Friday, September 14, 2012

The Waiting Room

I’ve spent too much time in hospital waiting rooms.

You would think it would be a place where you see raw emotion – people sad, angry, depressed; with violent confrontations, yelling and crying.

Instead, it is a relatively quiet space of seething, repressed feelings. Everyone is trying so hard to hold intense emotions inside that they leak through the cracks. People look at their shoes, afraid to make eye contact and either reveal, or see, something disturbing.

There is a television that plays, but nobody watches it. To do so would be to share an experience with anyone else who chooses to watch. Safer to just look at the floor, or quietly talk with the other one or two people who might have come in with you.

The people who are vocal are the mildly injured, waiting their turn for a gap in the crises behind the locked, sliding doors, so that they can get some stitches or a cast or their cough checked. They tend to moan in pain, or complain about the wait to the volunteers, who nod politely – or their neighbours, who move away and ignore them.

And, of course, there are always the vending machines. The wait can be hours, and god knows you will need sustenance – even if it’s in the form of a chocolate bar and a soda.

Psych patients are generally a priority, especially if you arrive alone or by ambulance. Hospitals want to get you to a secure place, where you can be evaluated to determine if you are a threat to yourself or others. They don’t want you freaking out in the waiting room. So you are treated like, say, a person with a head injury or a compound fracture.

However, if someone you know has brought you in, the triage nurse may make a “contract” with you. It goes like this – “Can you contract with me that you will not try to run away or harm yourself?” If you say yes, then you will be left with your companion, who is now charged with making sure you don’t escape.

Then, you wait. Even after you are admitted past the locked, sliding doors, you wait, sometimes hours before you see a doctor.

When you’re a patient, patience is what it’s all about.

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