This afternoon as I drove to a Doctor’s appointment, I pondered on how no matter what type of doctor, or what type of appointment we have, the process is always pretty much the same. It could be for a routine physical, it could be for the flu, it could be for an injured knee, or like me today, it could be for a pre-colonoscopy consultation. (Oh boy, I can barely contain my excitement over reaching this milestone.) Whatever the reason, the experience yields few surprises.
After finding the doctor’s office, which sometimes can be a bit like a treasure hunt when visiting for the first time, there is the fun of finding a parking spot. I try to remember that since I’m going into a medical facility, it is healthy for me to walk from the far end of the parking lot. The next step of course is entering the waiting room and checking in at the front desk. Most of the registration desks provide the staff with some sort of germ-barrier-security-privacy sliding glass window. I’m not really sure why. Is whatever they are typing into their computers, or discussing with each other, or filing in their drawers, really that confidential that they must be blocked from patients? Do they realize we can still hear them? And if it is to protect them from germs from the sickies entering the room, as soon as they slide that window open, they are no longer safe, so that point is mute. Anyway, after the awkwardness of standing on the other side of the glass until they notice you, the glass is slid aside with that loose-glass-against-metal grinding sound. Then come the usual questions, confirming your name, address, birth date, and the request to see and make a copy of your insurance card. Soon the clipboard with forms to sign is handed through. You grab the clipboard and pen that have probably had at least 50 other hands on them that day, and go sit down to complete the paperwork.
If this is a first-time visit, you had better come prepared with insurance information, social security numbers, family story, list of medications, health history, blood type, great-grandfather’s middle name, what you had for breakfast, and your pet’s birthdate. Also be prepared to sign your name almost as many times as you would when buying a house. With any luck, you’ll finish your paperwork with enough time to spare to take in your surroundings.
Most waiting rooms have some sort of sparse artwork, all designed to make you wish you were wherever the place pictured on the wall is, and not where you actually are. Some of the fancier waiting rooms have soothing bubbling fish tanks for your relaxation and enjoyment. I like to glance at the selection of magazines on the side tables, but rarely pick any up to look through – again, because I figure at least 365 germy hands have held them. I’m not germaphobic by nature, but hey – it is a doctor’s waiting room. Who knows what has been through there just before you. I find it interesting to view the variety of publications, and issue dates. Recently I was in a waiting room for an appointment for my son, and they had National Geographic on the table – current issues. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw a National Geographic, and started browsing. I realized that if someday I ever had the time to actually read through one whole issue, I would enjoy it. But that is kind of like reading a new novel every month.
The other interesting observation to make in waiting rooms of course is the other folks occupying the same space. It is a microcosm of people all there for their own reasons and needs. Today when I arrived, there were only two others in the room. One was an elderly man reading one of the available magazines, the other was a man who had fallen asleep in the corner. I took that as a bad sign. Either he had been waiting so long to be seen that he had drifted off, or the person he came with had been inside for a long time. Or, maybe, this was the first chance he’d had to sit down and rest all day. I totally get that.
Eventually someone (generally a female nurse or technician) opens a door and calls your name. After passing through the door, the very first thing they all seem to want to do is make you step up on the scale. I hate this part. Really? Must I? I step up and instantly start trying to calculate how much my clothing and shoes must weigh to make myself feel better about the number that appears.
From there, you move to the inner sanctum, the exam room. The nurse runs through your information yet again, and checks vitals. Off she scurries, and there you are. Waiting. Alone. With even fewer magazines. Often while you are wearing a baggy johnny with a back draft. Tick Tock. You listen for noises outside in the hallway to try to guess if the footsteps and voice you are hearing could be the doctor. How disappointing when you hear the doctor enter the exam room next to you, and not yours. There have been times when the office is so quiet, I have begun to wonder if they forgot I was there. How long should I wait? Should I poke my head out the door? What if they pack up and go home, will the cleaning staff find me still sitting here, swinging my feet, reading about diseases on the infographics on the wall?
Finally, the doctor hustles in, lab coat and stethoscope swinging. That moment has arrived when it is “all about me.” However, this by far will be the briefest portion of the entire experience. Exam done, questions answered, and the doc is on her way. After you’ve gathered your belongings, you become a bit disoriented leaving the inner sanctum because you didn’t notice so many doors as you came in. Following bread crumbs and signs, you find your way back to where you started. Time to check out, pay up, and schedule the next appointment. From this angle, the staff members at the front desk are no longer protected by sliding windows. Must be they figure once you’ve made it that far, privacy is no longer needed. They know everything about you by now anyway, just as you’ve likely heard about what they had for lunch and which new computer system is giving them issues.
Eventually, you are on your way. As you put on your coat and find a safe place to put your appointment reminder card, which you know you will lose anyway, you feel like you accomplished something, and are hopefully feeling better. I took care of myself. I’m all set until the next appointment. Yay me.
Then you realize you have just used up 2 hours of PTO for a 14 minute exam.