I wonder why we spend so much time with doctors, hospitals and waiting rooms. Jerry has heart problems, and I have some minor reproductive issues that involve pap smears a couple of times a year. Then there are mammograms. And the dentist has us 4 times a year for cleaning. I wear glasses. Jerry has some unexplained (“your retina looks funny”) reason why he has to be checked by the ophthalmologist at 6 month intervals. And yet we are basically healthy.
There isn’t much to think about in waiting rooms, so I have taken to thinking about waiting rooms, and the other ways the medical world interfaces with the ailing public and their loved ones and helpers.
I have been going to the same family doctor for about 15 years. The décor in his waiting room has not changed during that time. There is a poster of a baby playing in a fountain and a rack of brochures on sundry ailments, smoking, public health alerts and the like. There’s a bin of toys. The reading material is mostly Family Fun, Parenting, out of date Newsweeks, home magazines and advertisements for retirement homes. Are you getting bored?
What impresses me is the increase in the number women behind the counter. There are some who answer the phone, check people in and make appointments. None of them recognizes me, though I know many of their names. I guess the others are dealing with billing and insurance and Medicare. There are floor to ceiling cases filled with the papers that they move about, send in with patients to be examined and then re-file.
There used to be a large tank of tropical fish with a sign on it that said, “Please do not tap the tank”. That’s gone. I’m sure it was expensive to maintain and fish tanks are now possible sources of bad germs.
They have pretty much given up any attempt to amuse or entertain people while they wait. The waits can be quite long.
The dentist’s office is less dreary. The receptionists (2 of them) greet us by name, there is a fish tank without a sign, and the magazines are better – National Geographic, Sunset, and the like. There we never wait long.
The waiting room I have had the most time to evaluate recently is the one where I wait while Jerry has “procedures” on his heart. It is in a new wing of the hospital built to house the new cardiac unit. No expense has been spared.
In a corner by the rest room there is an illuminated board with patient numbers on color coded strips that tell what stage the procedure is at. The procedures take 2 hours or more, and since Jerry has had three, I have spent the equivalent of a whole day in this waiting room
There is a large fake fire place, with a flickering fire behind glass that gives no heat. The fake stone mantel is decorated with an arrangement of plastic greens and candles that will never be lit. There is a bookcase with some old medical books, apparently chosen for their bindings. I read something once about how to decorate with books, and I guess that is the plan here.
There are several large brass urns with bunches of dried plants (possibly plastic – hard to tell). The sofas are comfortable, the chairs less so. There are large framed landscapes, reproductions of pastel drawings, not photographs as I first thought. Magazines are neatly placed in a built-in rack, and there is a fairly wide range of subject matter, with emphasis on the sportsman. The lighting is soft and diffuse.
I could see that a professional decorator had been at work. I guess the object was to make the space unobtrusive, inoffensive, neutral and relaxing (not possible under the circumstances).
Before there is any change in the color coded board one of the women who sit behind the desk calls me and tells me the procedure is finished and the doctor will talk to me.
I am led to another very small windowless room with only two chairs and a desk in it. Some framed photos of barns are on the wall and in a pot on the floor is a large plant which, on close examination, I think is real. It’s one of those things that grow on the jungle floor in very low light. There is a computer on the desk, indicating that work might take place here at some time.
The doctor comes in and tells me the procedure went well and he hopes the problem is fixed, but he can’t be sure. We go out to the hallway where a good looking young man in a scrub suit is wheeling Jerry (whom I kiss) on a gurney.
We are taken to the recovery and intake area. Here it is all business, no décor of any kind, just a few posters (in English and Spanish) reminding all who enter to wash their hands. The rest is equipment, bins for various kinds of waste, and stores of plastic gloves, dressings and needles.
The nurse and the young man from the operating theater chat cheerfully with each other and with us. The nurse, who is morbidly obese (to the point that I wonder whether it interferes with her work) is busy looking after my husband’s incisions.
We have to wait 3 hours before he can go home in case there is bleeding. I try to talk to Jerry, but he is still a bit sleepy, so I spend time watching the ECG and blood pressure machine. They give us a sandwich and a soft drink which we split. Finally he is allowed to get dressed. I say, “Great, we can go home.” “Not yet” says the nurse, “first we have to see him ambulate.”
Jerry gets dressed, pulls the curtain aside and peers out into the busy corridor. A passing nurse asks if he needs anything. “No, just ambulating,” says Jerry.
Finally we are released and we emerge from the vast windowless world of the hospital maze. It’s raining outside, predictable in the Pacific Northwest, but most of the people in there can’t tell.