Gary Smith: The wait is long

This lobby leaves no room to relax

Posted: October 27, 2017 at 1 a.m.

As lobbies go, those of us left behind had few complaints.

Subdued lighting, muted colors, fairly comfortable sofas and chairs. As the morning wore on, the hanging television's endless loop of relentlessly upbeat messages mixed with terrifyingly detailed descriptions of treatments and procedures didn't do much for the anxiety level. But it was easy enough to drown it out in newspapers or phones or, oddly enough considering where we were, motorcycle magazines from the rack.

Demographically, we weren't particularly diverse. A couple of us were a little older. One was accompanied by what appeared to be his teenage son. But we all seemed to fit the same general bracket. White, middle-age-ish. And, increasingly frightened.

That's the odd quality to life. Early on, debilitating injury and illness are fairly abstract concepts, very much what happens to someone else.

But at some point, like that particular Friday, like the moment we walked through those doors and into that lobby and all strapped in for the worst carnival ride ever, things were suddenly very, very real.

The oldest-looking of the crew was a big fellow with the appearance of a cowboy. He and his wife wore matching black T-shirts and he peered at his phone through reading glasses and patted her leg periodically while she stared off into space with a worried gaze.

It was presumptuous of me, but I could almost fill in the blanks for them: years of sacrifice and hard work to produce a good life for themselves and their children. Now the kids were gone and it was time to be just them again. Maybe a motorcycle. Maybe a boat. Maybe ...

The father and his son sat on either end of the sofa. A wife and a mother, looking tiny and afraid, sat between them, and when they called her back, both sets of eyes followed her. The insignia on the father's shirt indicated they'd probably gotten up before dawn and spent most of the morning driving over from their small town. The drive back would, conceivably, be much, much longer.

The ruddy-faced construction superintendent in a ball cap was constantly answering his phone, dancing around the topic of where he was and why he was there while arranging for a crew to get some equipment to a job site. He might really need those organizational skills in the near future.

Four husbands with their wives. Counting the lady whose mother was waiting outside in the car, five women. Studies say one in five women have a variant that raises the risk. A statistician would say we were the perfect sample size.

Here's how it works: If they don't find anything, if the test says those dark spots are nothing and you can start breathing again, you leave around the front by the main entrance. If not, they call you back. And that 20 or so feet across the floor to that door? It becomes the longest journey of your life.

No one tells you that. You just ... figure it out. And you wait. Four men, five counting the boy. All of us with a few miles on the odometer and a few trips to the ER under our belts. We never imagined we'd be here, never thought this sort of thing would happen to the one person who meant more to us than anything. Always figured we'd go first.

One by one, a nurse with a soft voice and a caring air about her called out a name, and one by one, that journey started. First the cowboy. Then the dad and his son. Then the job foreman. I was the last one, the last man standing. Except all I could do is just sit and stare at a spot a few yards out on the carpet.

We left through the front. The doctor read the tea leaves of the ultrasound and sent us home. And the sun was a little brighter and air a little sweeter. And we hugged and confessed how worried we had been and drove home, happy to be complaining about traffic and wondering what we were going to get for lunch.

It's the month of awareness, of donations and runs and wearing pink and alternately giving thanks and, perhaps, remembering. One in eight. That's the number of women who will make that walk back at some point in their lives. We should acknowledge them and pray for them and fight for them and work for the day when that walk is less frequent, its results less terrifying.

And we also need to remember that for many of those women, there's someone else -- maybe a cowboy or a small-town dad or a working man -- who is going to have to take that walk, too.

It doesn't seem real, doesn't hit home, doesn't even cross your mind. And then you walk into that lobby. And it is.

Commentary on 10/27/2017