Due to my wife’s recent medical problems, I’ve become an expert of sorts on doctors’ waiting rooms. This niche ecosystem is filled with a cross-section of humanity, trending toward the elderly but also including more than a handful of fresh-faced teens newly hobbled in some team sport. All of us are equal in that we wait, wait, and wait some more.
To entertain us, there’s almost always a blaring flat-screen TV that no one pays attention to. The rule seems to be that the volume must be loud enough to wake the dead, just in case anyone in the room fits that description.
People also talk to one another in waiting rooms, though, in my experience, not much. Sometimes they compare their wait times or share, with cell phone friends, intimate details of their lives, delivered so loudly that the person on the other end must be deaf.
A good bit of checking smart and-not-so-smart phones goes on, along with filling out an endless array of forms the doctor will promptly ignore once you’ve made it to the Promised Land, a.k.a. the examining room. And you can gingerly flip through dog-eared, bacteria-laden magazines from 2009 trumpeting Michael Jackson’s imminent comeback, text, or pretend to check new texts. The daringly old-fashioned have been spotted reading actual books for which trees gave their lives.
File all the above under “It is what it is.” If you want to see a doctor these days, you have to run the gauntlet of the Waiting Room from Hell, whether you’re packed like sardines in one row of chairs or isolated in echoing rooms big enough for a half-court basketball game.
The worst, though, are the right-wing doctors who use their waiting rooms to proselytize for their political agendas. Is this a sign of the coming apocalypse or yet another sign we live in the only “red” major city in Texas? ¿Quien sabe? One specialist my wife saw had a sign in his waiting room announcing to one and all that Charlton Heston was his president, by God, not that Barry Hussein Obama dude. He also had copies of American Rifleman strewn about, and just in case you were so inclined, a pile of NRA membership forms ready for your signature.
Another specialist (Is there a pattern here?) has reading materials that range from the loony right-wing (Glenn Beck) all the way to, well, other loony right-wingers. In fact, when I started writing this, I was sitting in that doctor’s waiting room as Fox News began tearing into Obama’s State of the Union address before it was even delivered, like stray dogs devouring remnants of a Big Mac. At one point, I think they said that Obama is afraid to say the word “Benghazi” or that he is the anti-Christ, a Kenyan Marxist, or probably all of the above.
A medical license shouldn’t mean you lose your First Amendment rights, but is it too much to ask that a doctor’s visit, during which you are a captive audience, be free of politics? Why should any patient be made to feel uncomfortable?
And just in case, there exists somewhere in this universe a left-wing doctor’s waiting room filled with old copies of Mother Jones magazines and MSNBC haranguing patients in high decibels from the far wall — I’m against that too.
Ken Wheatcroft-Pardue, an essayist, poet, and short story writer from Fort Worth, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.