The Waiting Game

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, August 27, 2006

If you are one of those people contemplating marriage, here is one of the things you might want to take into account. Even if you get a healthy spouse, sooner or later you'll have to escort him to appointments for medical procedures. It could be just a dental thing involving anesthesia, or something more seriously disgusting to think about, but in any case he'll need you to be there. To drive him home, certainly, but also to calm his nerves and remind him that he is not alone.

In itself, this information shouldn't discourage you from marriage; it's just one of those things they never talk about in bride magazines.

Every two years, maybe, they'll want to take a look at the lining of his stomach. Because he has a family history, because his doctors are compulsively dedicated to his care (you should be so fortunate) or perhaps just because of some crazy insurance requirement. You'll have to get up at an ungodly hour, because these procedures almost always coincide with dawn. You'll have to take at least a morning off from work. You'll have to think of something to talk about in the car to take his mind off the fact that a tiny camera, at the end of a long tube, will shortly be snaking down his esophagus.

As soon as you arrive they'll slap a hospital band around his wrist; at that moment you will feel the divide. He becomes one of them, a patient to whom anything can happen. And you: a civilian. Powerless. A woman in blue, wearing a paper shower cap, will call his name. He'll stand; you'll kiss him and offer the same stupid joke you offered last time: "Have a great time!"

In the waiting room they'll have a morning show on the TV, and neither you, nor the other civilians, know if you're allowed to switch the channel from Matt over to Diane. You'll look for an outlet, because you will have brought your laptop. You'll set up and try to get busy, wishing someone would turn down Al giving one more weather report before happy throngs of tourists.

They'll call you back to sit with him before they put him all the way under. He'll be lying there, wearing a paper cap, a hospital gown and little blue slippers. He will look 80. You will fix the cap, putting the puffy part in the back, instead of the front, because that's how all the nurses are wearing theirs. He will be wearing a scowl. A nurse wearing a smock decorated with flags and rodeo cowboys will get him to smile with her own personal invasive-procedure story. At last, the doctor will come by; you'll remember her from last time; she looks like a teacher who once gave you a C. You got into it with her last time. "Well, what is it?" you said, about the clump of "irregular cells" she found. She shrugged and said, "I don't think it's anything to worry about."

"You don't think?" you said. "You should think!" That wasn't very nice of you. But you were frustrated by the lack of information, her scooting away from your demands for an instant upper GI education.

So, they'll take him away and send you back to the waiting room, where nothing will happen. You'll sit there and sit there and sit there, wondering about breakfast. Automatic doors, people in blue, Matt, Al, fellow civilians. One by one the nurse will start calling them. "Come on back," they'll say to the woman in red with the rainbow tote. "Everything is fine!" They'll say it to the shaggy man in plaid with the sun-thickened skin: "She did great! Everything is fine!" They'll keep saying it until you're the only one left.

Alone, waiting here. You have your coffee and your laptop, and you're starting to doubt. Powerless, your imagination takes over. They're not calling you back because they found something. The doctors, you presume, finally had a chance to think about the clump and realized, "Whoops." On TV a panda was just born somewhere, the size of a stick of butter. The world is getting farther and farther away, all that's normal no longer within reach. It's just you and the possibility of loss.

If you didn't get married in the first place, this wouldn't be happening. You think back to your satin dress, the guy with the violin, the gazebo wrapped in wisteria. Well, really. Come on, now. Marriage has nothing to do with it. Your stupid move was falling in love in the first place, opening your heart, allowing the entanglement.

Finally, they call you back. They tell you everything is fine. The doctor is friendlier this time, but she still has nothing to say about the cells. He's thirsty, so you hand him apple juice. "Thank you for coming," he says, earnestly, then invites you out for eggs. None of this has anything to do with marriage, the violin, the gazebo. Even if you never married him, you'd want to be the one here, receiving good news or bad. You'll want him here, when it's your turn to wear the paper hat. You picked him to grow old with, and he picked you. This is just the price of luck.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is

© 2006 The Washington Post Company