patient stories

The Waiting Room

As fast-paced, volatile, and busy as life in the Emergency Room is, it is also full of waiting. Waiting for STAT laboratory results to come back. Waiting for a liter of fluid to drip in. Waiting for in-house transportation to take a patient up to the floor. Waiting the 180 seconds to read the results of a pregnancy test. Waiting for a doctor to write an order. Waiting for environmental services to clean a room. Waiting for the admitting medical officer to call back. Waiting the 30, 45, 60, and 120 seconds to read the results of a urine dipstick test. Waiting for blood products to come up from blood bank. Waiting for a patient to return from X-ray, CT, ultrasound, MRI, or interventional radiology.  Waiting for transportation to return patients to skilled nursing facilities. Waiting for the consult to come assess the patient.  Waiting for special medications, fluids, and IV bags to come up from central pharmacy. And my least favorite, waiting for the mobile psychological crisis unit to come assess a patient (with an average wait time of 6+ hours).

Chaos all around, uncertainty all around, anxiety all around, yet full of waiting, waiting, waiting.

It took a patient recently to make me realize that the ER environment is the most accurate description of my spiritual life right now.

My co-worker wheeled a 20-or-30-something patient into one of my empty rooms. “Good luck with that one,” she told me as she took the wheelchair back to triage. “Just that little walk, and you wouldn’t believe the attitude I got.”

“Thanks,” I said nonchalantly as I clicked into her chart. Her name was Beth. She came in with a chief complaint of cough or something equally minor and had a relatively benign medical history of anxiety and asthma. Beth had arrived in the waiting room about 9am. It was half past noon. She was re-checked in triage twice and received a nebulizer treatment each time. At a computer screen glance of her vital signs, she looked fine. Her oxygen saturations were more than adequate. Her blood pressure stayed in the same 15 point range. Her pulse was relatively unchanged, even after nebulizer treatments. Her breathing rate was a little fast but manageable.

“Hi,” I introduced myself as I knocked and walked in the room. “Sorry for the wait. I’ll be your nurse this afternoon.”

“Thank you,” she said. “The wait was long.”

“We really try not to make you wait long, but…” I was about to begin to explain the complex Emergency Severity Index (ESI) triage tool for assessing which patients needed to be seen most urgently, but she cut me off.

“Doesn’t matter,” Beth said. “Thanks for saying something.”

The rest of Beth’s time in that bed and our interactions weren’t anything particularly memorable.  But Beth was. She reminded me of myself. Her exterior was hard, strong-willed, and her face never showed any sign of worry. But her interior was frustrated, self-righteously angry, and knowing myself, I venture to guess her most interior self was soft, soft and hurting. I knew she was scared. I knew she felt alone. I knew she felt forgotten in her wait.

I feel quite forgotten in my wait, my spiritual wait.

I feel like all I’ve done since the start of the year in moving to a new city permanently, since over 2 years ago in choosing to abandon everything familiar and travel nurse, is wait on the Lord. All I want is to be called by the Divine Physician, and He’s not calling my name yet.  I know He has great things in store for me. I know it. And yet all I’ve seen is others be seen ahead of me in the area He and I desire the most.

I’m like a patient in a waiting room. Overhearing the elderly before Mass speak of the various maladies of their acquaintances (which always seems to be their gossip topic of choice), I know my little cold and GI bug of recent do not compare. They’re triaged ahead of me. Sitting in Bible study and hearing the various emotional and spiritual hardships of my peers and their friends, I know my little hardships do not compare. They’re triaged ahead of me. Even when I pray, I lay all my miseries at the Lord’s feet, but I know they do not compare to the needs my friends and family have. They’re triaged ahead of me.

I know others are more sick than I am. I know others need the healing of the Divine Physician’s love more desperately than I do. I know that rightfully so others are being seen and treated and healed and helped in visible ways before I am.

But I feel forgotten in my wait, my spiritual wait.

It’s one thing to be forgotten by friends, family, or loved ones, to be an afterthought when you used to be a primary thought. It’s entirely more agonizing to feel forgotten by God, like an afterthought when Scripture and fellow believers tell you you’re a primary thought.

It’s just, I don’t believe it. I don’t believe in my heart that I’m a primary thought of God no matter how much evidence I present to the contrary. Others are being seen ahead of me (and righteously so), and therefore, I must be less important.

When will I be brought back, Lord?

When will I be seen, Lord?

When will I get my results, Lord?

When is it my turn, Lord?

But it’s precisely every time I ask the Lord these kinds of question, I either look at the cross or think of the cross. I think of the very words that Jesus spoke, in more pain physically, emotionally, and spiritually than I will ever experience, on the brink of His death:

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

– Mt 27:46, Mk 15:34

Jesus is quoting the psalmist who wrote:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why so far from my call for help,
from my cries of anguish?
My God, I call by day, but you do not answer;
by night, but I have no relief.

Psalm 22: 2-3

Psalm 22 ends in hope, confident of deliverance. So too, Jesus died in hope, confident in victory over death. As forgotten as I feel, I can be confident I am not forgotten in my wait.

Yet my waiting is more of a hardship than it has to be. Unlike the psalmist and Jesus on the cross, I have lost my hope. “If love did not have hope, its sufferings would be torture, and love might seem loveless” Fulton Sheen wrote. My love of God has lost its hope in God, so my waiting has become a torture and my love of God has felt loveless.

I’ve lost my hope by putting it on earthly markers, on my timeline, on my expectations. I’ve been like a patient in a waiting room telling herself, this next time, it’ll be me and becoming disappointed when someone else’s name is called. Just because someone else’s name was called when I didn’t expect it, just because my waiting is longer than anticipated, just because by all outside markers I’ve been forgotten does not mean that’s true.

I’m still on the Lord’s radar, even more than I know.

The Divine Physician knows how desperately I need Him. He knows my hardship is an urgent matter needing to be treated.  He’s still assessing me. He’s still treating me in the waiting room. He’s still watching me. He’s still waiting for the right moment to bring me to where both He and I want me to go.

But while I’m in the waiting room, He by no means wants me to begrudge my fellow patients, my fellows brothers and sisters in Christ, being triaged and treated “ahead” of me. If I knew their hearts like He did, wouldn’t I see their hardships, their sickness, their urgent need, and rejoice that they are called back to a room? If I knew His will like He does, wouldn’t I see His traces of goodness, His acts in the background, His handiwork, and trust in His plans for my future?

Yet my hope for the future is less trusting than it possibly could be. Unlike the psalmist and Jesus on the cross, I have seeds of distrust in my heart. “Trust is the deep inner conviction that the Father wants me home,” wrote Henri Nouwen. But my innermost self, the darkest corners of my heart, severely doubt the Lord wants me home like He wants others to come home to Him.

I feel like a found sheep left waiting with the other sheep while our shepherd goes off to find the lost one (Lk 15:1-7). Or a found coin left waiting on the counter while the widow searches for the lost one (Lk 15:8-10). Or the elder son in the story of the prodigal son who is left waiting and working in the field while the wayward younger son is welcomed home (Lk 15:11-32). I feel like I’m counted among the found, like the Lord is off working somewhere else, expecting me to work and wait with Him gone from my side.

But the Lord wants me home too. The father in the story of the prodigal son runs outs to his elder son to bring him home as soon as he hears that the elder son refuses to come home. He pleads with him to come in. He promises that “everything I have is yours.”

I’ve lost my trust by complaining, by comparing, by tiring. I’m like a patient in a waiting room, complaining at my triage re-assessments about the wait instead of being thankful that I’m being seen. Yes, I am tired. Yes, I have every “right” to complain and whine and make my situation out to be worse than it is, but just because things are happening slowly, does not mean things are not happening outside my knowledge.

Jesus is not holding out on me.

The Divine Physician is not making me wait for nothing. He has a plan, a plan much different than mine, but a plan that is infinitely better than anything I can conceive. Even though I can sit and wait and think of a million scenarios that are “better,” His plan for my life will be infinitely better because it will be real. And in its authentic reality, it will be better because of all the waiting, the uncertainty, the anxiety. That which I desire most greatly, the reality I ache for, will be all the better for how long I’ve had to wait, and hope, and trust in the Lord for it.

Here I am,  sitting in the waiting room, painfully aware of all the patients being seen “ahead” of me. But this unholy, unrealistic tendency for comparison is stealing  my joy, my trust, and my hope in the Lord.

I’ve learned my tendency for comparison comes for a very deep, very agonizing, very frightening doubt. It comes from a painful awareness of my shortcomings and subsequent feelings of unworthiness of love from others and especially from God. I compare to cover up those feelings, making myself out to be “better” than others and therefore somehow more “worthy” of love.

It’s what a lot of patients do in the waiting room. They cover up their feelings of anxiety, make themselves out to be sicker than others, and somehow more worthy of an ER bed. That’s why when someone appears to be in severe pain and actually rates their pain as anything less than 10/10, I’m genuinely surprised. Everything from a sore throat to a stubbed toe has been rated as a pain “past a ten.” (It’s a 10/10 scale, people! Anything past a 10 does not exist!)

I suppose it’s what the elder son did in the story of the prodigal son. He compared his faults to those of his brother, made himself out to be somehow more worthy of the father’s affection, and was consequently upset when his father welcomes his brother home. But that anger, that frustration, that anxiety, it all came from a place of innermost doubt.

As Henri Nouwen wrote:

“As long as I doubt that I am worth finding and put myself down as less loved than my younger brothers and sisters, I cannot be found. I have to keep saying to myself, “God is looking for you. He will go anywhere to find you. He loves you, he wants you home, he cannot rest unless he has you with him.”

There is a very strong, dark voice in me that says the opposite: “God isn’t really interested in me…He takes me for granted. I am not his favorite [child]. I don’t expect him to give me what I really want.”

At times this dark voice is so strong that I need enormous spiritual energy to trust that the Father wants me home as much as he does the younger son. It requires a real discipline to step over my chronic complaint and to think, speak, and act with the conviction that I am being sought and will be found. Without such discipline, I become prey to self-perpetuating hopelessness.”

– Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

Honestly, it’s easier to complain than to hope. It’s easier to give into doubt than fight fear. It’s incredibly tiring to exert all sorts of mental and spiritual energy into believing, trusting, and hoping in the Lord. But in the times I’ve fought for the divine truth that God wants me home, I’ve realized my dark thoughts are just shadows, disappearing in the light of Love.

And even when I do feel forgotten, feel abandoned, feel unloved, and otherwise feel hurt, I can look at the cross and know I am not alone. Jesus experienced everything, every physical pain, every emotional hurt, every spiritual agony, and He knows it all.

Sitting in silence, in stillness, sitting in prayer,  I have come to know and learn more of the Divine Physician’s heart. His heart knows my pains for He has experienced them and borne them for my sake on the cross. I do not need to sit and wait bitterly as I have been. No, the Lord knows my pain, sympathizes with my state, and desperately wants to call me back. It’s just not my turn yet for this particular desire.

Yet, I can still come home to His love when I leave my fear, my anxiety, my hurt, my despair, my doubts behind.

As Henri Nouwen wrote:

“While the father is truly filled with joy at his younger son’s return, he has not forgotten the elder. He doesn’t take his elder son for granted. His joy was so intense that he couldn’t wait to start celebrating, but as soon as he became aware of his elder son’s arrival, he left the party, went out to him, and pleaded with him to join them.

In his jealousy and bitterness, the elder son can only see that his irresponsible brother is receiving more attention than he himself, and concludes that he is the less loved of the two. His father’s heart, however, is not divided into more or less. The father’s free and spontaneous response to his younger son’s return does not involve any comparisons with his elder son. To the contrary, he ardently desires to make his elder son part of his joy.

This is not easy for me to grasp. In a world that constantly compares people, ranking them as more or less intelligent, more or less attractive, more or less successful, it is not easy to really believe in a love that does not do the same.”

– Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

It is not easy for me to grasp that just because others are being seen “ahead” of me, just because others are being sought after, just because others are receiving great gifts, just because others are being called, does not mean I am forgotten nor taken for granted.

I want to believe in Him.

I want to trust Him.

I want to hope in Him.

I want to love Him a fraction of how He loves me.

So, I’ll continue to fight my complaints, fight my comparisons, and wait in faith, trust, hope, and love in the Lord. Jesus too waited in fear before His Crucifixion and death, yet He waited in perfect faith, trust, hope, and love in the Father. Jesus knows the agony of my wait intimately, and I am not alone, not taken for granted, not forgotten in my wait.

As St. Paul wrote:

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (

Hebrews 4:14-16

I sit in the waiting room awaiting my turn, awaiting for the Divine Physician to call me to where He’d like us to walk together next. Anxiety, fear, doubt, and uncertainty abound amid the chaos, but I know the Divine Physician will call me.

In the United States, we have laws like EMTALA (Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act) requiring all patients presenting in an Emergency Room to be seen and treated. So, too, the Divine Physician has a law, a law of love, that anyone who calls upon Him will be heard, that every act has the divine purpose of His beloved child’s good, that those who believe in Him will not be left alone. He will call me in His time.

As I continue to wait,  I pray:

Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.

Lord, I trust. Help me in my distrust.

Lord, I hope. Help me in my doubt.

Lord, I love. Help me in my hardness of heart. 

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