What do you do when visiting someone at the hospital?
I've never had to visit someone in the hospital before. Sure, I've been in hospitals but never as a visitor. So what was I supposed to do in this situation?
Most of the time when going into a situation in which I have no actual grounding in, I turn to what I know of it from the movies or TV. In this situation, the scenes that came to mind were of white halls crowded with anxious visitors stuffed into a waiting room: someone cradling an injury with their own blood caked on their hands, a family all seated sombrely with at least one of them pacing back and forth in the space they occupied, some teenage girl who looked healthy if not for the dark sunken eyes and vacant stare masking the reasons for her being here. All of them ready to tell you their story if you just sat with them and gave them a moment.
And all in slow motion, while the protagonist walked calmly and unhindered down the hall to their destination.
None of that happened here of course: the walls weren't technically or even arguably white, there were no mysterious-looking characters in the waiting area, none of them looked at all eager to give me the time of day, and it all happened in real-time as I strode hesitantly between them to the enquires desk. Sometimes in the movies the people would bring in balloons or cards or cuddly toys with get well messages scrolled on them. I had none of those either. I was obviously ill-prepared.
2 hours before...
Lunch buddy: "So what are you up to this afternoon?"
Me: "I'm gonna visit a friend of mine in the hospital. I asked work for the afternoon off so I could go, but I don't know what to do. I mean, don't people always bring get well cards or balloons or something like that? I'd do the same, but I think she'll have tonnes of those already."
Lunch buddy: "Food or baking is always a good idea."
Me: "What about Subway cookies? Do you like Subway cookies."
Lunch buddy: "Yeah, yes I looove Subway cookies."
The receptionist gave me instructions worthy of a GPS unit for finding Katrina's room. I repeated what I was told, and the receptionist nodded her approval of my understanding. I followed the instructions, but not quite to the letter, otherwise I would've ended-up in what looked like a wheelchair closet.
I eventually found the room, counting-off room numbers in the labels above the doors like I would when counting mailboxes on a street, searching for an address. Some of the rooms looked unoccupied, while another of the rooms contained a family reunion.
Standing before Katrina's room, I took a deep breath, and crossed the threshold.
Nobody was there.
What would a movie protagonist do? I wondered. So I went to the window of her room and looked through the gifts that sat on the windowsill: cuddly toys, Get Well Soon balloons and cards, flowers, blocks/boxes of chocolates, and a radio set to static? I considered leaving my Subway cookies in amongst them, maybe leaving a note to say I had been here, but Katrina had to be around here somewhere - the description I was given of her injuries would prevent her from really going anywhere.
4 days ago...
Facebook chat buddy: "hey, you been in to see Katrina in hospital yet?"
Me: "Wait, WHAT?"
Facebook chat buddy: "yeah Katrina is in hospital, where have you been Em?"
Me: "Under a rock it seems. Why's she in hospital - what happened?"
Facebook chat buddy: "she was in a car accident 3 weeks ago. shes pretty banged up, she cant remember the accident or the few first days after it. the car is a write off. she has 2 broken legs [...] broken arm [...] and a fractured pelvis, plus multiple bruises and stitches."
Me: "3 weeks?!"
Facebook chat buddy: "yes three weeks, where have you been man, in your own lil world"
I asked around and was pointed in the direction of another room in which Katrina was known to spend some time in - to get away from having to spend all day confined to her bed she'd later tell me. She spotted me before I could recognize her - I was walking down the hall to this 'Day Room', which let in a lot of light from the outside, and there was a figure in a wheelchair, obscured by the contrasting glow of daylight to the inner gloom of the hospital. She looked towards me and held her gaze, and from that I could tell it was Katrina.
I sat in a chair opposite her, taking in the room, Katrina, her injuries, and her mood. I didn't need stage directions or movie cues anymore; I know what to do when I'm around friends.
So we talked, joked, laughed, and I teased. I surprised myself at how 'normal' I acted around her: I held-back no wisecracks, nor any snarky comments. Wheelchair-bound or not, my wit made no distinction and didn't bother to spare her at all. I was glad I had all of that to say and do, because on some other level, her situation made me feel sad.
Here's someone who, last I remember, was worried about adjusting to her new job that she had to move city for. Now she's worried about standing on her own legs again. In an instant, in a car crash that she can't even remember, her world was suddenly reduced from a city and its surrounding suburbs, to a hospital room and its surrounding hallways.
A lot of movies/tv/books have used the word 'unfair' when describing similar things, but I don't think that's the right word, just because so many things are unfair on general principle. (It's like describing water as 'wet' - it's true, but it's unnecessary.) It just sucks. It's shit. Shit happens.
Shit happens, then you move on. But somewhere between those two steps, when shit happens to someone I know, there's me feigning a sad face and posting sad panda photos to make the other person laugh, while I hide an actual sad face underneath it all.