There are four turquoise recliners positioned in a semi-circle in the planned parenthood recovery room. I mention this because when someone says “recovering from surgery,” even a minor procedure, I always imagine hospital beds before anything else. Certainly I wouldn’t picture the sort of armchairs you might find positioned across from a wide screen TV in someone’s living room.

On a slow day we’ll see as few as two or three women, so the four-chair set up works out perfectly. On busy days, though, it always seems like there should be some backup. The procedure itself takes very little time, but it’s unpleasant and the women are often still in a lot of pain as they’re settled into their recovery chair. It seems like it would be an easy thing to shut out the world around you and just lose time as you wait for the discomfort to subside. The nurse in charge of the room will sometimes ask them if they feel up to heading home, but I’ve yet to see anyone at the clinic actively push a patient to clear out or make room for another.

The interesting part is how that’s never really been a problem. For all the days I’ve been there, I’ve only ever seen two girls who had to wait for a recliner, and both seemed to be in a minimal amount of pain. (Some women go through the procedure more smoothly than others; some walk out ready to face the world while others can barely make it from the procedure room.) Usually, though, busy days end up perfectly spread out; as one new girl hobbles into the room, another is gathering her things ready to make her way downstairs. Its only on slow days the girls seem to linger. They curl up in the chairs, close their eyes or text on their phones for long stretches of time before feeling ready to pull themselves upright again.

I mentioned this to the nurse one morning, how I always excepted things to take so much longer on days when we had twelve or fourteen women moving through and yet I always seemed to be leaving the clinic at the same time.

“You know, you’re right,” she said. “It’s like they sense that someone else needs the chair.”

It seems like personal sacrifice for the greater good would be the last thing on the minds of a group of women going through such an emotionally and physically difficult experience. I don’t know if it’s conscious or not; if they actually think to themselves, “Oh I’d better get moving before someone needs this chair,” or if something about the energy of the room is different on a busy day that keeps things moving along. Either way, I find the phenomenon intriguing and am curious to see if the pattern holds.

 

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