8 a.m. in the front lobby of the Catholic hospital. It doesn’t matter which one. An old man, alone, stands before the admissions counter. He has that bewildered look of the recently arrived immigrant from good health. The young woman behind the counter asks: “Are you checking in with us this morning?” The old man says nothing. Instead he looks to the left, then to the right, then down at the counter. Finally he says, yes.
“Wonderful!” says the young woman. “May I have your name?”
A long silence. The old man is still looking down at the counter. At last he looks up and says his name to the young woman. Smiling, she types it into the computer. A screen comes up. All his information is there. His status appears fixed. He has been assigned a room. He has a team of physicians. The schedule will be tight. Various outcomes loom.
Still smiling, the young woman says, “Have a seat over there.” The old man looks to where she is pointing, a dimly lit alcove that serves as a waiting area. On the far wall is an empty chair. Beside the chair is a closed door.