daughter's iPod for her to play with and my iPad so I had something to read, and if worse came to worse she could play the few games I had stored on the tablet.

Time wore on in the usual way it does in a waiting room--slowly. I won't bore you with the details. People came and people went; you know the routine.

As our wait approached an hour and my daughter's pleas--"Daddy, my throat hurts. Are we next?"--grew more frequent, a new patient sat down next to me. And within five minutes, she and her teenage daughter were called into the exam room.

The woman sitting a few seats down, who had been waiting longer than I had, frowned and shot me a suspicious look. I just shrugged and laughed, as if to say, "These things happen. You know how it goes."

And then another family walked in and were literally called back even before they checked in at the receptionist desk.

The few remaining patients shifted uncomfortably at this. I could feel the hackles on the back of neck's rising. The woman tossed me another dissatisfied look, and my daughter groaned again. I reminded myself that I was lucky even to have health care and to live in a country privileged enough to have doctor's available at a moment's notice.

This helped on a cognitive level, but still I could feel my muscles tensing and my blood pressure rising. By nature, I'm a pretty impatient person. Waiting rooms can be torturous for me, as I sit stranded, thinking of the countless chores I could be completing in the meantime--shelves dusted, floors mopped, and carpets vacuumed.

But before my impatience set in, I caught myself. "No," I told myself, "I'm not going to be taken hostage by my frustration. This isn't about me; it's about my daughter." I had to be patient and calm for her; after all, she was the sick one, not me. She's five and doesn't have the ability to cope with discomfort the way an adult does.

Besides, my agitation was pure delusion, like painting feathers on a fish. The situation wasn't saying, "I am frustrating; I am annoying." I was--all of my tension was my own creation, my own projection. And I had seen through it.

So I took a deep breath and swallowed. I offered her a drink of water, which she gladly accepted before sinking deeper into her seat in misery. It was awful to watch her suffer and be incapable of relieving her pain. The poor kid had just gotten over a stomach bug and now here she was sick again. I gladly would have traded places with her in a second. but that's wasn't an option. All I could do was sit next to her, hold her when she wanted me to, and sooth her.

And then the Bodhisattva's Vow ran through my head, the first line in particular: "Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them all."

Here I was, sitting in a room of uncomfortable people, including my daughter, and instinctively all I could think of was my own agitation. As someone who chants the Bodhisattva Vow daily, I wondered where my compassion and sense of duty were.

I realized that I needed to be patient for everyone in that waiting room, not just my daughter. I could add to the tension in the room or try my best to alleviate it.

"Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them all," I repeated to myself.

So I took a deep breath and scanned the remaining faces in the waiting room. They were tired, ornery, and uncomfortable. Then I did the only thing I could do: I smiled at everyone.

I hope it made a difference.

Photo borrowed from Creative Commons Flickr user: Melissa Venable.

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