HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: Waiting room blues
Growing up, my parents were obsessed with medical-themed TV programs. I was fed a steady diet of ER, Chicago Hope and then, of course, Grey’s Anatomy. These kinds of series always fascinated me and they still do, and they remain the source of many questions. How do entertainment industry people know so much about the triage process, for example? How do they know which jargon to include and exclude in scripts? Are they ever concerned about the criticism they may face from the general public and professionals in medical fields for perhaps perpetuating false information, or giving people in the real world false hope about treatments? Is the spread of information regarding fictional clinical trials ethical? Or is the research that goes into each episode so ironclad that everything we see is actually factually correct?
Needless to say, I am always impressed. I am convinced that Shonda Rhimes, writer and creator of Grey’s Anatomy, for example, knows more about brain surgery than the average GP.
Consuming this kind of storytelling exposes one to many a medical marvel and scientific intervention. For example, the induced coma. I have seen it on TV more times than I can count, but I have never experienced it first-hand - until this week when my dad was persuaded into a deep four-day long sleep after a 15-hour brain surgery for the second time in his life.
When I wrote the chapter A Brain Tumour Can Save Your Life in my book Sorry, Not Sorry, I was convinced the story had a definite beginning, middle and end. It didn’t because four years later, the tale of trauma continues. And we find ourselves sitting in a waiting room outside an ICU ward, four days more than the first time around, anticipating a second-coming once again – this time, with a few changes, some major and some minor.
The minor ones include an expansion of family. My brother has since married, as have I. My sister is now housemates with my best friend from varsity who has also become an additional adopted sibling of sorts, so instead of the occupation of four chairs in what is referred to as the “quiet room”, we now inhabit all six.
The major difference is the tumour itself. Its return came with a vengeance. It’s more aggressive. It sits on more nerves. The symptoms and his regression were more severe. He choked a lot more, ate a lot less and cried from the pressure on his brain stem more often prior to the surgery. First we were told it was inoperable, then Dr Bingle said he could try and reduce the fluid and cystic growth. And that’s where we find ourselves now - with a post-operative father, swelling on the brain, sedated into a long sleep with a drug that removes the memory of time – his time, not ours.
The period of four days felt like forever, like we were waiting for something to arrive, even though we felt like it never would, but we lived in hope. In times like these, hope looks like literally anything you need it to look like. Sometimes it’s the feeling of being full all the time, and not ever needing food. At other times, it’s sugar addiction – the desperate attempt to fill the void of delay with candy, cake and doughnuts. At other times, it looks like shakey hands and a loss of focus, spilling one or two cups of espresso on your shoes and socks and sitting with wet caffeine-soaked feet for the rest of the day, only to laugh deliriously about it later because sometimes, hope is hysterical humour.
This idea of filling the time with different variables of hope for something that will never arrive (or in this case seems like it never will) is not new. Samuel Beckett’s 1953 play Waiting For Godot is among the most popular of tragicomedies about the existential act of waiting and engaging to while away the time.
The theatre of the absurd is exactly like the surgical theatre. Both of them play at confronting what we regard as the comfortable certainties of life whether they’re religious, political or moral. And much like a life-threatening surgery, it shocks the audience out of a state of complacency and brings them face-to-face with the harsh realities of human situation. In this case - mortality.
While waiting, one of the lead characters Estragon exclaims: “Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful.” As are the waiting room blues, which are coloured by the same hues of Beckett’s play and that is: dealing with existence, identity, our mental condition and the desperate attempt to make time pass in a way that makes us forget that we are really, really bothered by time itself – so much so, that we try to hurry it along with mundane acts of pure futility.
_Waiting For Godot _is a reflection of man’s mental condition, lying in wake to reveal itself, much like the music of the waiting room blues where all we can do is search for the right key with what we can only hope is an educated version of guess-work.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.