The other week when I was sitting in the Outpatient Center waiting area waiting for my name to be called for my follow up appointment with my dermatologist I started to watch the second hand of the wall clock. It was as if time was in a state of being with no end, and I found myself wondering if an appointment’s waiting time is proportional to it’s scheduled time. Waiting time for medical appointments seem to follow a status waiting time matrix; up to an hour for a general internist, two hours to see a brain surgeon, and four hours to visit an oncology specialist is normal. But there has to be a generic mathematical theorem that allows for the predicting of the waiting time for any appointment; be it with a doctor or dentist, a job interview, or with a government employee.
It’s hard to imagine that an advanced degree in Interior Design is needed to design a Waiting Room. Most waiting rooms look the same and I’m surprised that people aren’t bored by the sameness of the spaces. Waiting rooms have crowded rows of anti-bacterial vinyl chairs with padded seats and arms, end tables cluttered with old magazines, beige walls with some type of poster, and a wall-mounted muted TV tuned to the national news with closed captioning turned off. The silence of the TV is part of the muffled silence of the waiting room; it’s a silence of whispering and the dull whoosh of a door opening and closing. The silence is sometimes interrupted by the soft cough of a patient. Most medical waiting rooms have a poster of the human digestive system, diseases of the urinary tract, or a food pyramid chart on their walls. The labelling, and numbering, on the posters, is always 12 point font size. I think the smallness of the labelling is why I’ve never been able to find the renal pelvis on a urinary tract anatomical chart without standing twelve inches from the illustration. Visiting the doctor does save me an appointment with my ophthalmologist.
The longer I sat waiting for my name to be called the more I became entranced by the motion of the wall clock’s second hand; it seemed to be accelerating around the clock face and slowly transforming into a hypnotic spiral vortex. My brain was soon in the middle ground between light and shadow; between science and superstition and at the dimension of imagination. The waiting room became the holding pens at Dandenong Market. Sometimes during the school holidays mum would let us stay for a few days with our Aunt Bet and Uncle Ken in Dandenong. Tuesday was market day. Early market day morning we’d rush down the street with our cousins Andrew and Peter, and plunge into the maze of market cattle pens. We’d walk and balance on the wooden planks that made up the pens and chutes and look down upon the pigs, sheep, and cows. They stood doing nothing; waiting for their appointment at the loading bays with the waiting utes.
At one time you’d find an eclectic assortment of magazines in a medical waiting room. Doctors and staff would bring their magazines into work for their workmates to read and sooner or later they’d end up finding their way into the waiting room. The end tables would have more magazines on them than a newsagent would sell in a month. It was the days before privacy and identity theft so the mailing name and address label were still on the magazine cover. I’d pass the time reading the mailing labels on the magazines; it was comforting to learn that doctors read Fresh Water Fishing Australia, The Australian Woodworker, The Australasian Beekeeper, and the Women’s Weekly. They were just like ordinary people.
Mum loved the Women’ s Weekly. She’d buy her copy of the Weekly from the newsagent in Melbourne Road when she went shopping at the butchers; the same newsagent where dad would take us on a Saturday afternoon to buy comics with our pocket money. I’m sure mum got the recipe for her mouth-watering Cheese and Frankfurter’s salad from the Women’s Weekly. The Weekly’s recipes were nestled between advertisements that included Isn’t Daddy fun since he started on Pluravit, and How to have beautiful feet! Start by getting rid of corns the fast Scholl way.
Mum’s mouth-watering Cheese and Frankfurter salad
- 2 small zucchinis cut diagonally into slices
- 1/2 head cauliflower, broken into cauliflowerettes
- 1 dill cucumber sliced
- 2 tomatoes cut into wedges
- 1/2 bunch spring onions chopped
- 1/3 cup French or Italian dressing
- 8 oz frankfurters sliced lengthwise
- 8 oz Australian Cheddar cheese cubed
- 1 lettuce torn into bite-size pieces
- freshly ground black pepper
As a youngster, I never liked going to the doctor. I think I was disturbed by the ever-present, faint sweet smell of ether and chloroform. I tried to distract myself with copies of Popular Science, Australian Model Car & Slot Racing Review, or Airfix Model World. Today you’re lucky to find a copy of Time magazine in a waiting room. The scarce waiting room magazines are hoarded, out of harm’s way, in a wall-mounted or free-standing magazine rack. I’m no longer confident of being able to read magazines and their mailing label to make the waiting room time tolerable, so I’ve made myself a list of waiting room things to do.
The more I watched the second hand of the wall clock the more I mused about appointments and their waiting time. I started to ponder about who’s responsibility was it to make waiting times tolerable. Should the person just sitting there doing nothing have to find something to do, or does the doctor, dentist, the job interviewer, or the government employee have an obligation to provide a waiting room activity or resource? I’d suggest those responsible for the waiting times provide time-distracting activities and resources; why not start with digital scavenger hunts and waiting room play readings.
Instead of people sitting silently listening to music, watching movies, aimlessly surfing the web, and playing mind-numbing games on their smartphones, why not introduce them to the thrill of a medical digital scavenger hunt. They could search for operating instruments, medical clothing, diagnostic equipment, surgical and examination lights, and stretchers and stretcher accessories, and then complete assigned tasks and take role-playing selfies when they discover the hidden items. You’d earn points based on the activities you complete and the realness of your selfies. And it would be even more fun if those waiting for appointments were divided into teams; winning team members would be awarded priority scheduling appointment status or receive a FastPass to their next appointment. Digital scavenger hunts would have everyone asking “Where did the wait time go; you’ve called my name already?
Play reading is an activity that would alleviate waiting room stress, anxiety, and boredom. I think Keith Passmore’s Antibiotic has to be a great choice for a reading in a crowded waiting room; Wally who’s an elderly man, and a member of the great unwashed, creates havoc in the male ward whilst an unfortunate male patient, who is having a problem with his genitals, is placed in the female ward due to overcrowding.
Ozzie: I was desperate and turned into a side road where there was a screen of trees. I made for the nearest tree and just made it in time and then, well.…
Or for the less crowded waiting room Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot; two characters, known as Estragon and Vladimir wait for the arrival of someone named Godot who never arrives.
Vladimir: We wait. We are bored. (He throws up his hand.) No, don’t protest, we are bored to death, there’s no denying it. Good. A diversion comes along and what do we do? We let it go to waste … In an instant, all will vanish and we’ll be alone once more, in the midst of nothingness!
I heard the dull silent whoosh of a door opening, and then my name being called. After my blood pressure and weight were recorded I was shown to a small examination room and left with; “if you’d take off your clothes and put on the gown the doctor will be with you shortly.” I searched the small room for a magazine; there were no magazines. I wracked my brain searching for an ice breaker for my dermatologist patient conversation. You’d think the first thing to come to mine would be suppurating carbuncles, papillomavirus infections, festering boils, or sebaceous cysts, but all I could think of was that pressure-packed, pimple popping game, Pimple Pete.
The game’s simple to play. Pete’s cheeks and chin are covered in pimples that need popping. You spin the spinner and choose a loaded squishy pimple to pop from where it lands. You pop the pimple by twisting, wiggling, and pulling the squishy pimple thing out of the pimple. The Mega Zit on Pete’s nose is filled with water to simulate pimple juice. If you twist or wiggle a pimple to hard you’ll be sprayed with the pimple juice. Some pimples are easier to pop than others so the points for popping a pimple vary. Whoever gets the most points without being sprayed with Mega Zit pimple juice wins.
I plan on having a few rounds of Speed Pimple Pete at the backyard medical theme soiree I’ll be hosting this summer so maybe I can start the appointment conversation by picking my dermatologist’s brain with “do you think it’d be better to fill Pimple Pete’s Mega Zit with Green Chartreuse or golden yellow Galiano?” I wonder what his thoughts would be about serving drinks in specimen jars with floating plastic body parts.