The Waiting Room Syndrome


“When I think of people in waiting rooms, including myself, I picture us rifling restlessly through battered magazines,” writes Rachel Hadas, Guest Editor of  “The Waiting Room Reader II:  Words to Keep You Company”.

In her notes she goes on to say, “ No doubt the image is out of date; these days, we’re more likely to be texting or talking on cell phones or playing solitaire on some tiny device. No matter: the nervous impatience of the mood in that room doesn’t change. The very situation of waiting, of enduring a period of time of unknown duration in a special place reserved for just such endurance, sends most of us on a skittish quest for news from the outside the waiting room. If word about our test results or our loved one’s conditions isn’t immediately available (and, if it were. Why would we be there?), we turn to speedier bulletins to distract ourselves. Current events, celebrity gossip, auto racing, trout fishing—take your pick, and I haven’t even mentioned the TV that’s likely to be on. All the while, of course, our minds are busily engaged in a dance of avoidance and dread. It’s hard to focus on anything.”

Ms. Hadas’ description takes me back to a waiting room scene during my tenure as a medical humanist at a regional cancer center. The patient arrived with her oxygen tank in tow, steering her walker towards the receptionist’s desk but stopped halfway—not for additional oxygen but to face those who were seated. “I do not know,” she said, “if you are here to be treated, have been newly diagnosed, for a follow up appointment or if you’re family member or friend. What I know is—I don’t want to be here! “

Standing nearby I said, “If there is anybody who wants to be here raise your hand.”

Silence was transformed to laughter… one by one patients revealed why he or she was there to discover they were not alone. Perhaps, this is the antidote to the waiting room syndrome of isolation.

(4) Comments

  1. Harry

    Great story loved it, your writing is wonderful

  2. Shelley

    Wonderful! I think the most satisfying and productive way to get through most things for which we feel alone, is to share it with others who are or have experienced something similar. Feeling ‘a part of’ instead of feeling ‘separate or alone’ is one of the most comforting, safe feelings there is. A lot to think about for creating these opportunities

  3. Thanks, Celia, and thanks for the shout-out for THE WAITING ROOM READER. Celia has been a great resource to me during my mother-in-law’s (ongoing and multiple) diagnostic procedures, surgery, and so on. I must admit that Celia’s wonderful story about the lady in the waiting room addressing its other occupants is a far cry from the crowded, disengaged-feeling waiting rooms I’ve recently sat in in the suburbs of NYC. I feel at once inspired to be more interactive and cautious about embarrassing strangers – and yet Shelley is absolutely right.

  4. Amy P

    You capture that waiting room tension precisely. Geez, how much I dislike waiting for a doctor.

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