Three words that almost sound like an eerie title out of a Hollywood film, and at times it could be just that. During January 2012, as I sat in my local doctors' 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. This indiscriminate disease cares little for class, creed, or colour. Its patients seem to be everywhere. I am quite sure, that many of us have waited in a doctors' surgery or hospital A&E waiting room, at some point in our lifetime. However, that experience is intensified for those of us with, either a life-threatening illness such as cancer which is often distressing, frustrating, or isolating for those of us, simply waiting for confirmation of a diagnosis or condition. 'Mind-blowing' is not 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; I do believe that 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 upon emotionally by seeing other patients who are ill (perhaps far more ill, than they are personally) in addition to the wait itself.
For over 8-years now, I have visited an array of waiting rooms, doctors surgeries, hospital A&E's and consultation rooms. All of these in regards to Cancer Treatment and see myself as an expert in 'waiting rooms', and let me assure you in this modern day and age it's still a very unsightly and 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 hospital management seems to be moving 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 is a fact, but what is 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 test, once again going through the process of living in the waiting room, this time in 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 'patient engagement time'? What if the patients were given a selection of moderated activities to partake in until our appointment? A lot of what if's however, anything is better than the dam monotony, the nervy wait affecting our mental process of thought. It is 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. I have seen overcrowding in waiting rooms, having a negative, emotional impact on cancer patients. Give me constructive alternatives whilst waiting, such as the provision of music, a library or shelves with books and magazines, TV, or the ability to leave waiting rooms, facilitated by offering a beeper. Instant Messaging could also be offered, as well as 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 moaning 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 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 languages and interactions the next time you sit in a waiting room. Does the fellow patient make eye contact with strangers? Or do they look down or only at the person who they are with? If it is the latter, it is probably best you 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 the 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 8-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 in the Cancer treatment centre waiting to see my oncologist, my mind reflects on what I see around me. Issues with waiting rooms should be tackled because of the emotional implications. In my mind, the patient waiting room is a stagnant concept, that has not evolved much since what seems, its Victorian inception.
© 2020 Alfred Samuels