On the day of the Iowa caucuses, I rose before dawn, dressed in the dark, stowed luggage in the SUV, then drove my wife to the hospital, where she stayed a couple of days for surgery that had been planned weeks before.
She’s home now and fully recovered, and one of the small windfalls of the experience is that at no time during her care did anyone talk about presidential politics. I’m thinking of going back.
Word of Iowa leaked into the hospital, of course — on smartphones, in newspapers, from televisions that droned in private rooms as the patients slept off anesthesia. Sedation, I suspect, makes White House campaigns more tolerable, if only barely.
News from the presidential sweepstakes was plentiful enough at the hospital, but no one there seemed very interested. They were focused instead on waiting for loved ones under the knife, waiting for test results, or waiting, waiting, waiting to be released back into the sunshine we could all see from the big glass windows in the first-floor atrium.
One of the small puzzles of our national life is that in a health care system so often assumed to be on its knees, our city hospitals get ever bigger, newer, fancier. The atrium I passed on my way to the cafeteria included a waterfall and a player piano. In the surgery waiting room, a digital display charted patients’ progress from pre-op to surgery to recovery, so that one could follow a spouse or sibling, parent or grandparent as if tracking an airline arrival or express package.
It all seemed comfortably efficient, precise, certain — so much so that any wrinkle in the routine ruffled those of us who had sent off family members on gurneys with hopes for the best.
I couldn’t help noticing, for example, that by the exacting measure of the hospital clock, my wife had been in surgery longer than planned. Was there any word about why she’d been delayed?
“These things sometimes move more slowly than we want,” an attendant told me. “Why don’t we just say a little prayer?”
I took her advice, not having the clarity of mind to do much else. I was too distracted to answer email, make phone calls or read the book that rested in my lap like a meal I didn’t really want to eat.
Others passed the time with small talk. Three Cajuns compared notes on the best places to buy boudin, crabs and gumbo. Then, without irony, they recited their cholesterol readings, all naggingly high. A woman in the group bragged about lowering her ex-husband’s cholesterol by 30 points — until he left her, no longer able to stomach the reduced-roux diet.
A surgeon retrieved me to report that my wife was just fine.
I didn’t care that day about who won the Iowa caucuses. I’d already had my victory for the year.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.