I arrived at the VA hospital early that morning and when I stepped into the small waiting room, I was unprepared for what I saw.
The waiting room was empty.
The first night of my husband’s unplanned hospitalization, I didn’t want to leave. The hospital did not provide loungers for loved ones who wanted to stay close, so I settled in a chair in the waiting room to wait out the night.
That’s where I met Mildred.
Mildred and her husband lived on a working farm north of Quincy. Like me, when they drove to the VA hospital that morning, Mildred had no idea that her husband would require emergency surgery.
No one planned for that.
Mildred did not drive, nor have a cell phone so she had limited ability to call anyone and no means to go anywhere, even if she wanted to. All she could do was stay right there and wait, so, we waited together, talking most of the night because sleep is hard in hard chairs. The next morning, we pooled our money and bought crackers from the vending machine.
We ate our breakfast in silence.
After that, I roamed the hospital halls and found room after empty room. Why did Mildred have to sleep in a chair when the floor was full of empty beds? When I approached the nurses’ station and asked if Mildred might have a bed that night, I was quickly told that the hospital’s legal policies prohibited that.
Blankets were all they could do.
Even when I told the nurse that Mildred’s husband needed her close, even when I told her that Mildred didn’t drive, was out of money and almost out of hope. Even when I told her the hospital had a hallway of empty beds, the nurse just shook her head. She was sorry, I could see that she was, because she knew there were empty rooms.
Just no room for Mildred.
For the complete column, see this week’s edition of the Centralia Fireside Guard