The Waiting Room

June 2, 2011
It’s sort of funny. I’ve walked this route twice a week for four years, that’s at least 6 miles a week, to a hospital nonetheless, and every time I get back home I’m in worse shape than I was before, Greg silently mused.
But this is the last time. I can feel it. The doctor said, four years ago, it would be around this time that all would be ready. No more short term treatments. I‘ve waited and I’ve endured; now it’s my time.
The bleak mid-January sky released a flurry of snowflakes onto the concrete village below. Eager children stopped along the sidewalks, mouths open toward heaven, as impatient mothers tugged them along. Greg glared edgily at the easily amused roadblocks.
“Damn kids, don’t know how to act. Ya don’t just stop in the middle of the walkway! I got places to be, it’s not all about you ya know; I got priorities too, though it might not look it,” he mumbled heatedly.
Greg considered his outfit. Despite the freezing temperatures, he wore only a tattered black turtleneck with a gray New York sweatshirt, riddled with holes, as an extra layer. He had owned the turtleneck for nearly as long as he had started his biweekly trips to New York Presbyterian Hospital. It was given to him by a girl. A girl he did not want to think about right now, or ever. She was gone, and so were his feelings for her; at least that’s what he told himself. The sweatshirt was left behind by some stiff on a Central Park bench last December; like a Christmas gift. It had been pretty banged up already, but you got to take what you can get. His jeans were not so bad; they never go out of style, right? Plus they were hole free. As for his sneakers, well, they were another “gift.”
The sweatshirt and turtleneck hung loosely on Greg’s gaunt form; a few years ago he could fill out the clothes, but now they seemed to swallow all 5 feet 7 inches of him. What hair he had left, the frigid wind blew haphazardly, in wisps of gray and white. As frail and weak as Greg appeared, no sane being crossed his path; even the neighborhood dogs steered clear of his worn Nikes, largely from experience.
These last four years I’ve spent waiting, reduced to feeling a sort of elation each time I see a funeral taking place. How many more lives must be lost for mine to be saved?, Greg deliberated. It’s not my fault I got stuck with a bum liver, without the means to pay for a transplant. In fact, the whole Waiting List is a pretty desolate thing, if ya think about it. You’re basically left hoping for people to die, because that means you get to keep living. But honestly, I can deal with the waiting, though I’m not sure my body can for much longer. It’s the reason why I got stuck near the bottom, while more “needy” patients got put further up. Greg kicked aside a chunk of ice, sending it careening into the gutter. By “needy” those smug joke doctors meant wealthy. Due to the hospitals “insufficient supply of excess revenue,” or my near empty bank account, I’m stuck at the bottom, waiting until it’s convenient for the hospital to save my life. Or should I say, was stuck at the bottom; because it’s been four long years and I’m now on top.
The imposing outline of New York Presbyterian Hospital now came into Greg’s view, a massive box of concrete spanning numerous blocks. An involuntary chill crept up his spine, one that had nothing to do with the descending temperature. Visions of needles, pills, and IV drips entered Greg’s mind, but he stubbornly pushed the images away.
I’m not taking no more pills, or getting all those injections any more. They only give me enough drive to make it to my next visit alive, and aren’t permanent answers. I’ve walked to this place so many times over the last few years, just to get poked at and medicated, then sent back home for a few days only to return less than a week later, Greg clenched his teeth in frustration. While those richer, more valuable lives paid their way to the top of the Waiting List, I’ve had to endure, I’ve had to suffer. While they, and those arrogant doctors, drank their champagne and ate their caviar, I had to grit through awful side effects. No comforts or distractions, just the four bland, stained, badly-in-need-of-repair walls of my grimy flat. Cause who’s going to hire a dying man? Who’s going to believe I got any dependability if I can’t even keep myself alive?
A blast of warm air shoved Greg’s skeletal form away from the lobby of the hospital, as its automatic glass doors parted ways. A focused receptionist clacked away on her desktop behind a mahogany desk. Various patients, flipping through magazines or staring at an outdated television set, filled the waiting room. Greg stomped past them all.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Richards,” piped the receptionist.
“Yeah,” Greg groaned, keeping his determined pace consistent. He did not need direction; Greg knew exactly where he needed to be. The Chief Resident’s Office was just around this corner, past two doors on the left.
Without bothering to knock, Greg pushed open the heavy wooden door, his arms nearly giving out under its weight. With his feet propped up on a massive granite desk, hands clasped neatly in his lap, the Chief Resident barely turned to acknowledge Greg’s entrance.
“Good afternoon, Greg. Right on time, as usual,” he drawled. Greg merely nodded his head in recognition, while trying to read the Chief’s features.
Does he have any good news, a date for my surgery? Wouldn’t he have mentioned it immediately? No, he would want me to squirm in agonizing suspense.
A crop of black, greased hair crowned the Chief’s egg-shaped head. Both his chins waggled ferociously with every jerk of the neck, while his beady eyes peered over his enormous belly, landing contemptuously on Greg’s shabby appearance.
It always took a great deal of self control from Greg not to openly grimace. The gigantic office, adorned with various diplomas and knick-knacks, was actually made smaller due to the Chief’s gargantuan size.
You’d think such a great doctor would know when to lay of the Twinkies, he considered.
“Okay doc, you know what I’m wondering; I gotta know. I gotta know now. You told me my life would change at about this time, and I’ve done my part in waiting. Now are you keeping your end of the bargain?”
“Hello to you too, Greg,” the Chief sighed. “And yes, I do have good news for you.” Using a great deal of strength, the Chief pushed himself out of his gigantic leather armchair, and began pacing slowly around the office. The suspense was turning Greg’s pale face red, as beads of sweat began to form on his brow. “You are next on the Waiting List,” the Chief finally continued, “and there is a liver available.”
For what felt like the first time in years, a smile crossed Greg’s face. Finally, a glimmer of hope at the end of the long, black tunnel that were the last four years of his life. This meant more than just a longer life. This meant a better life, too.
Now I can hold a job, or even get my old one back. Wall Street can’t have changed too much over the years, I’m sure I can get back up to speed, Greg inwardly marveled. A new job means a new apartment, one without leaks and questionable stains. With new clothes, maybe I can finally move on with a new girlfriend; someone to come home to, someone to work for. Greg’s mind was reeling.
“However,” the Chief’s monotone voice broke Greg’s reverie. “There is a small concern. The hospital has suffered quite a financial blow over the years due to the weak economy. Therefore, it is currently difficult for the hospital to finance a patient’s surgery, regardless of how small the cost. Now, before you begin making accusations, I am not saying that you are not going to get the surgery…. But there is another patient, one more financially stable, who also needs a liver transplant. They would be able to pay the full cost of the surgery, and are even offering to pay an extra expense to get the transplant immediately.”
Greg’s stomach suddenly dropped, and the room began to spin. Suddenly that light he was so close to reaching was blown out. He slumped into a cold metallic chair, fighting to breathe easily despite the large lump forming in his throat.
“You are still on the top of the Waiting List, Greg,” the Chief quickly declared. “It’s just, this other patient will get the liver we currently have available, and you will almost certainly have the next one. The hospital needs this money Greg, and cannot afford to turn down this patient’s offer. Another transplant should be available for you within five to nine months, and you should be able to make it until then……. well, would you like some coffee?”
Greg mustered whatever strength he had, pushed himself out of the rigid chair, and stumbled out of the office. Slamming the thick door behind him, Greg stood aimlessly in the hallway, not knowing where to turn. He shuffled over to the waiting room, what was now his permanent state of living. Waiting; never achieving anything positive or worthwhile, only settling for his despondent existence. Greg sank into a faded plastic chair and covered his pained face with clammy hands.
“Hey, you look like you need this,” murmured a warm voice. Greg slowly looked up to see a middle aged man, with a kind smile, holding out a hot cup of coffee. Dressed in a faded pair of jeans, sweatshirt, and sneakers, the stranger was clothed just like Greg himself, minus the holes and dirt splotches. Despite his tired looking skin and waning physique, the man’s bright eyes shone through his apparent weariness. Even the stranger’s unkempt stubble only motivated his amiable facade.
Greg could not help but return the smile, and accept the warm cup of coffee with a gracious nod. This guy looked like he understood what it was like to be on the bottom, constantly trodden on by those who could afford the gigantic shoes to do so.
“So, what do you have to say?,” the stranger gently asked. This was the first time Greg had someone ask him what he was thinking, or what was bothering him. The man’s concerned expression showed Greg that the stranger’s compassion was sincere. With a great sigh, and sip of coffee, Greg recounted the last 4 years of his life; the struggles, the disappointments, and of course the waiting. He concluded with the information the Chief Resident just gave him, his voice cracking with apparent emotion when he explained how a more affluent patient was stealing his bright future out from under him.
There were a few minutes of silence. The man’s eyes had ceased to twinkle good-naturedly, instead becoming hard and steely. His lips were pursed in what appeared to be either pain or intense concentration.
With a clearing of the throat, the man uttered forcefully, “I will be right back” and tramped off out of the room. Greg knew where the stranger was heading, but not why. The Chief Resident’s office was only a few yards away, but it took the man 30 minutes to return to Greg. Accompanying the stranger was the Chief Resident himself, looking a little befuddled.
What does that guy think he will accomplish by talking to that callous doctor? Greg wondered. The Chief is not one to bend due to sympathy, or because of any person’s wants.
The Chief glanced coldly at Greg, and motioned for Greg to follow him. The stranger nodded in encouragement.
“I would like to have a word with you, Greg,” the Chief grumbled.
What more could he possibly have to say? Greg thought, bleakly. What did that man say to him?
Greg’s puzzled expression went un-answered by the stranger’s expressionless features. With a pat on the back, the man returned to his seat in the waiting room.
The Chief led Greg back into his office, and offered him a chair. Greg remained standing.
“It has been, um, brought my attention that, um…” The Chief seemed to be having a hard time forming sentences. “Well, after some reflection,” he continued, “I have decided that it would be best if you underwent the liver transplant surgery next Tuesday, eight days from this date. The hospital can manage to assist with your financial needs….and I suppose it is the right decision to make, morally that is. You did wait, and here is your recompense. Congratulations.”
The Chief stretched his fleshy hand out towards Greg, wearing a smile as fake as his acclamation.
A new confidence suddenly surged through Greg’s weary body. He had won; that lost future was now once again a reality. My life can now continue, and improve! There is hope, there is an option besides waiting, he admired.
The Chief was expecting Greg to get down on his knees, and kiss his newly polished shoes in thanks. But Greg knew better, he wanted to thank the person responsible for giving him a second chance at life. Leaving the Chief lingering, Greg promptly exited that smothering office for the final time.
The stranger was not in the waiting room, nor was he in the hallway. He was not in the men’s room either, or the cafeteria.
I only need to thank him. I have no idea what that man said to the Chief, but it was enough to revive me from a deep hole of nothingness, Greg reflected. That man saved my life, and I don’t even know his name.

You know, I never realized how beautiful this walk really is, Greg reveled. This March weather is the best it has been in years.
A group of giggling school children played in the park nearby, running around the greening yard that was just beginning to sprout colorful flowers. Birds chirped an orchestrated symphony of tweets and whistles while swooping in and out of blooming trees. The sun shed a golden light upon Greg’s glowing face, now rapidly gaining in fullness and color.
Two months since the surgery and I already feel like a new man, he marveled. Whichever rich braggart tried to take this away from me should see me now!
Greg arrived at the door of New York Presbyterian Hospital wearing a smile on his face, and carrying two cups of steaming coffee. The glass doors welcomed him into the facility’s gleaming lobby.
“Good morning, Pam,” he greeted, handing the receptionist one of the cups.
“Good morning, Greg,” she beamed back. “How has your recovery been coming along?”
“Just great,” he replied. “I actually have a job interview planned for next weekend. I think I should be able to get back to work by then. In fact, the company I am interviewing with is Knightman Inc., the Fortune 500 company whose CEO I think just passed away, at least that’s what I read this morning in The Post. The business is looking to move some people around, so I’m hoping to grab a position; time to get those greedy fat cats out of Wall Street!
“Oh yes, Neil Knightman…he, he was a good man.” Pam muttered desolately.
“Oh yeah, good at making money,” Greg scoffed. “That guy probably lived a perfect life, with all that dough he made, he could do whatever he wanted; I wouldn’t feel too sorry for him.”
Greg glanced at the coffee cup in his hand, and suddenly exclaimed, “I’ve been meaning to ask, but with the surgery and all it’s slipped my mind these last few weeks. Do you remember that man I was with about 2 months ago, in the waiting room?”
“Why yes, of course…” Pam slowly answered.
“Do you know his address, or his name? I’ve been meaning to thank him for something for quite some time now, and I believe I owe him a coffee.”
Pam looked into Greg’s anxious face; her own expression showed confusion, and concern. “Greg, that man’s name was Neil….Neil Knightman.”
Greg clutched the desk to keep himself steady. It felt as though he had the air knocked out of stomach. “But…but that means…” he whispered earnestly.
“Yes, Mr. Knightman passed away two days ago,” Pam finished. She began typing noisily on the keyboard. “These records indicate that Mr. Knightman checked into the hospital on January 20th. It appears he was scheduled for a liver transplant but, for some reason, it was reassigned to another patient.”

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