No man is an island
An Independence Day reflection
They did their best to make the surroundings pleasant, but a hospital’s surgical waiting room’s designers did not create an atmosphere for reflection as TVs blare, monitors mark patient progress from pre-op to procedure room to recovery, relatives and friends chatter to distract from the serious business at hand, and helpful volunteers constantly ask permission to be helpful.
So I sat there that recent Thursday, reflecting in the just-barely-comfortable institutional waiting room chair, trying to read a biography and finding myself on the same page after a half hour.
I recalled a similar room on a similar Thursday more than 30 years and 450 miles ago. On the previous Tuesday that year, a doctor told us he found a mysterious “mass” in my wife’s body and he wanted to do surgery the coming Thursday because it might be serious. Urgency ruled.
We were living six hours by car from where our families lived and they could not be of help because they were struggling with health issues of their own. Fortunately, between the wonderful people at Sacred Heart Catholic School and a saintly Methodist neighbor, we did not have to worry about our three elementary school-aged children. They would be safe.
When the nurses rolled her down the hallway to surgery, it was 7:30 a.m. One by one, I watched doctors in surgical gowns come to the room, find a family and talk to them about their loved one. One by one, the families left the room. Noon came and went and still no word on my wife.
That day long ago, I recalled the guys in the neighborhood and how we often talked about being independent adults. We each had a vision of what that would be like and how freedom would feel. As I used the hospital phone to call the school and my neighbor to give an update, I watched the last family leave and I was alone in the room.
I prayed the Memorare.
This, I thought, was what it was like to be an independent adult — alone, but totally dependent on others.
I asked the “pink lady” – what they used to call volunteers – if she had any word on my wife and she left to check. She did not come back before our doctor came out to tell me the mass was not malignant and that although the procedure to remove it was extensive, her prognosis
I waited barely 90 minutes this recent visit to the surgical waiting room, and the news again was good. The children I had to worry about 30 years ago are now older than I was at that time. Our parents have passed from the scene, and family is spread far and wide. Again, I was waiting all alone, praying the Memorare, but with the strong support of my archdiocesan workplace family and classmates from my school days that I had not heard from in 50 years.
As we celebrate our nation’s Independence Day, I will remember my childhood concept of being an independent adult and recall the great poem of John Donne:
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is … a part of the Main.”
Many thanks to the readers who responded to last month’s column, especially to those who caught my pre-Vatican II lapse in memory.
In that column I said it was Dad who prepared breakfast for my brothers and me when we served early Mass. Of course, pre-Vatican II, there was a midnight-to-Mass-time fast for those going to Communion.
What Dad did was give us a paper sack full of non-perishable snacks to eat after Mass. His nod to nutrition was to include a banana. Thanks to those of you who reminded me.
Trosley is editor and general manager of “The Catholic Telegraph.”