Name Calling in the Waiting Room of the Children’s Hospital

Megan Merchant Special Needs

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It is two days after the Women’s March and I am scrolling my Facebook feed, trying anything to distract from the fact that my youngest child is behind a set of doors, anesthetized, while technicians shoot images of his brain.  

I am holding his purple dinosaur and trying not to cry in the waiting room, subscribing to an unspoken rule that I don’t fully understand. But, I comply, not wanting to startle or trigger the other parents’ fears. We are holding space together, stationed in-wait. The woman next to me wipes her eyes with her sleeve, clutching a diaper bag.

I scroll through a series of cold responses to a photo that was taken of our tiny town protest and the 1,400 people who crowded the idyllic courthouse square. In place of support, there are disparaging remarks about how privileged and entitled women in our country are, how spoiled and ignorant we must be to gather en masse and cheer. One woman claims it was all about abortion, another says she has a cozy job and everything she could possibly need. She doesn’t see any problems worth throwing a tantrum about. There are remarks about how lazy and fat the protestors are, but at least it was a chance to walk some of it off.  

I look up and meet the woman’s eyes in the blue, plastic chair across from me. We both smile and nod. Another child’s name is called and her mother rises. I watch her exhale with relief. I keep reading, literally pushing down the divisive commentary and hate speech.  

A father across the way is holding his wife’s hand, silently. They have dark circles under their eyes. She is sipping something hard to swallow. When we see each other, there is no nod, but also no turning away. We hold each other’s grief for a few seconds and it feels like a coming up for air.  

The time moves so slowly and my limbs are so heavy with the possibility of loss that I begin to wonder if some of the anesthesia has leaked from under the door. I try not to think about the tube they put down my son’s throat to keep him breathing, the possibility that a tumor might be bedded in his brain.

Another name is called, another parent rises. Each time, I look up and offer a silent prayer of support, then continue to read the comments.

A majority of the remarks are tunneled into personal and steadfast beliefs—mothers attacking other mothers. I read through them as I sit here in this room where each person is grappling with anger, fear, uncertainty and inequality—in vastly different ways than we are creating outside of these walls.

In here, we are not putting it upon each other. I do not lean to the woman next to me and ask if she is pro-life, who she voted for and why. I do not judge her taste in clothing, what type of job she has, or if she is receiving help from the government. I do not try to argue that her experience and pain are not as great as mine. We do not take stock of the color of each other’s skin as a marker of value, and if there are gods amongst us—they are held silently between hands and lips.

We are both here because what matters most in our lives is in danger. And that makes it easier to have empathy, to openly read the pain on each other’s faces without prescribing a version of the “right” way to soothe or heal.

There are no screens, or aggressive stances, or alternative facts between us. The only name calling in here grants access into a room labeled “Recovery” where we will wait next to our children while they stumble out of a drugged sleep, carefully help to get them dressed and hopefully return home. Until then, we fidget in plastic chairs and silently care for one another. It’s a shame that, as soon as we leave those doors, we will again become surfaces polluted by politics and belief. We will again create reasons to divide. We will spew out judgments and opinions without ever looking each other in the eyes.


About the Author

Megan Merchant

Megan Merchant is mostly forthcoming. She is the author of two full-length poetry collections: Gravel Ghosts (Glass Lyre Press, 2016 Book of the Year), The Dark’s Humming (2015 Lyrebird Prize, Glass Lyre Press, forthcoming 2017), four chapbooks, and a children’s book with Philomel Books. You can find her work .

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2017 | February's theme – What matters most to you?
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