ralph robert moore
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i am waiting
october 1, 2014
I am fascinated by physicians' waiting rooms.
No one wants to be within these four walls. It's not like we're waiting for hot dogs. Yet here we all are, sitting on cheap chairs and sofas, surrounded by the shadows of people we would never associate with otherwise, listlessly flipping through a pile of old magazines, most of them about golf or sailing or whatever else the physician's interests are, waiting for the side door to open and our name to be called, so we can be lead to a small room, inspected rather thoroughly by people whose last names we don't know.
There's my life, and there's my body. Day to day, I don't think that much about my body. I think about what's for lunch, what show Mary and I want to watch today, section of our home we want to clean, project on which I want to work. And there's my body. I wash it, clean its teeth, shave its face, get annoyed by it when there's the red bump of a mosquito bite on my leg, or my right knee comically gives out as I'm headed upstairs (probably from years of hauling heavy bags of mulch from our driveway to our backyard garden.) But every so often, and more often as you age, you have to take the damn thing into different waiting rooms to make sure it's not about to betray you. That's the thing about a body. It's the greatest entertainment system in the world, but once in a while when you turn it on, not all the lights glow green.
So now, I would like to rank the waiting rooms Mary and I most often sit in, starting at the bottom.
Hospital emergency room. No one wants to be sitting in a hospital emergency room. We all have, most of us more than once, it's late at night, you haven't shaved, the side pockets of your pants are baggy with money, medications. I'd much rather be sitting in any other type of waiting room. The chair is too close to the exit.
My gastroenterologist. I had to get a colonoscopy a couple of years ago. And I'll have to get another one in a year or so. Not looking forward to it. The receptionist and nursing staff were cheerful and sympathetic, which you really appreciate in a gastroenterologist's office, believe you me, but the waiting room itself was rather impersonal, the large room you'd find at a bus station, with aisles of joined seats like you're on a subway. Few magazines, no TV to distract you, just families sitting quietly by themselves, and signs saying stuff like, Out of consideration for our patients, please do not eat or drink water in the waiting area. I mean, it's not even a waiting room. It's a fucking waiting area. If you want to start poking around up inside my ass, could we at least have some bright yellow flowers in the waiting area?
Our dentist. When you think about it, although at least you don't have to undress during a visit to the dentist, and if you do you need to seriously consider finding a new dentist, a dentist is where you're most likely to experience pain. I mean, come on. They've got drills, and needles they push into your tender pink gums, right below your brain. It's like you've been captured behind enemy lines. Plus you have to stretch your mouth open for really long periods of time, which causes problems swallowing. But they always expect you to be cheerful going there, like it's this really fun event. Like lying in bed the night before a dentist visit is as exciting as when you were a kid, unable to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. They almost always find something wrong with your mouth, and it's always expensive to fix. Our dentist's waiting room is a bit cavernous, probably because it has such a high ceiling. None of the people waiting look at or talk to the others waiting. It's like we're all guilty of something. There's music, but it sounds a bit echo-y, because of the size of the room. The waiting room at our former dentist was smaller, with a carpet instead of a wooden floor, and an aquarium with no fish, just rocks and bubbles. I always wondered about that. Did the dentist kill the fish?
My blood and urine lab. The fašade is huge and towering, like the pillars of a Southern mansion, like I should be wearing a tuxedo and sharing some snuff with Judson in the drawing room before entering the ballroom with Mary for the first waltz of the evening, but once you open the front door, it's to a shabby little room with lots of chairs, no music, I don't think even magazines, and a barricaded reception mini-castle that's usually empty, just papers scattered on the counters, and an unattended phone. Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring. Everybody sitting in the small, crowded room looks miserable. You can't reserve an appointment in advance. It's strictly first come, first served.
Our ophthalmologist. The waiting room has multiple chambers, usually filled with people much older than us. You go in, and it's like time stops. Parking outside, beeping the car locked, coming around the sides of the car to hold hands at its back bumper, we know we're going to be in there for hours. There's a high-definition TV in one area of the waiting chambers, and right below it, a large, bottom-lit aquarium. The colorful fish swim back and forth and back and forth which always reminds me of us sitting, waiting, sitting, waiting. The TV is tuned to HGTV, showing cheerful people fixing up their homes. Holding hammers, their hair perfect. I actually rather enjoy the shows, although we never watch HGTV outside of when we need to get our eyes checked. Every once in a while a member of staff dressed in what looks like pajamas comes out of the mysterious depths of the building and mournfully calls a name. It's kinda like, "Bring out your dead!" Once you're led back to the rabbit warren of interior hallways you're in there for a good part of the day. By the time we push the front doors open to exit, our eyes blink at the sunshine. But even then, it's better than the ophthalmologist we used to go to, in Dallas. There, if your appointment was at 10:00, you'd still be out in the waiting room at 11:45. Visit after visit. The last time we went there, after waiting two hours past our appointment time, I asked the middle-aged receptionist why the doctor still wasn't ready to see us. "Dr. Worthless had an ophthalmologic emergency." Saying it like that would shut me up. "What was the emergency?" "We can't discuss it. Patient confidentiality." Prim look on her face. "You can tell us what the emergency was without mentioning the patient's name. Then there's no violation of confidentiality." And I could see her eyes shift behind her glasses, trying to think up a new lie. "Tell Dr. Worthless we're canceling our appointment, and finding a new ophthalmologist. Every time we come here we have to wait at least two hours past our scheduled appointment. If Dr. Worthless is that disorganized, she's not the doctor for us." As we left, an older woman sitting in a chair looked up at us, thrust up a thumb, and mouthed, Good for you!
Mary's cardiologist. This was actually one of our first waiting rooms, after Mary's stroke. You have to ride an elevator up seven floors. Ugh. And park in a massive, multi-tiered parking garage that looks like it's just waiting to be overrun by zombies, palms sliding across windshields. All our lives, we hear snatches of conversations, and some of the most interesting snatches I've heard sitting here amongst people a generation older than us, with overly-loud call tones on their smart phones. "Put it in the other one!" "How am I supposed to get that kind of egg?" "Eustace, he's never gonna stand that deep in any kind of water!"
My nephrologist. Another tall, cavernous waiting room, but at least this one's not as bad. Hard to get to, because there's always a lot of road construction outside, but once you park and go inside, the people are generally cheerful. There's an HD TV you can watch. But the segments are mostly about kidney diseases. Although that does make sense. Some of the patients are a bit bizarre, I remember one being lead out of the waiting area by a collar around his neck, as if he were a dog, but hey-- You're at a nephrologist.
My dermatologist. The waiting room is actually fairly relaxing. The chairs and sofas are comfortable, you can see the traffic outside from the wide windows, reminding you that you'll be out in that moving line of cars fairly soon, heading home, where you belong. All the staff has that cheerful, genuine Texas friendliness. And unlike most dermatologist offices, you're actually called in back at your appointment time, rather than having to wait ophthalmologist times before your exam begins.
Our general practitioner. The waiting room where "everyone knows your name". All the staff are friendly and caring, waving to us as we enter and leave, asking how we're doing, with genuine affection. There's a large HD TV mounted below the ceiling, with a feed from CNN HealthNews, giving a seemingly endless variation of recipes for salmon (even though salmon is one of our least favorite fish.) Mary gets to look through her magazines, I get to work on a Sudoku puzzle, while we wait for that side door to open. It's like they're our relatives. Our good relatives.
We spend a lot of our lives waiting. Have you ever thought about that? How many accumulated months, years, we spend in lines, chairs? On the phone? In a kitchen, smelling the wonderful air you're impatient to eat? In bed, eyes still, trying to anticipate the answer your lover is going to give? Waiting is our natural state.