Sunday, January 28, 2007

Thoughts about Waiting Rooms

It would be staggering to know how much time is totally LOST each week as people sit in hospital waiting rooms. I had many chances to observe last week what goes on in these places, or more like what doesn’t.

My appointments at Washington Hospital Center were spread between a lab and the Department of Nuclear Medicine. In both places I observed people just totally shutting down as they waited for whatever would happen next.

The lab area had nondescript Musak playing in the background. After signing in, the patients would sit down and just become comatose, while not actually falling asleep. No one read a book. No one read a magazine. No one brought anything to do. No one talked. They just sat there in silence and waited for their name to be called out.

I was quite the exception. Since I have to wait a while after I take my morning Synthroid pill to eat, I brought my breakfast – cereal and milk and proceeded to eat it while I waited for my call for bloodwork. One older man in a wheelchair asked his wife why he couldn’t have brought his breakfast too, upon which I offered to share and he declined. I also brought the remaining placemats which still needed the final handwork to finish them off. A woman actually broke the silence to ask me about what I was making.

The Nuclear Medicine waiting room is somewhat different. The patients are still silent and unprepared to do anything but wait. But the background sound is Judge Judy or Rachel Ray or whatever talk show is on. I’m convinced there must be one every hour.

For many of the people sitting in waiting rooms, it is much easier to shut down than it is to contemplate what has happened or what is going to happen. Some of them are terminally ill. Some of them are struggling to cope with serious health conditions.

The exchange with the receptionist is not exactly uplifting either. In Nuclear Medicine, their first question is “When were you diagnosed?” meaning “When did you get cancer?” I always want to say, “I HAD thyroid cancer 2 years ago, but I don’t have it any longer.” It’s obviously much easier to tune out than to think about why you are there.

I wish someone would give me the project of designing a better way for people to spend all this time – a way they could be busy and productive and engaged instead of repressed. I’m convinced there are alternatives to what we find everywhere we currently go for medical attention.


Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Wouldn't it be great if waiting rooms had walking labyrinths or other ways to pass the time while worried. It's never fun waiting to see the doctor.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

A labyrinth is such a good idea. Adding color to the room would also be stimulating. As it is right now, there is nothing to fight against the inevitable depression that most people experience.

9:10 PM  
Blogger KassyK said...

I could not agree more with this post. I had a succession of cyst ruptures a few years ago and had to wait in the ER two times in two months and it was a nightmare. But the third time I already had a doctor that pulled strings at his affilliated hospital so I only had to wait an HOUR.

Jeez. The problem also is the fear...and the pain. I was in agony waiting there but wasn't going to be put into surgery so I had to wait.

Same problem when I was admitted to the hospital in college for dehydration. The only reason they finally took me out of the ER was because I PASSED OUT ON THE FLOOR.

Hospitals are a freaking mess.

A mess.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kassy -- Part of the problem is that you are not a person when you are in a waiting room. You are simply a number. It's a sad day when you have to pass out on the floor to get their attention, but that's just the way it is.

10:10 PM  
Anonymous David said...

here are a couple of ideas to make these type of waiting rooms a more calming and pleasant experience:

* offer massage (maybe the sitting kind with neck/shoulders)

* offer patients their own personal TV/Computer where they can choose between selections like the "Marx Brothers" or the "In-laws"

11:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barbara - you've got the job. What are your ideas? I am never without a book and I notice a lot of people sift through the stacks of magazines on the tables. One man sat near the kid's corner and repaired a couple of toys while he waited. I agree with Kassy - the fear and the pain make sitting coma-like preferable to trying to engage in conversation with strangers or concentrate on a project. Perhaps a counseling corner where there is someone to talk things over with would be helpful...

6:54 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

David -- I like your suggestions. I would be curious to see if any hospitals would be able to think outside the box and try something like this. It would be an interesting experiment.

I like the idea of controlling what videos they are able to see, so it's not just another form of droning TV.

I see Reya managing a national company to supply massage therapy to hospital waiting rooms. Wouldn't that be fantastic?!

Pauline -- Maybe I'll file this idea away for a retirement project. It's time to start thinking about that...

11:14 AM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

I love the ides that others have written! I've spent a lot of time in waiting rooms, completely at their mercy. I usually wander around, get a coffee, go to the gift shop and buy neat stuff that supports the hospital,look at the outdated mags, then pull out books that need to be marked, or do some writing....but I'd gladly opt for a computer or massage!

11:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always have a book and a camera in my purse. These days, I generally have paper and pen, too, but I'm a little strange. I've also been known to play with the kids toys as an adult, coloring or building with blocks to pass the time and soothe my jangled nerves.

As a side note, being nice and treating the doctors, nurses and security guards like people helps. They're generally just numbers to us, a means to an end.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Old Lady said...

My needle work!

1:31 PM  
Anonymous quentin said...

David and I were listening to Jimmy Clif's "Sitting in Limbo" today thinking we could make a musical selection to play in waiting rooms. That one, and definitely Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle" (time keeps on slippin', slippin, slippin,...)

6:27 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Quentin -- Yeah, those two are right on! Do you suppose they composed them in a hospital waiting room?! David said you had some more serious ideas about how to fix this problem that you never got around to talking about. Save them for Friday.

9:45 PM  

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