Persons, places and things: Waiting in the ER


By Barb Arland-Fye


A 30-something woman wrapped in a blanket plopped down in a chair in the dimly lit ER waiting room near my husband Steve and me, wincing in pain. She was a nurse who thought that her gallbladder might be the source of her agonizing pain. The woman seated next to me leaned her head against her loved one’s shoulder as she tried to block the pain of an excruciating headache and lightheadedness.

A man on the other side of the divider in the waiting room coughed and gagged uncontrollably while another man, struggling with pain, could not get up from his seat when an ER staffer called his name. Earlier, we saw a grandmother, holding and comfortingly patting her baby granddaughter while the baby’s worried mother provided information at the check-in window.

No one anticipates a trip to the emergency room, including me, sent there by my primary care physician because of a dangerously low heart rate. The waiting room conveyed a sense of misery in the faces of the people who crossed our path that long day. I couldn’t help but think of Dante’s “Inferno” and the vivid images of misery he described as he descended into the depths of hell before his journey through the realms of heaven.


In the midst of the misery in the ER, however, we found companionship through conversations with the people sitting closest to us. We shared a common bond in our (hopefully) temporary health challenges. We joked about the irony of waiting for emergency treatment.

We understood that triage care is fair and appropriate in determining how to deal with too many people needing treatment and not enough staff to provide it. Still, I became frustrated as staff called names of patients who had arrived in the ER long after our little group had. The woman with the gallbladder problem pointed out that our ailing members required procedures that the fast-track patients did not!

Patience is not one of my virtues. Checking emails and reading articles on my smartphone lost appeal in the fifth hour. I approached the check-in counter to ask for an end date to the wait when a nurse called my name. In my ER hospital room, waiting for the doctor, I thumbed through a magazine we receive at The Catholic Messenger, landing on a story I am certain God intended me to read. The article, “A Space to Grow in Gaza,” conveyed a story of hope despite the unrelenting challenges.

These passages delivered a clear message to me: “Overcrowded neighborhoods, noise and pollution, as well as limited basic services, such as access to clean water, electricity and basic health care services are common. Years of war and bombardment have made a deep and lasting psychological impact on people of all ages … Despite all of the hardship, Gazans remain adaptable and resilient” (“One” magazine, December 2022).

My nurse, working in the 10th hour of her 12-hour shift, apologized for the long wait. No need to apologize, I told her, expressing my appreciation to be receiving care that people in some other countries cannot access. I left the ER with hope, potential solutions to my health challenge and prayers for everyone in this world to receive the health care they need.

(Contact Editor Barb

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