Writing hasn’t been easy this past year.
I haven’t written much, and most of what I have written has felt forced.
I thought it was the stress of living in “The New Normal.” I thought all the scary things the past year has served up, swirling in my brain, had rendered me unable to focus.
I’m sure that has been part of it.
But I recently discovered what my bigger problem has been. . . .
I miss people.
I had a routine colonoscopy last week. (I say “routine” because I didn’t need it to investigate any symptoms or problems; I had it because I’m at an age where this kind of diagnostic goes with the territory. By-the-way: there is actually nothing “routine” about preparing for one of these . . . but I’ll save that for another blog post.)
I showed up at ten AM, trudging two blocks from my house to the hospital in my winter boots and ice cleats, amid heavily falling snow. Earlier that morning, as I was drinking the last of my prep solution, watching the snowstorm outside my window, I worried that the phone would ring, and I’d be told that my test had been cancelled. I was relieved when I arrived at the hospital and saw that the endoscopy suite was buzzing with business as usual.
A nurse led me to a gurney in a curtained area where I got into a hospital gown, and stowed my clothes in plastic bags. I climbed onto the gurney and relaxed, knowing that I had completed my part of this procedure, from here on it was up to the medical professionals.
After I got myself settled, one-by-one, seven or eight different people came to talk to me. One took my vitals and inserted my IV. Another brought me a warm blanket. (They keep it SO COLD in there, to reduce the risk of infection). She tucked it tightly around my face and feet, telling me that was the way her father used to tuck her in. Others stopped by to inform me about various aspects of the procedure. Each one touched me—if only to look at my hospital bracelet, while asking me to confirm my name and birth date. I was glad that social distancing rules don’t seem to apply in these areas. I can’t remember the last time I had that much physical contact with people who aren’t my family.
Because of the snow, some patients had to reschedule, which made it an easy day for the endoscopy staff. No one seemed to be in a hurry, so I found myself asking leading questions as they tended to me. I commented on the beautiful ring the anesthesiologist was wearing, and asked if she was newly engaged. That simple question opened the floodgates and she told me so much about her life. It was great! (It made me realize how much like my mother I’ve become. My mom could ask just the right question to get people to spill their life stories. Thinking of her at that moment made me so happy.)
Apparently the procedure my doctor did right before mine was complicated, and took longer than expected. As a result, I ended up waiting on the gurney for almost two hours. But I didn’t care. I was watching people do their jobs. I was listening to coworkers chatting as they walked by. I overheard the two patients on either side of me talking to the staff, which was interesting. (I wasn’t eavesdropping! I couldn’t help hearing them. They were just three feet away, separated only by a curtain.) The young woman in the next bed was in extreme pain and kept telling the nurses how afraid she was. I silently prayed for her, which made me feel useful.
The buzz of voices and activity lulled me, and I think I dozed a little. I hadn’t slept much the night before, so just resting felt really good.
I was a little sad when it was finally my turn. At that moment I wasn’t even sure why.
When I woke up in recovery, a nurse brought me some pretzels and juice. We chatted about how long it took her to drive to work that morning because of the snow, and how long it might take her to get home. I asked if she’d considered taking the train. I told her how I used to take a train to Lansdale, where she lives, when I was a student in Philly. My brother lived in Lansdale and he would pick me up at the station.
We spoke easily and warmly.
And it suddenly hit me: I miss people.
I miss being near other humans; I miss holding a hand, sharing a hug, resting my hand on a shoulder during a heart-to-heart conversation.
I’m grateful for the technology that allows me to interact with friends despite social distancing: the telephone, Zoom meetings, and window visits—but oh, how I miss the physical nearness of others. I miss the spontaneous conversations that happen when people are together, with nothing covering our faces, with no one worrying about germs or viruses.
So I think I’ll do something useful.
I’ll say a prayer that we will quickly return to normal.
You know . . . The Old Normal.
Photo by Polina Sirotina via Pexels