What are you waiting for?

The place where you sit before being called in to see a doctor is called a “waiting room.” It is for waiting in.

There will be a “window” you must approach in order to “sign in,” noting your name, the time of your arrival, and the time of your appointment. Ideally, the first will come before the second, or you will be left with a feeling of dread, of having missed the proverbial boat your long-ago scheduled time with the doctor sails in. You will feel a sense of having let everyone in the waiting room down; not just the other patients whose own appointments might now be delayed, but the receptionist, under whose demeanor no doubt lies a seething contempt for your tardiness. There is a long wait list to see this doctor. When you called to make the appointment, you were put on hold and listened to music. You will wonder if anyone will notice or care if you fluff the times a little in your favor.

You will be handed a clipboard with papers to check and a health history form to complete, and on this you must be truthful. No; nothing’s changed; yes, everything’s changed. These are you vital statistics, your permanent record. You will present your ID card. You will be charged a co-pay, and you will pay it.

You will choose a seat next to a table strewn with out-of-date magazines which in “real life” you’d never read, and busy yourself by “reading” one, though all this consists of is looking at pictures and the captions that accompany them. You will think of your own life as a series of photo-ops, and surreptitiously peruse the other patients patiently waiting, being sure to avert your gaze should they look up.

There will be a plant made of plastic, and framed “art” whose purpose is to relieve the walls of boredom, but which instead draw attention to the boredom, the killing of time, the dead zone of apprehension that waiting to see a doctor is all about. You’re waiting — for what? The hammer to fall; the other shoe to drop; the bad news; the pall to be lifted; the all-clear. You will be told you have to “watch and wait,” that you’ll have to “wait and see,” that you have entered “the waiting game.”

The waiting room will have carpet and a coat rack and skirting boards made of plastic and notices taped to the wall regarding patient’s rights and clinical trials and support groups and not using your cell phone and fire escape routes. There will be ceiling tiles and track lighting and sprinkler nozzles and a red EXIT sign. You will study every element of this room in more detail than any of the rooms in your own home. If this were a room in your own home, you would do everything differently. In a perfect version of your life, you would do everything differently.

There will be a clock on the wall, and it will be oblivious to your plight. You will hope you can get your parking ticket validated. You are envious of your parking ticket. You too want to be validated.

You will be sent away to have more tests. You will be given the results of those tests, to see if you passed an exam for which there could be no preparation, even though you know all the right answers in advance.

The nurse will call your name, and you will get up, and hand her your clipboard, and walk through the waiting room door. She will ask you how you are, and you will breezily reply “fine.” You know that this is a professional courtesy; that she doesn’t much care how you are, that this is, after all, a doctor’s office, which means you are not fine at all. You smile.

“Have you been waiting long?” she will ask, and you will say “no,” and by “no,” you will mean “my whole life.”

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