Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Doctors’ Waiting Room

I am a doctor, but more accurately, I was a practicing doctor…..but now I am thankfully retired.  Nevertheless, you can’t automatically assume that I know anything about doctors’ office waiting rooms.   But why write about such an exciting topic?  Maybe you want to be bored out of your mind by another ranting blog that goes nowhere, filled and confused by a swarm of run-on-sentences.  If so, read on.

To me, there is no better venue to describe human behavior than in public places?  Indeed, I could also write about behavior in a train station, an airport, a bus, any street, a busy restaurant, etc.   Importantly, my age gives me the historical license to describe the profound changes in human behavior that have taken place over the last 5 decades in public places.  Nothing I describe is novel or earth shattering.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it is a bit frightening and painfully regressive.

The picture above pilfered from the internet even outdates my days of waiting to be seen by my “doctor”.  But it’s not too far off the mark.  You see people sitting, some reading, a child, others listening to the nurse, undoubtedly some are talking quietly to each other, they are dressed nicely and the atmosphere appears civilized.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a small office, some natural light shining through the windows, and not too much “stuff” to distract the waiting patrons.  These are the pros of the waiting rooms of the past. 

What about the cons?  I admit that time moves slowly in such a waiting area, especially if you are alone with no one to talk to, little to nothing to read, anxious about seeing the “doctor” or have some persistent medical condition that is unresolved.  (At least the experiences are varied unlike that biyearly visit to you know who – waiting to have your mouth invaded, your tongue stretched in unnatural ways, your teeth picked and prodded, drilled, sanded and cleaned, all the while your dental hygienist or dentist asks you questions that they know your mouth is too preoccupied to answer.  I apologize for this side bar distraction).

I remember that even babies crying loudly would be taken out of the office waiting room to the hallway or outside the building.  People took responsibility for their kids crying episodes because they were sensitive to other people’s space and entitlement of privacy and quiet.  My wife exemplified this trait during any outing with our WELL BEHAVED CHILDREN.  I guess the real problem, which caused her the greatest anxiety, occurred on an airplane during the infrequent times when we travelled as a family.   Obviously, there was nowhere to hide the screaming brat if one of them acted out.  Our solution was to overdose (kidding) them with Benadryl in order to avoided this possibility altogether, which kept them sedated and manageable and did wonders for us as well.  

In those days, I really can’t remember sitting in a waiting room where anyone was talking loudly, while imposing their ignorant rants on the rest of us.  Certainly those days preceded the global use of cell phones (and other hand held devices), which I think helped reduce the tendency to talk loudly in public.   And there were no TV’s, but sometimes there was the low-level hum of background music that I think helped perpetuate the quiet and the calm of the office.

Contrast this behavior to what happened when TV sets were introduced to waiting rooms in the 80’s and 90’s.  It was indeed shocking to go from NO TV’s to every office having one…and later even two or three.  I remember my first reaction was delight.  No longer would I have to drown in my own boredom. I could watch a “game” or the news, or daytime drama, or cartoons, or anything that happened to be passing by on the channel.  The problem was it was no longer my decision to be bored.  Someone else was calling the shots, and unless I removed myself from the waiting room, an endless cacophony of flickering lights and noxious sounds was imposed on me along with everyone else sitting in that same room.  Ironically, I suppose that some mothers with sleeping children might want to remove their babies to the quiet of the hallway or some other location to preserve and prolong the restful sleep cycle of their infants.  Or maybe these babies have grown accustomed to falling asleep amid such an overwhelming assault on the senses, with sleep resulting from sensory overstimulation leading to exhaustion.  Wonder why your babies are always cranky?

Instead of individuals collectively occupying a room while retaining their individual space and identity, and the freedom of choice for quiet, to talk to someone, to read quietly, everyone was now subjected to the same imposed noisy surroundings.  For those who immediately became accustomed to such waiting room “entertainment”, it perpetuated a state of “brain death” that surrendered the day passively and uneventfully while ostensibly being programmed by big brother, moving from one TV screen to the next as the infection of TV monitors proliferated to every conceivable space in ones life.  For those of us who eventually reacted to this, we were left prisoners with no way out, as we unsuccessfully attempted to filter out the noise and light by repositioning chairs, sitting as far away from the monitor as possible, talking to a friend louder than the TV monitor, or filling your ears with some personal music devise to drown out the unwelcomed ambient dissonance.  At best, these prescriptions were only partially successful.  But at least for the most part, people were left in the present.

This is no longer the case.  The something more powerful than the TV screen needed to evolve to remedy the situation is the PDA.  Indeed, animals must ask themselves as they observe humans fixated so intently on these electronic control devises whether humans are controlling their devices or being controlled by them.  The solution that has rapidly appeared, has effectively commanded the full attention of their users blotting almost any outside distraction.  Sure, babies crying, self-centered ego inflated humans shouting nonsense, TV sets on high volume, even violent acts between humans are no competition to the mesmerizing capacity of PDA’s to command attention.  This is good when trying to filter out noxious distractions, but not healthy in other situations when we need to observe the environment around us, as evidenced by laws recently enacted nationwide to limit their use during driving, etc.  

Humans no longer wish to communicate looking at each other and with their vocal cords.  Maybe humans will evolved in a few thousand years unable to speak……..hummmm, then I can go back to my doctors office and not worry.

Anyway, for now……..I am on my way to get a hair trim.  I love my Korean barber, whose shop is a throwback from the 70’s, only two miles from my house, quiet, never filled to the brim with patrons, equipped with a fresh newspaper to read, and happily not sporting any common waiting room TV.  And at least at present, there are very few people young enough with good enough eye sight to be able to read the small digital font of a PDA.