I have a lot of experience being a visitor in a hospital. When it comes time to leave, I’ve often thought that evenings must be the most lonely time. If you’re visiting someone in the hospital, you’re almost always leaving someone behind when you go. Evening seems like a time when a lot of people might be leaving people behind.
In a few hours I’ll have been in this hospital for two weeks, and I haven’t had one moment when I’ve felt profoundly alone. Not when a good nurse changed shifts. Not after friends had left after a nice visit. Not when another patient down the hall cried out in agony. Not when my head screamed or my stomach lurched with the slightest movement. Not even after my wife left this evening.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve felt the loss of my family’s company – painfully at times, but I haven’t felt completely alone.
Tonight I took a walk down the hospital halls at dusk… a little after 8 p.m. local time. I rounded the oncology wing of the fourth floor and stopped at the large window of the waiting room near the elevators.
As I stood staring out the window I heard several people push the call button for the elevator to go down. Each time I heard the doors cycle I heard people going, but never coming.
As I stood staring down at the hospital entrance below I imagined the cars I saw were their cars. Each time I saw the dim glow of tail lights, never the bright glare of their headlights.
As I stood listening for the activity of a busy hospital I heard nothing, and that’s when I finally felt it.
I felt alone.
I walked back to my room, squealing IV stand in tow, and surgical mask in place. I passed one empty nursing stand, then two. I saw a familiar nurse leave a patient’s room and made ready to wave in case she looked my way, but she didn’t.
Now I’m in my room; isolated from more than just other people’s germs. My mind knows that I’m not truly alone, with a loving family just a few miles away. My mind knows that I won’t be here for long… that I’ll be with that family again, just a few miles away. My problem tonight isn’t what my mind knows, but that my heart refuses to listen.