About three months ago, I called to schedule my annual appointment with my otolaryngologist. If you’re like me the first time you see that word, you’re probably like, “The hell is that?” It’s a head and neck specialist. I see this doctor to monitor the multiple benign nodules I have on my thyroid through ultrasound and biopsy, and he does blood tests to make sure my thyroid is still functioning properly. I do have an endocrinologist I see in between the visits with this specialist just to continue to monitor them, but a second opinion from a specialist eases my mind.
I wasn’t able to get in with this doctor until yesterday because he had taken his own medical leave of absence and once he returned, he didn’t have an appointment available for six weeks. I wasn’t thrilled to have to wait so long when I was overdue for this check-up anyway, but I made my appointment and made sure nothing would stand in the way of me getting to see him. I allowed myself plenty of time to get to the facility so I wouldn’t feel panicked about traffic, but just as I was about to turn to go up the driveway to the parking structure, a train came and the arm of a gate came down, and a “no right turn” sign lit up.
“It’s ok”, I thought. I had gotten there with nearly 15 minutes to spare so I should still make it on time. But the train went SO SLOW that I ended up calling my doctor’s office to tell them I was still coming to my appointment, but I was stuck behind this train for who knows how long. The nurse said not to worry, it happens all the time, and the doctor was running behind anyway so just get there when I get there. I relaxed, and waited TWENTY FIVE MINUTES for this train to finally go through. I parked, got up to my doctor’s office, checked in, and took a seat.
As soon as I sat down to wait, I realized I’d left my book at home. ARGH! I had my phone so I decided I’d just check my email and play a game on it while I waited. As I pulled my phone from my purse, an old man in a seat just to my right started talking. He was very soft spoken so I didn’t hear what he said at first, and didn’t realize he was actually talking to me until I looked up. He repeated what he’d said the first time. “What did you eat when you were a kid to get you to be so tall?” I laughed. At 5’8″ I never thought of myself as particularly tall, but I was wearing 2 inch heeled boots so I probably did look taller than usual. “I was a garden grazer when I lived in Oregon as a kid” I said with a smile, and started to go back to checking my email on my phone. But the old man, who was there alone, started talking again. I put my phone away because he seemed to want someone to chat with while he was waiting in the lobby, so I happily obliged.
The old man told me he was born and raised in Glendale, California, and has lived there his whole life. When he was 17, he went to Chicago alone to attend a football game. “Can you believe I went there alone? At 17?!” he said, clearly thrilled at how adventurous he was at such a young age. I agreed that it was pretty remarkable. He had met some kids at the game and then after, they all piled into the car of one of the boys. “There were no seatbelt laws back then, so we’d just get as many people into the car as possible” he explained. “There was one girl left to get in the car and there was no more room so I offered for her to sit on my lap” he shared, with a big smile on his face before continuing. “The young girl climbed into the car, got on my lap and said ‘And what is your name?’ “I’m Don Anderson of Glendale, California” he said to me, sheepishly. ‘Nice to meet you, Don Anderson of Glendale, California’ she said to me with a smile, and shook my hand.” The old man paused for a moment, looking down at his hands, and then said “We got married when I was 21 and 55 years later, we’re still married.” The old man beamed with so much pride and love in his eyes, I felt like I was going to cry.
This man went on to tell me all about his three kids and his nine grandchildren, pausing each time the nurse came out to call in a new patient. Concerned, I asked him if he was there to see the doctor. He told me no, his wife was there because she had something going on with her thyroid gland. He said she had seen the doctor and then they sent her to the building across the way for a blood test and an ultrasound, and that he’d been waiting for two hours for her to come back. He seemed nervous now, so I said reassuringly “This is a very good medical facility but every time I come here, there’s always a long wait. I’m sure she’ll be back very soon.” He nodded in agreement.
Over the next 30 minutes, we took turns sharing stories of ridiculous things we had done as kids. He told me he and a friend once put a fiberglass fishing boat in their pool so they could start the motor and ride around in the water when the UPS man, who had been ringing their front door to drop off a package, heard all the noise and came back to see what it was about. He said the UPS man just stood there, stunned at what he saw, which he and his friend thought was hilarious. I told him about the time I was in fourth grade and my friend and I made cookies at her house and got flour EVERYWHERE so we decided the way to clean the floor was to cover it in dish soap and water and then run and slide across the sudsy floor, but then her mom came in and was FURIOUS at the disaster we made and sent me home. We both laughed at each other’s stories when suddenly his eyes lit up at the sight of his wife returning to the lobby.
The old man stood up, adjusted his coat and smoothed down his hair with his left hand. He stayed near me, waving his hand for his wife to come over. “I want to introduce you to my wife” he turned to me and said with a big smile on his face. She made her way over, saying “Did you make another new friend, Don?” while smiling because obviously, chatting with strangers was a regular thing for him. He leaned over asked me my name and then stood back toward his wife to make the introduction. I stood, shook her hand, and told her I got to hear wonderful stories and it was lovely to chat with her husband. She smiled and thanked me, then looked back at him, took his hand, and told him she needed to schedule surgery. They walked away together, holding hands, and he turned back around to wave to me. I smiled and waved back as they disappeared around the corner.
A few minutes later, I was called in for my appointment. The nurse was very apologetic for the wait. I told her it was fine because it gave me the opportunity to have a very nice conversation with a very sweet, old man. I knew they were behind because there are people coming here for an appointment that can result in a life-changing diagnosis, and I’m pretty sure that was the case for Don’s wife. I thought of Don sitting next to his beloved wife, holding her hand, as they discussed her upcoming surgery, and how terrified he must feel. But my thoughts quickly drifted to the image of these two people as teenagers meeting for the first time, having no idea they were about to share decades of life and love together, and that made me really, really happy for them.