Three words that almost sound like an eerie title from a Hollywood film and at times it could be just that. In January 2012, I sat in my local doctor's surgery waiting room waiting for news about a recent MRI scan, unbeknown to me I was about to receive devastating news from my doctor of the worst kind, Cancer. Cancer is indiscriminate it cares little for class, creed, or colour. Its patients are literally everywhere. Yes, we all have waited in a doctor’s surgery or hospital Accident & Emergency waiting rooms, however, that experience is intensified for those with either a life-threatening illness such as cancer, which is often distressing, isolating, frustrating or those simply waiting confirmation for a diagnosis of a condition. ‘mind-blowing’ isn’t it. Socially a waiting room is like a stormy sea. It can be stormy with hidden sandbars and just a few safe inlets. People are vulnerable raw, scared and downright miserable. And they will react in different ways whilst they sit and wait. Some want connections, others emphatically do not.
As I wondered to myself, how do you navigate these social shoals without ending up shipwrecked?
I have transitioned from treatment to survivorship my senses have become more alert and perceptive to my surroundings and those within it. When you are a cancer patient, you do an awful amount of waiting for tests, for check-ups, for procedures, for infusions. And every time you show up for any of these things you find yourself in a waiting room.
As I sit with my right leg nervously shaking, and my eyes wandering all over the waiting room I realise many are doing the same, and in many cases, it’s clear to see who the patient is and who the carer is. My bottom hurts due to the hard seats, my eyes sting as I squint to try and see through the bad lighting and bad decor. While I believe aesthetics are important, hospitals and surgeries need to re-examine the functionality of waiting rooms and schedules. I reflect, are they running on-time or is there a long wait. I see waiting rooms serve as a placeholder in preparation for a scheduled appointment or procedure. Patients are negatively impacted emotionally by seeing other persons who are ill (perhaps more ill than they are personally) in addition to the wait itself.
Over a 6-year period, I have visited an array of waiting rooms, doctors surgeries, Hospital Accident & Emergency and Consultation rooms along with Cancer Treatment Centres. I see myself as an expert in “waiting rooms” and let me assure you in this modern day and age it’s still a very uncomfortable place to be.
Being an ambassador for Cancer Research UK, I have seen the great strides being made to improve patient care and patient satisfaction scores. Surveys show that patient waiting rooms are influencers of patient satisfaction or dissatisfaction, but the powers that be move too slowly to achieve this end goal. Waiting, especially at a cancer treatment centre, adds additional anxiety to an already stressful situation. I have cancer that’s a known, but what’s not known is if my PSA has remained at zero or scarily moved up a notch. I would have attended the hospital the day before for my actual blood tests once again going through the process of living in the waiting room this time Haematology. I often ask myself the question? What if waiting rooms were to be transformed into patient engagement spaces. What if when we checked in for our appointments the hospital provided us with an app on our Smartphone to keep us updated with approximate waiting time? What if I became politically correct and renamed it to ‘patient engagement time.’What if we patients were given a selection of moderated activities to partake in until our appointment? A great deal of what ifs, however, anything is better than the dam monotony, the nervy wait affecting our mental process of thought. It is also here that I try to focus on the healing procedures because the moment is at hand where newer results are about to be revealed and my thoughts rest on, is the medication still working? And not about the actual sickness itself, that would come after the results are obtained.
For me I find waiting to be a negative activity, it is boring and physiologically distressing. Personally, I have seen overcrowding in a waiting room having a negative emotional impact on cancer patients. Give me constructive alternatives whilst waiting, for instance, the provision of music, a library or shelves with books and magazines, TV or the ability to leave the space facilitated by offering a beeper or in this day of technology IM! Providing comfortable chairs to enhance patients comfort during long waiting periods
For some, solace in a chapel for praying or a quiet moment to mull over things something is better than nothing to ensure that the physical environment avoids a “sick person’s atmosphere". I’m not much of a talker in a waiting room, I’m more the quiet type, an observer of others but, I have heard some amazing conversations nonetheless, however, confidentiality precludes me from divulging but the consistent argument is the moan about the clinic's timekeeping. The one thing we as patients detest is waiting and often we feel that doctors do not value our time. Though on the flip side we as patients cause delays by being tardy or by bringing up concerning medical issues at the end of our appointment (oh by the way doctor, I had severe chest pains all morning and shortness of breath). Whatever the reason, hundreds of patients across the UK are spending unnecessary hours in waiting rooms daily.
The waiting room is void of love, human interaction and social engineering, just observe body language and interactions the next time you sit in a waiting room. Does the fellow patient make eye contact with strangers? Or does he or she look down, or only at the person who they are with? If it’s the latter, it’s probably best to keep your thoughts to yourself along with your distance. Sometimes an interaction in a waiting room is what would never have happened without that waiting room interaction. There are so many who are undecided about a wealth of cancer issues such as enrolling in a clinical trials program.
I fall into the category of not wanting to talk about my condition even after 6-years, however, change those circumstances i.e. My surroundings to a more comfortable and appealing room and I will chat for Britain.
Today as I sit here at my Cancer treatment centre waiting to see my oncologist my mind reflects on what I see around me. Waiting rooms must be tackled because of the emotional implications. In my mind, the patient waiting room is a stagnant concept that hasn’t evolved much since what seems its Victorian inception.
Alfred Samuels - Author © 2018