The Waiting Room
In the simulation lab where we trained as medical students, all we had to do was grab a tissue and hand it to the patient. Then, like magic, they would thank us. As if that's all it takes to suddenly make things better!
We also learned to say empathic things like “I know this tough,” “I’m here for you” and “What’s wrong?” And in the simulation lab they worked like magic, too.
But now I'm with a real patient, and I tried all these things, and they just didn’t cut it. She seems so disconnected and isolated.
Ms. Darcey had been my patient for over four years. She was one of those fortunate few who made it to the doctor’s office only for their yearly physical exam. One day she showed up unexpectedly, in a wheelchair, her head tilted to one side. She had arrived at the diagnosis before I could make an attempt.
I am sipping the foam off my café latte, holding the cup with both hands because they're shaking so much. It is early morning and very cold, even for New York, but the waiting room at Mount Sinai Hospital is warm and open to a 10-story atrium courtyard. The Starbucks on the ground floor seems to be the hub of the hospital, as, from the balcony of the waiting room, I watch doctors in scrubs, patients in wheelchairs, Hasidic Jews (identifiable by their curls) in black coats standing in a line that snakes through the lobby.
As a medical student, I would show up to clinic the first day of my rotation and introduce myself to the receptionist. Standing there in the waiting room, conspicuous in my short, white coat, and referring to myself as "the new medical student," I'd feel the patients' gaze. The receptionist would wave me to the clinic, and I would sigh with relief.
It is the same old waiting room, but something is different. It is my first visit to my obstetrician after having my baby.
Following eye surgery, I was "sentenced" to two weeks of lying face down. But five days in I know without a doubt that something has gone horribly wrong.
Sitting in the oncologist's waiting room is like watching the weather report.
When my mother doubled over with belly pain, my girlfriend and I insisted on accompanying my father to the emergency room. There in the waiting room we sat, deep into the night, waiting for news about my mother.
I was sure that the groans of ecstasy must be piercing the exam room door and echoing off the waiting room walls.
Normally, seeing Joyce fills me joy and anticipation of what great news or interesting question she has for me. But quickly my anticipation turns to dread. She shouldn’t be sitting here, not at 11 pm on a weeknight.