Night Watch

Editor’s note: In this tightly observed guest post, a nurse visiting a sick family member experiences the hospital as a kind of foreign country.

Eileen McGorry, MSN, RN, worked as a registered nurse in community mental health for over 30 years. She currently lives in Olympia, Washington, with her husband Ron.

The walkway is hard, the concrete cold, and I am immersed in darkness. Then there is the swish of the hospital doors and whispery stillness. The light over the reception desk shines on a lone head, bent over a book. A clipboard is pushed toward me. The paper on it is lined with names, some boldly printed, others scribbled, the letters unrecognizable. The spacious lobby is filled with individual groups of soft stuffed chairs and love seats. All of it quiet and empty. Over the chairs and sofas, the black of the midnight hour is changed into twilight.

I remember the bustle of the area at midday. Families gathered together, eyes searching the crowd for the green scrubs of surgeons. “She will live,” they say to some, and to others, “We will wait and see.” The frenzy of the day over, the empty chairs wait for tomorrow.

I sign my name in script. I use the old Catholic school script. The script preached by my mother, who is upstairs recovering from heart surgery. I walk past the chairs along walls so white they gleam. I […]