Recently I went to the hospital for a test that involved applying electrical current to my nerves and muscles to assess their function. I was double-booked for this appointment, so I had to wait a while for the technician. The assistant checked my vital signs, finding my blood pressure and heart rate elevated, in my opinion appropriately, given the situation. Then she asked whether I wanted to be “roomed” right away or wait in the lobby.
This was such unusual grammar that I was compelled to inquire obtusely whether “roomed” meant put in a room, although under the circumstances, what else could it mean? I was further nonplussed by the choice; usually medical personnel decide for themselves according to criteria unknown when to “room” a patient. I’ve spent hours in both lobbies and rooms with as little control over the location of my wait as its duration. After some hesitation, and reasoning that there would be fewer possibly contagious people keeping me company, I opted for immediate rooming.
Thus I was shown to what I couldn’t help thinking of as my torture cell. It was tiny and fluorescent and crammed with unpleasant-looking equipment which I chose not to inspect closely. Turning my back on the machines, I realized the room overlooked the western half of San Francisco. Because this neurology department occupies the top floor of a building on a hill, the view was breathtaking: pale houses and lush treetops; a large pink and gold church; avenues scattered with lights like jewels, stretching all the way to the Pacific Ocean; and the discordant blocky tower of the new museum that charged substantial admission for a view sadly inferior to mine. Ironically, I’d for once remembered to bring magazines, since the excitement of waiting room literature wanes after a few surreal hits of “People.” But who could waste such a sight? And I wouldn’t have been able to savor it nearly as long if I’d made the wrong selection of venue.
Since I was already in a robe, one of those numbers that never manages to comfortably cover one’s personal terrain, I climbed on the table and sat facing the windows, as if I were meditating. Meditation is difficult, and no less so in the face of awesome beauty. But at least one thinks about different things; inner scenery shifts with the outer, which is probably why we’re taught to sit in front of a wall. That way distraction is obviously an inside job.
Yet the beauty helped in ways not only spiritual. I observed that the insistent pain of the needles and shocks registered more distantly when I faced the sky. I felt perched there, amid the immensity; in fact I had to lower my gaze to see anything other than clouds skating on blue. By gracious accident, I’d been granted an honor contingent on nothing, and undiminished by its attendant suffering. This is the deal, I was reminded — this is life, exactly.