Part of this post was first published on this blog on Feb. 15, 2012. My post on Monday about OCD and health stirred up some memories that I wanted to share, and what I had written over a year ago was a starting point.
When I was a child and teenager, I spent a lot of time waiting.
Some of this waiting happened in actual waiting rooms, places of calm in the midst of the sadness and fear of hospitals.
I was surrounded by sickness growing up. I’m the youngest of three, with two older brothers. My oldest brother is 11 years older than me. My next oldest brother is two years older.
My next oldest brother was born with spina bifada and clubfeet. As a result, he had to have multiple surgeries as a child and spent a lot of time in the hospital.
My father had a major stroke when he was 54. I was 12 at the time. His speech and movement were badly affected, and he had to retire from his job as a rural letter carrier for the post office. Later that same year, he suffered a blood clot in one of his kidneys and almost died before the kidney was removed.
My mother also had her share of illnesses and hospital visits.
So the waiting rooms in the hospitals in the nearby city were very familiar to me.
The nicest one was a large room that had real furniture, like you’d find in a private home. Chair railings ran along the wall. Paintings covered the walls.
There were volunteers stationed at a counter, and they helped visitors find their way around the hospital and answered general questions. They were usually women who wore pink-jacket “uniforms.” They were called “Pink Ladies.”
Though people came and went, there was a hush over the room. No one spoke loudly or laughed or cried where you could hear. It was like being in a church.
When I was 7 or 8 years old, when my brother was ill quite a bit, my parents would leave me in the waiting room while they went up to be with him. In those days, at that hospital, children under 12 were not allowed to visit patients.
I always had a book with me, and I would sit in one of the nice green armchairs, my always-present purse tucked up against me, and read. Sometimes I would look up and stare at the paintings or the signs on the wall and on the swinging doors that went back into the main part of the hospital.
One night, I wasn’t kept waiting downstairs. I was allowed to go up to my brother’s hospital room.
My mother came down to the waiting room and led me back through the swinging doors into the part of the hospital that was usually forbidden to me.
I don’t remember what she told me at the time, if anything. But I had heard enough talk to know that my brother was very sick.
I remember walking into my brother’s room. He was lying in bed. He was very pale. He lay as if exhausted. He didn’t look at me.
My mother lightly pushed me towards the bed.
I stared at my brother. But I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t say anything.
I stood there for probably just a couple of minutes, and then my mother took me back downstairs.
Years later, my mother told me that the doctors were afraid that my brother wouldn’t live through surgery scheduled for the next day. So permission was granted for me to go to his room to see him. As my mother put it, the nurses “looked the other way” as she led me to his room.
My brother made it through the surgery fine.
Remember the concerns I expressed in my post about OCD and self-doubts about health?
It has become clear to me that I have a difficult time believing I’m sick “enough,” injured “enough,” because I’ve seen a lot of illness in others, especially family members.
I was the lucky child. I didn’t have physical disabilities. I didn’t have serious illnesses. I was the one fortunate enough to be waiting in the waiting room.
It’s not an earth-shattering realization, and I don’t want to start complaining about my every pain. I’m grateful for my overall good health.
Of course, for all my good physical health, even as a child I was beginning to show signs of mental illnesses: OCD and depression.
Those illnesses were more hidden, though. Less talked about.
Perhaps some of us who have dealt with low self-esteem, perhaps as a part of depression, have this way of thinking: other people are worth concern. We’re not.
That’s not a healthy way of thinking. All of us are worthy of concern from others and ourselves. It’s OK to ask for help from others. It’s OK to express our pain and sadness.
And what a blessing it is to know that someone is listening. Thank you, my dear blogging friends, for listening.