Waiting in Shame
My parents wheeled me into the third floor waiting room at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital. “Stay here. We’ll come get you after we’re done,” they said as they left my sister and me behind.
I didn’t know what a triple bypass was. I still don’t fully understand. All of that medical jargon overwhelms me. I knew that it had to do with the heart because that’s what my mom told me. She told me Pahpah’s heart needed fixing. Something was wrong with it. Something was really wrong with it, which is why it was a triple bypass. That’s all I knew.
My parents left us in the waiting room while they went to visit my grandpa, denying us kids the chance to see him in his hospital room. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was only eleven or because I was too big and bulky. Regardless, with both legs broken and in casts, I was tired of being limited. Toys surrounded me on all sides as my sister navigated my wheelchair further into the room, but I couldn’t pick up any. She was in control of where I went and what I had, so I sat as a compliant party, waiting to reach wherever she decided would be our destination.
To my left, another pair of siblings who were playing looked up as we maneuvered past them.
“What happened to you?!” exclaimed the little girl. Her brother shot her a threatening look and hushed her, “Shhh! that was so rude!”
I could feel my face burning scarlet. I looked away without a word, embarrassed at my handicapped state. It was normal for people to point or stare, but it’s easy to ignore if no one talks to you. I wasn’t ready for complete strangers to question my state. I didn’t ask for this. I wanted nothing more than to be free of these limitations. I yearned to hop out of my wheelchair and crouch on the floor with my sister, putting together second-hand puzzles that were missing pieces. Instead, she handed me a Highlights for Kids magazine, which served its purpose well, as I was able to avoid eye contact with the little girl. My sister sat against the back wall and I faced her. We read.
Soon enough, I heard adult voices behind me, squawking away like a Charlie Brown cartoon. I kept my head down and my eyes focused on the “Find the Differences” puzzle. I felt a light tap on my shoulder. A small rectangle of paper fell to my lap. As I craned my neck to see who was the messenger, I saw the little girl hustling to her parents in the doorway, with her red, tear-stained face hidden in her hands. In an unruly scribble, the note read, I’m sorry if that was rude. I turned around to tell her it was okay, but she was gone.
On the way home, I stuck the piece of paper in the backseat armrest of our Chrysler Town & Country. It wouldn’t haunt me there. I wouldn’t have to tell anyone that I made another little girl cry. I wouldn’t have to remember what it was like to be the girl in the wheelchair.
But the next time I found it, not only was it a reminder of my guilt and embarrassment. It also reminded me of my last chance to see Pahpah that was stolen away from me.