Inside the Surgical Waiting Room of a Children’s Hospital


I carried it in my throat. The fear I mean.

It was stuck at the base of my throat and I swallowed it down, willing it to stay buried deep in my body.

I couldn’t open my mouth because when I did, the fear would escape in the form of a scream or a sob or sometimes it forced its way out violently from the very pit of my stomach and forced me to my knees with my head in a toilet.

I had walked through the empty, back hallways of the hospital with my hand on his crib until the nurse turned to me and told me to say my goodbyes. I kissed him and swallowed harder than I had ever swallowed before as I watched her sweep my newborn baby through two giant swinging doors and into a sterile operating room.

And just like that he was gone.

I let out a sob as my knees gave out.

Fear has a smell.

It’s thick and metallic and as I walked into the waiting room it hit me like a strong wave that I had to push through while I scanned the room for an empty seat. The waiting room was full. It always seems to be full.

The surgical waiting room at a Children’s hospital is divided into small sections, intended to give each family a place to wait together with some semblance of privacy. The problem is it’s not possible to keep your fear private. It permeates the room and your fear mixes with the fear of a stranger sitting in the section across from you and leaves the air so thick you almost can’t catch your breath.

Still, I continued to swallow the fear.

Giant screens line the walls where children’s names are constantly moving from “In Surgery” to “In Recovery”. Every time a name moved to “In Recovery” the air became a little lighter but only for a second as one family’s relief meant another family was about to suffer.

I sat for hours and watched other children’s names go from “In Surgery” to “In Recovery” while my baby’s name didn’t budge.

I avoided making eye contact with anyone in the room. Somehow not acknowledging the people sitting beside me made it feel less real. I didn’t want to see my own fear reflected in a strangers eyes.

But fear isn’t silent and every now and then I couldn’t help but overhear another family’s fear.

“What happened?” said someone, possibly a Grandmother, rushing into the waiting room.

“I don’t know…she had a seizure” replied a shaking voice, maybe a Dad, breaking into tears unable to swallow his fear.

I tried my best not to intrude but tears streamed down my face as I heard a family trying to make sense of why one second they were having breakfast and then they blinked and found themselves here, at a Children’s Hospital, with a child in surgery.

It was an entire 8 hours later when the surgeon sat down beside us and said the words “The surgery went well” and I allowed my fear out. I sobbed with relief, unaware of who was witnessing me at my most vulnerable.

The surgical waiting room in a Children’s Hospital is both soundless and loud at the same time. It is full of fear and hope. There are a million tears shed yet there are also high fives to be given and hugs to be shared.

That day, over eight years ago, ended so perfectly for us. Yet I know it doesn’t end that way for everyone.

In over eight years I haven’t set foot back in that waiting room but I have memorized what it looks like. I can feel myself in those fabric covered hospital chairs.  I can feel the thick, metallic air on my skin. I can hear the quiet whispers around me.

Every time I go back to that children’s hospital, I can’t help but glance up at that second floor waiting room at all the families that are sitting there, staring at those giant screens that line the wall, waiting for their child’s name to go from “In Surgery” to “In Recovery” and I say a silent prayer that their day ends well and that they never have to see the inside of that waiting room again. And I feel the fear that I still carry, deep in my throat.

Natalie Romero

Author: Natalie Romero

Natalie wishes she lived in a world where chocolate and Netflix marathons were a part of a healthy lifestyle. Since that’s not going to happen she balances it all with the occasional salad and trip the gym. An HR professional by day and a freelance writer by night, Natalie is learning that balancing motherhood with two careers can be a great juggling act and finding time for anything in between can be tough.
Always a storyteller, Natalie is a feature blogger at Yummy Mummy Club, Oh Baby Magazine and Tales from Mummy Land and is also a regular contributor at Huffington Post. Keep up with her as she blogs her way through the crazy beautiful life of a working mother just trying to have it all.

5 thoughts

  1. I feel your pain. Though it has been many years ago, my youngest son had a few surgeries and each time it came time to kiss and hug him before he entered those doors… is almost like it was yesterday as tjose feelings of fear erupted from my sole……the waiting room was as difficult. …the not knowing if this would be the last time here as this time they would remove all of the tumor this time……would his heart hold out….I did not want to bury another baby/child.
    He survived and just had his 31st Earth day birthday. So proud of him!

  2. Ohhhhh…..sadly you are speaking my language.
    Even though I make Ottawa my home, I’ve spent the greater part of my parenting life….living in and out of The Hospital for Sick Children with not one but TWO children with profoundly different medical conditions. Our son has had 46 surgeries on his bladder to date. Some of them lasting 20 plus hours. Our sadly terminally ill with a brutally regressive and 100% fatal metabolic disease.
    I know the fear. I know the smell. I know the buckling of the knees.
    I also know how profoundly traumatic the whole experience is, for not only the child but the parent(s) and families as well.
    Luckily we’ve been able to accept this life. We really didn’t choose this journey our family is on and we certainly didn’t choose to have a gaggle of medical people helping us look after our children. But we’ve learned to embrace it all.

    1. I have been sitting here wondering how best to respond to your words and truth is I’ve been left wordless.

      You are one brave, strong mama.

      We are also a sick kids family. I know the inside of that hospital like the back of my hand. It is,traumatic and it is life changing. I can’t even imagine managing what you are managing.

      You are right, we don’t choose this path. I can tell by your words, even after all you have endured, that you are strong and you are inspirational and powerful.

      Thank you for reaching out with your story. And I wish you all the strength the world has to offer.


      1. Thank YOU for your kind words, Natalie.
        It’s funny…I KNEW you were talking about Sick Kids when I read your blog. You didn’t have to say it…but I felt it.
        I talk to MANY MANY parents in that place…and I tell them…CHOOSE the right path!!
        CHOOSE to make good memories….EVEN in a place like that..because after all is said and done….memories might be all we have left.
        My ENTIRE parenting life…within the walls of that hospital.
        I often get asked..if I could would I change anything, would I? The obvious answer is OF COURSE. But realistically…we can’t change a damn thing. So we live in the HERE and the NOW. We accept the path…and we CHOOSE to make good memories. It’s all we’ve got!! Xoxo

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