Town Crier: Waiting room redux

I've grown up in Dalton so I've have spent plenty of time in waiting rooms around town. I'm talking about doctor and medical facilities waiting rooms. Whether I was going for myself, taking a family member or just going to visit a friend that was having their tonsils out, there is always the waiting room to go through.

We're lucky we live in a small town and in one where we have a great medical community that has improved, in many cases, the waiting room experience. I can't imagine a waiting room in some place like New York or Chicago. But herewith are my experiences with various waiting rooms in town.

Earliest memories

The first waiting room I remember was for my pediatrician when I was but a wee lad. That was in the office of Dr. Farrow and Dr. Looper. It didn't take long for me to figure out that when I went to the doctor's office I was going to get stuck one way or another. If I was sick they were going to prick my finger to draw blood and then give me a shot for whatever was ailing me. And if I was well I might get to skip the finger prick but would get a shot anyway as I met all my vaccine requirements. Sick or well, a kid couldn't win. In that waiting room my fertile imagination ran wild on what I would have to endure inside there. A cold stethoscope was the least of my worries. And there was usually some baby crying in the room to ratchet up the old nerves. But the doctors knew what they were doing with the little kids coming in and they had a secret weapon.

To distract the kids and keep them in an upbeat mood, they had a bird. And not just any bird, but a talking myna bird. I think his name was Joe. He said several things but the funniest thing he said was to ask the question "Can birds talk?" You can be sure a bird that could ask that question of 4-year-olds was keeping them distracted. Just having a live animal in the room was genius. And even as an adult I think it would be great to have some animals in the waiting room. Not hyenas or snakes maybe, but bunnies, puppies and kittens. There's something certainly therapeutic about watching animals enjoying themselves.

The other waiting room I remember was the waiting room for the hospital. Used to they had a lot stricter rules on visiting patients in the rooms. No kids under 12 was one of the rules. And visiting hours were over promptly at 9 p.m. So if my parents went to visit a friend in the hospital I got stuck down in the waiting room trying to kill time. One time I do remember having a coloring book and some crayons but time dragged out and when the announcement that visiting hours were over I didn't know what to think. There I was at Hamilton Memorial Hospital thinking they were going to put me out on the street because time was up. My parents did make it down but that was one long wait.

The ER

There's the emergency room waiting room at the hospital. The times I've been there have been to take others there. Even when I had my appendix out I didn't have to go through the emergency room. I just walked up to the admissions desk and they signed me in that way through a doctor's referral. So by taking others to the emergency room I've spent a lot time in the waiting room.

One thing they do try and do at the ER is get you back to an exam room which is a better place to wait because, let's face it, there are sick people at the hospital! At the ER you go to the left to check in even though the rooms are to the right. If the ambulance brings someone in they go back to a loading bay, so those emergency patients usually jump to the front of the line.

There's an extra step from the waiting room to the exam room and that's triage. Triage is a French word and it comes from World War I when they would separate the wounded by how fast they needed to be treated, putting the least injured in one group, the more seriously wounded in another group and so on.

Triage now is a little more focused on finding out what's going on with the emergency patient rather than assigning them a place in line, although the more serious the person is the quicker they will get to you. The ER waiting room is big, spacious, has a variety of sitting areas and is supplied with plenty of wheelchairs if someone is too sick to walk from car to check-in. There's a TV in there and usually they are playing something innocuous like HGTV home shows or something like that. I'm thinking they try and keep it tuned off those dramatic medical shows where everyone is in a panic.

Waiting rooms in a small town

In many of the doctors' waiting rooms around town there are televisions but they frequently have informational programing on them. In one waiting room I've been in they have various videos that are general in nature, featuring segments on healthy diets or good stretching exercises for example. In another office I've been to they have videos of the actual procedures they do there. They are animated, not actual procedure videos, but they still show the parts of the body and where the needles go in and so on. I like the idea of being properly informed on what goes on but on the other hand ... well they do say ignorance is bliss.

One thing about waiting rooms in a small town is you are likely to run in to someone you know. I went with my dad for a checkup a few weeks ago and knew about half the people in there as well as having a friend working behind the desk. You smile and say hello but try and not ask what's going on. The polite thing is to wait and see if they volunteer any information. That can be a tricky social situation.

And of course, it being a small town, you know that both them and you are going to say "Well, guess who I ran into at the doctor's office" to people you both know. There are no HIPPA rules for neighbors. And when we did get in to see the doctor turns out I know him as well because our kids are friends and hang out together.

Another waiting room where you go left to sign in and go right to be processed is the Hamilton Imaging Center. The waiting room is full of windows and filled with outside light which helps keep the mood up as people wait to go into the back and get imaged by machines that are so advanced they would confound Buck Rogers and flummox Flash Gordon. And thank goodness they're that scientifically advanced. An X-ray is pretty amazing but they have a lot more letters besides X these days. They have CT scans, contrast CT scans, MRIs and PET scans. The sign out front has a lot of the tests on it and it looks like alphabet soup to me. But these beams and rays and scans can peer into the body and figure out exactly what's going on and help the doctors know what to do. So the next time you're sitting in that waiting room, just consider it like waiting to go on a trip to the future.

In a trick of fate, for several years my general practitioner (he's moved his practice to south Georgia now) had his office in the place I started out, back in the building that housed Dr. Farrow and Dr. Looper. Now I was an adult. Now I understood medicine and had a long experience benefiting from the healing arts.

I had had plenty of shots and the method for sticking your finger to get a blood sample had gone from basically a razor blade when I was a kid to a tiny little sticker now, now bigger than a tiny briar. It was the same, although it appeared smaller to my grown-up eyes. Joe the myna bird was long gone but there were no crying babies to dishearten you like there used to be. And so, was I a lot calmer in this waiting room of my youth? No way. I was still at the doctor's office and what I learned early was still there in the back of my mind. No matter what happens, no matter my medical situation ... I was probably going to get a shot.

I will say that in most cases the waiting room these days is not as much of a wait as it used to be. I don't know if doctors got better at scheduling or if they can just get through more patients in a day than they used to.

The waiting room can be a trying experience so I suggest bringing a book along. Sometimes the only magazines they have are medical journals. In one waiting room I was trying to read a medical journal to pass the time and convinced myself I was coming down with the Spanish flu which, hasn't been around since 1919.

Mark Hannah, a Dalton native, works in video and film production.

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