Melanie joined the small group staring at the elevator door. Her eyes turned upward, along with everyone else’s, tracking the elevator’s path from 4 to 3 to …
An older couple held a pink balloon announcing ‘It’s a girl!’ The woman’s smile was so wide and so steady that she resembled one of those cartoon happy faces. The man’s face glowed like a lighthouse guiding ships through a storm.
A young woman with two small boys clutching her legs waited with a sheaf of papers in her hands. She glanced at her watch, shushed the boys, shook her head at the elevator door — then repeat. Like those shampoo bottles with directions that said — apply, wash, rinse, repeat. Wouldn’t that leave you in the shower washing and rinsing your hair over and over again forever?
The elevator finally arrived rescuing the woman from the watch, shush, look and repeat cycle. The group, as if in a practiced choreographed move, stepped quickly forward and then more deliberately back to let three women in pink scrubs step out.
“12:30 in the cafeteria,” one called over her shoulder before they all turned off in different directions.
Melanie followed the group into the elevator whispering “5 please,” to the old man who stood nearest the door.
The elevator stopped at the second floor. The young woman stepped off with her two kids. One looked curiously around; the other followed a step behind with his arms wrapped tightly across his thin chest. A young woman and an older woman stepped on together. They took a spot at the back, then stared intently at a paper in the younger woman’s hands. “But these numbers are better, Mom. I don’t get why they want to do this again?”
Third floor was maternity. The older couple stepped out. In the few seconds before the door closed a young man with a smile as big as the woman’s wrapped them both in a giant hug.
“Can we see her?”
“How’s Nancy doing?”
“Oh this is going up.” That comment was from a family waiting in front of the elevator, clutching flowers and a teddy bear. They turned to their left where Melanie could hear the other elevator door slowly open.
There was a stop at the 4th floor, too. Doctors and nurses piled on, or waited, holding cafeteria trays and soda cups.
“Did you see those new regs? Every time we turn around.”
“I know. It’s like they can’t go a week without changing something. We’re not even going to do it in my unit.” That last comment drew some raised eyebrows and a shrug from the speaker.
This floor also had administrative offices. Melanie knew that because she had been there a few times with her mother’s insurance card, social security card, receipts and her father who always waited quietly and then asked later what all of that was about.
Fifth floor was Melanie’s stop. Several doctors and nurses stepped off too. They scanned their ID’s and pushed past the heavy door into the ward. Melanie could have slipped in with them. But what was the hurry? She buzzed and announced ‘544’.
As she waited, a young man stepped out and pushed for the elevator that she knew had a couple more floors to travel up before turning around. He was speaking into his cell phone. “Tomorrow — I know — I have an order in at the bakery but I don’t think — yeah — that would really help. No rush. He probably won’t be out of here before noon.”
The buzzer sounded and Melanie waited for the door to swing open. There was a small room to the left side. Melanie had been in there, too. When the doctors wanted to talk. She glanced through the window and saw a couple and a doctor hunched together in a slight half circle. The doctor was speaking but Melanie couldn’t hear a thing. That was, after all, the whole point of the private room. The couple looked stunned. Neither was crying. Not yet, anyway.
Melanie kept walking past the center nurses station where screens displayed wavy lines and quickly changing numbers. The white board with names assigned to each room. Familiar names, by now.
She walked past the small lounge with vending machines and a too-loud television mounted on the wall. She walked past the alcove where there was always a rolling cart with food trays.
Room 544 was at the end of the hall. Melanie checked the folder hanging from the door. There was a note stuck to the outside, as she had requested. ‘Call daughter with any questions.’ And her cell phone number. She patted her back pocket to make sure it was there. As always.
She could see her father sitting in the room quietly reading the newspaper and holding her mother’s hand. A plastic bag hung from a tall stand and tubes draped gracefully towards her mother’s bed. There were monitors making beeping sounds that were supposed to be reassuring.
Melanie backed up just enough to see her reflection in a computer screen. She needed her ‘everything will be fine’ smile to be in place, but wanted to avoid the new-grandmother’s happy face grin. Not that her father would really even notice.
When she was satisfied, she stepped in.