Hitting a Nerve

The waiting room: Then and now


Recently my wife had surgery to remove some old hardware from her knee.

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

Although it was an outpatient procedure, it was done at the main hospital. I was told it would be about 5 hours total, so I set up shop in the waiting room with my laptop to get some work done.

There were a few other people waiting there and one volunteer at the desk. The whole time went fairly uneventfully. Others busied themselves with iPads, phones, books, etc. It was, overall, a pleasantly quiet atmosphere. There were the occasional hushed tones of someone on the phone or talking to a doctor, the sound of someone crying in the private discussion room, the voice of a volunteer answering questions, and the intermittent whirring of the Keurig machine.

I sat there and thought about how different it was from times in the past. On weekends when I’d take call I’d come through this same room. It was often packed – standing room only. Almost always there were children running amok because their parents were too distracted or tired to control them. There were food wrappers and dirty cafeteria trays sitting on tables. The Keurig machine was often empty from frequent use – the volunteer too overwhelmed to resupply it.

Now, in the COVID-19 era, it’s a whole different world with visitor restrictions, and I found myself wondering: “Why go back to that?”

Seriously. Isn’t a calm, quiet, atmosphere supposed to be what a hospital (or doctor’s) waiting room should be? Is it really critical that large numbers of an extended family be in the waiting room for every case?

Granted, there should be exceptions. Critical and terminal illness, withdrawal of care, maybe a few others. But for the majority of patients, placing limitations on the numbers of family members in the waiting room shouldn’t be an issue; it makes the difficult environment of being there easier for all to deal with.

Limiting it to one, maybe two family members for most circumstances isn’t a bad idea. A hospital isn’t an airport, and shouldn’t be run the same way.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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