5 Waiting Room Observations
by Emily Conrad
On Friday at about 7 AM, I traveled with my younger brother to Chicago. My mom, dad, and sister had left in a separate car about fifteen minutes before.
If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may know why we made the three-hour drive: my dad was having surgery to remove his cancerous prostate.
The days leading up to the trip were emotionally tense and jam-packed. For my part, I was making travel arrangements for Chicago, but I was also preparing a church event (for which I was the committee chair) and helping our exchange student get ready for an overnight trip with school.
The morning we left, we were running late. We remembered needing quarters for tolls at the last minute. My sister called to arrange last-minute details. So there I was, counting quarters, talking on the phone with my sister, waiting for my brother, when I hear the exchange student call my name urgently.
She’d missed the bus that would take her to school for her trip.
(For the record, I don’t blame her. She was at the door, but couldn’t figure out our lock, which I struggle with myself sometimes.)
On top of this, there were the emotional and relational tolls of having a family member with cancer. A big part of the reason me and two of my siblings went to Chicago was to be there for Mom in the event of bad news, something Dad’s worsening numbers suggested was possible.
The whole thing was set up for a long, tense day of waiting. I went into it fully expecting to have to exert a lot of effort to keep my cool and be nice.
But as soon as the car pulled away from the curb, I was in for one very long surprise.
The three hours to Chicago went quickly. The entire day in the waiting room slid right by. The time waiting with Dad through recovery progressed fairly rapidly, too. And then he was in his room, Mom was settling in, and the three of us went to a hotel. We arrived at about ten PM.
If only all the times of waiting in my life went so quickly! This has me thinking about what went so right, and how I might apply that to other endeavors.
Here are five observations from the waiting room.
Waiting is better when we have company.
Going into it, my mom had considered not bringing any of us along. There wouldn’t have been anyone to keep her company, to distract her, to go for food with her, to make her laugh or to laugh along.
For myself, I know that when I’m down to start with and then I’m alone, I tend to wallow. I listen to sad music, think about how alone I am, and pull further into myself. Being with the right person or people, however, can encourage me and make what would’ve been a time of painful, isolated waiting a time of bonding and peace, if not joy.
I know my writer friends and I trade encouragement and keep each other company along the long road to writing success (whatever that is, but I suppose that’s a subject for another post).
Whatever we’re waiting for, we can find others waiting for the same thing. Chances are, we won’t all be discouraged at the same time, so we can help pick each other up and make the waiting easier.
Waiting is better when we choose our spot with care.
The waiting room we used at the University of Chicago Medicine, where Dad had his procedure, is called the Sky Lounge. It is on the seventh floor of a building directly south of downtown Chicago. It has big windows, comfortable chairs, a nearby café, and outlets where you can charge your phone or other electronics.
When my brother and I first joined the family on arrival, they were in some of these chairs, but there were a few other groupings of seating areas between us and the windows. After Mom and Dad went back so he could be prepped for surgery, my sister thought we should move to a grouping of chairs right by the windows. She knew one such seating area was open beyond a partition.
I’m not even sure why I was hesitant to follow. I was comfortable, I guess, and we had enough where we were. I wasn’t really thinking about how long we’d be there. The wait was a given, and I was there for that purpose, not to enjoy a view.
But my sister didn’t settle. She found an available set of four chairs right in front of the windows.
We loaded up all of our stuff, carried it over, and set up right. Clouds and light snow dampened the view of the skyline, but we were still able to make out buildings and talk about them. We looked up a guide to the buildings online and pointed them out. We watched as night fell and the lights began to come on.
At one point, I tried to take a picture, but with the windows and distance and limitations of a camera phone, it didn’t turn out. Still, the view was good enough to try.
Moral of the long story? Admit to yourself you’ll be there for a while and don’t settle for the lesser view when you can make the effort now and enjoy the Chicago skyline for the rest of the livelong day.
What does this look like in other situations? It might mean buying the pretty notebook to write in, or creating an office space for yourself in your house. How can you make your time more enjoyable right where you are? There are some things you can’t change about a wait, but you can take action to make it more enjoyable.
Waiting is better when we don’t watch the clock.
After an hour or two, we all downloaded a game to our phones that lets us send pictures back and forth, similar to Pictionary. The app doesn’t let you see any of the notifications or even the time or battery life on your phone while you’re in it. Not having easy access to the time kept us from watching the clock, counting down minutes, and wondering whether Dad’s surgery would take more or less than the estimated time. (It took more, something I didn’t really even realize until after.)
If you know it’s going to take a while, stop counting minutes, hours, days, or even years. Put your timetable aside knowing that God is in control of time and He has your best interests at heart.
Waiting is better when we find little adventures to break up the monotony.
Not only was the game a little adventure that spurred more conversation, but we also ventured away from our spot in search of coffee, restaurants, and gift shops. These gave us more stories to trade with each other when we got back, in addition to a chance to stretch our legs.
During the longer waits in life, we can still plan for other fun while we wait. While waiting to receive the final galleys on my upcoming novel, I planned a trip out west. While waiting for the book the launch, I’ve opened our house to an exchange student. In both of these cases, I could’ve just thought, “No, I have too much on my plate.” But the reality is, I have plenty of time in between events, and doing these things has been very, very good for my writing. And for my faith. And for myself as a person.
Waiting is better when we recognize the importance of what we’re doing right now, today.
It was easier to accept that I’d be sitting in a waiting room all day by remembering I wasn’t only waiting for the end result. I was there to support Mom, who, without us, would’ve been sitting there alone. Also, we wanted the surgeon to take his time so he could spare as many nerves as possible.
It’s easier to wait for publication when I focus on how the time spent working toward that goal improves my writing and allows me to produce more manuscripts now with less pressure.
Though we don’t like to admit it, there are reasons for our wait. There is a reason we’ve come to this place of slow happenings, and those slow happenings will be worth every second when God’s purpose is revealed.
Now that I’m out of the Sky Lounge and back home, I’m happy to report that the initial news from Dad’s surgery is positive. The cancer hadn’t visibly spread (though there is still some risk of that), and some of the nerves were spared. He still has a long recovery in front of him, and he may experience lifelong effects, so he (and I) would appreciate your prayers.
And yet, I’m grateful. I’m grateful God is still God while we’re in waiting rooms. I’m grateful He provided everything we needed for a day that was better than I’d imagined possible. But that’s our God, always doing more than we think or ask.
How have you handled times of waiting in your life? What tips would you add to the list?