As the cheerful woman leads me into the extremely well-lit and sterilized room, my nerves start to swell. She has already led hundreds of people down this hallway this week alone; I’m just one of many in her daily routine. She opens the door to where the letter in my hand told me to be and it doesn’t even remotely look like how I anticipated. I initially thought she would lead me to the room where it would happen, but instead she led me into some sort of waiting room. Of course, I had thought about how the day would go and what I should expect. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t extensively plan out and research what was on the itinerary today. Unfortunately, though, the last few days had been so busy that I hadn’t had the time to actually look into every detail of the procedure. So here I am, frantically trying to follow the cheerful woman’s instructions while the smell of rubbing alcohol fogs up my brain.
In the waiting room five beds are lined up of which three are unoccupied. The woman points to bed number two and tells me to change into the pale-blue gown that is already laid out for me. She closes the curtain that curves around the bed to feign the idea of privacy and I take a minute to assess what is happening. While taking a quick breather to try and clear my head, I hear two other girls in the room talking to each other. They realize that they live in the same city, a city not far from where I live, and they discuss the drive over here. All of us are far from home. I manage to wiggle myself into the weirdly buttoned gown and open the curtains again. I sit down on the bed and try to appear as normal as possible as I listen in on the conversation.
The two girls look a little younger than I am, both dressed in the same sturdy gowns that look liked they’ve been washed one too many times. Their wide-eyed faces make it obvious that we are all feeling the same kind of dread for what we are about to go through. The brown-haired girl in the bed to my left turns her head in my direction and asks if I’m here for the same reason as they are. I nod and almost nonchalantly reply that we are all in the same boat today. I try to lighten to mood and joke that I’ve always wanted a boat, which provokes two absent chuckles. The girl on my left admits she is feeling a little overwhelmed with how serious today seems to be as she hadn’t thought it would be that big of a deal. I breathe a sigh of relief and quickly agree as I demonstratively wave the oversized sleeve of the distinctive hospital gown in the air. For a while, we keep each other company and chat our nerves away: a welcome distraction for all of us. The blonde girl opposite of me is the first one to be picked up by the orderly. We shower her with encouraging words as she and her bed are taken towards the exit.
Now, it’s just the two of us. We try to keep each other company whilst silently fighting off the nerves of knowing we’ll be next and compare the various symptoms and treatments we both already endured. After a while, the blonde girl is manoeuvred back into the room. She is laying down and looks a little flustered, but as she recovers she assures us we have nothing to worry about and that it will be over before we know it. The girl to my left is next, and, as she is being whisked off, we extend the same courtesy as before and reassure her. After the blonde girl is somewhat recovered she leaves and I’m the only one left. Thanks to the camaraderie of before I feel a bit more at ease for what is coming next. The second girl returns to recover, which means that it’s my turn to receive words of encouragement. I lay down as the two orderlies in full gear take me away. I look at the ceiling as the lights pass me by and notice I feel far less alone than when I did when I entered the room. I’m still a bit nervous but I am entirely grateful that I did not have to bear the weight of this day on my own.
After I had gone through the procedure myself, I run into the same girls again. As we discuss how we are feeling after everything, the two girls confess to embellishing how painless the procedure was as not to alarm the others. Even though I already knew this from going through the procedure, the fact that these strangers purposely tried to shield each other – and me – from even more anxiety in an already anxiety-inducing location affects me.
It is well-known human behaviour to not want to be alone, loneliness is painful and can even be harmful to us social beings. It is therefore an innate feature of humanity to seek safety in each other. However, the way in which this came to the surface today caught me off guard. I entered the hospital alone that morning, but the unexpected connection and comfort that came out of the ordeal in this way was something I had not experienced before. The procedure itself wasn’t the least bit pleasant but this is insignificant in the course of time. The appreciation for the fellowship I had with these strangers as we faced something alone together is far more permanent.
I am deeply appreciative for how these strangers managed to protect and reassure each other in an otherwise far more unpleasant day. And just like that, three people transformed the sterility and emptiness of a hospital room into a place of warmth and unexpected kinship.
By Minthe Woudstra