Doctors’ waiting rooms. I don’t go very often. I usually try to fend off whatever ailment I have with Lemsip, Ibuprofen or Voltorol, so it has to be pretty serious for me to get on the phone to the health centre. Sat there, I sometimes wonder if that’s what it’s like at the Pearly Gates, everyone anxious to find out their fate. In my experience, doctors waiting rooms are always crowded. People are grumpy, not only because they are unwell, but also because they have had to wait weeks to get an appointment. The heating is turned up to “Sahara” setting and people are squashed in together, as all manner of germs dance and multiply in the warm, thick air. Thank god for mobile phones, as the alternative way to pass the time is a well-thumbed ancient copy of Gardeners Monthly or What Classic Car? magazines. No one talks, because that would mean exposing to a complete stranger just why you need to see a doctor. Apart from the occasional sniffing and coughing, the only noise to break the uncomfortable silence is the mind-numbing chatter of the receptionists as they tell each other about “Pat’s husband’s sister” or their fifteen year-old dog’s incontinence.*
Another way to pass the waiting time (why is it that your appointment is NEVER on time?) is to play guess the malady, where you look around the room and try to work out the reason for each person’s visit. The young mum, clutching a red-faced baby; baby has a high temperature. The twenty-something bloke in trainers and tracksuit bottoms shifting in his seat, he’s picked up some form of STD. The teenage girl with her mum, looking unhappier than a bloodhound…unwanted pregnancy. The tanned forty-something in tennis shorts and tracksuit top; his shoulder’s gone again. The smart businessman sat bolt upright…Viagra. The old boy who can’t stop coughing…all those years of B&H catching up now. The old dear with the stick who takes ages to get herself up out of her seat…incontinence pants.
But joking aside there’s always someone sat there, who reminds you of your mortality. The young man so thin that his clothes are just hanging off him, his eyes rheumy and you can see the life force ebbing from his body. The old lady in the wheelchair, being helped by her carer, screaming out involuntarily; she doesn’t know where she is, her eyes wild with fear. Yet all are greeted by the doctor in exactly the same way, as he appears at the door to summon the next patient to his surgery. Every one is equal. Everyone will receive his full attention. Everyone will receive the best care. Not everyone can be a doctor.
*It’s not always the case; I was once sat waiting to see doctor, aghast at the detailed conversation the two lady receptionists (both well into their sixties) were having about what Arsene Wenger should be doing with the Arsenal midfield?!?!