Before and after moments


There are always folks who write scathing reviews of emergency rooms because “people who came in after us were seen first.” I assume those people do not grasp how emergency departments work. Their ignorance is bliss. 

Nonetheless, I think it would be helpful if the people who design emergency department waiting rooms ever actually spent time in them seeing how many will be in there for hours. 

First, let us address the complete lack of privacy. They are shouting out full names, date of birth and full social security numbers like identity theft is job one. 

Who designs these chairs? I have camping chairs that recline. Surely emergency department chairs could too? Or can we bring our own? 

In the interminable wait for them to call us for our turn, I discovered something about myself: I stress shop. While waiting, I decided I needed seven turtleneck sweaters, a brass unicorn, and I caught myself getting ready to order 99-cent drugstore quality makeup online.  


I wrote those words “Before.” Yes, capitalization is intentional. In life, there are capitalized “Before” and “After” moments. For most of my life, I have been blessed that these have been defined as before and after love, marriage, and children. Now the demarcation line is “Before” and “After” we almost lost my mother. 

We are so often told in life that “things can change in an instant.” Am I alone in feeling like “sure, but I fully expected that to mean it happens to other people.”  

Six days ago my mother, Girlwonder and I took a long-anticipated road trip in Mom’s new car. We shopped, we ate, we had a ball. 

For the record, my mother is not elderly or infirm. Nineteen when I was born, she has made life amazing and fantastic and safe and fabulous throughout my entire life. She is of the “Boomer” generation in the best possible way. She broke barriers and glass ceilings. She forged a career and a life that many would envy. She is fiercely independent and a “fun Grammy.” 

Like many of her generation, she has changed the way we see retirees. She rides horses, tosses hay bales and runs her farm and life with well-oiled precision. 

How it began

Four days ago, she said she felt sick. Four hours after that, she said she might call an ambulance. 

Four days ago we sat in the aforementioned emergency room waiting our turn. It started with painful, but not life-threatening, gall bladder issues in the aforementioned emergency room. She was admitted. 

Two and three days ago were spent preparing her for routine surgery. She was in good spirits. Laughing and teasing the doctors. She’s a well-honed flirt, and her ability to charm everyone explains the many proposals she has rebuffed through the years.

Honestly, I wasn’t convinced she wouldn’t snag a cute doctor or nurse during her stay. 

One day ago, I walked into the hospital expecting a long day of hurrying up just to wait while we sat through routine surgery and recovery. Instead, I walked into her hospital room to a nurse asking “is she always like this?” I took one look and knew something was terribly wrong. 


Thus began the “After.” In came chaos, trauma teams, dozens of specialists, and a medical helicopter — when routine became anything but. 

On that day, I understood the second way people experience emergency departments. In the movies, it’s all very dramatic. The chopper. A frantic drive to the hospital. The moment you realize the helicopter up ahead in the distance likely contains someone you are certain you cannot live without. Bursting at a full run through the emergency department doors. I do not recommend it. 

There is no emergency room wait under these circumstances. You get to go right to the front of the line. It is a privilege I would not wish on anyone. In fact, you get to skirt the metal detectors as a stroke coordinator barrels toward you waving to you to come now.

There is a blur of paperwork and consultation and specialists. They sat us in a tiny waiting room under a blaring television. The family that has rushed to join you gathers around. There is no limit to visitors at this point. When rules cease to matter — things are not going well.  

As I write this, I hope that what will be known, God willing, as the most terrifying day of my life is behind me. Please, Lord, I am the strong woman she raised, and I admit I still contact my mom every day.  

My writing has always worked on the idea that “someday we’ll look back on this and laugh.” That will never happen with this day. 

Now we pray, advocate and cheer for her healing. She’s still tough and impresses us all. 


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Kymberly Foster Seabolt lives in rural Appalachia with the always popular Mr. Wonderful, two small dogs, one large cat, two wandering goats, and a growing extended family.



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