Nicole,
You may want to consider the Nikon F3. It's built like a tank, but it's not a large camera. I don't have big hands and I find the camera to be very ergonomic. The aperature priority mode has been indispensable for me. The camera-metered exposures are usually dead on. If you get the high eyepoint viewfinder then you should have no problem with the left eye since you can be about an inch away from the viewfinder and still see the entire frame. It also has 100% frame coverage. I believe the FM series have like 92% or something. The only disadvantage I can see for the F3 is that the flash synch is 1/60.

I would have to say that the sound that the woman was complaining about was the motor drive. Shutters really aren't THAT loud. You could always go digital and hear no sound, but you don't want to do that.
Ara