At twenty past five the penultimate patient is called, enters the doctor’s office. The waiting room becomes smaller and somewhat offensive. I sit alone. Across the room a secretary stares vacantly out a window. She is not company nor comforting to me, distant on the other side of her desk. I can’t blame her, this room is dull.
When the room is full of people and the phone is ringing and children scream, is she busy? Does the time fly? No moment to stop, no moment to worry or concern. Automation takes over as she carries out her job efficiently, with haste. Now, though. . . in this downtime I wonder if she resents the sight of me. Shut down, her mind grows idle. She can leave her post the moment I get called in. Yet here I am. Perhaps there was a delay earlier, a patient didn’t show up. Maybe the doctor took longer for lunch. Surely she doesn’t blame me for still being here.
The secretary cannot leave while I am still sat here. Simple. I look at her scowling face – she has to blame someone. It’s probably easier to blame me. I didn’t ask for this. I wanted an earlier appointment. If I stood up, said, ‘I’m going to leave now’, walked out the door, would she ask why? Would she show concern? Try to stop me from leaving? Or would she watch me eagerly – sat on the edge of her seat with coat and keys in hand – as I walk out the door, at which point she springs over that desk to race me down the elevator to the exit several floors below.
“Sorry for the wait – I’m sure the doctor won’t be too much longer.”
In the pressurised atmosphere of the waiting room an unexpected voice invades privacy and inner peace. We exchange a glance and a nod of understanding, before she returns to that window and I return to my thoughts.
My surroundings take on new meaning. These walls, hidden behind pin boards scattered with leaflets of warning and supportive slogans and cautionary tales. I don’t want to see this. That television in the corner throwing weakening spasms of colour across the room. Yet it has been muted. Why? I turn to her and still she chooses to humiliate me. Did you grow tired of its passive noise, validating the existence of a reality outside of this. . . waiting room. What before was a sterile, bland setting for my nerves has transcended any physical boundaries and now feasts on my psyche.
She does not care for why I am here. She does not care for my emotional state. I am here, so is she. I must meet a short list of basic criteria to pass through here before I can leave. Who judges whether those criteria have been met, and who hold the keys. The secretary currently, the doctor later.
It is a show, a game perhaps. But what if I were to cease this charade. I could stay. That would be unexpected, unfathomable to them, would go against everything they expect and prepare for.
“Thank you for waiting. The doctor will see you now”
And in the silence that followed I prayed to keep my resolve and sanity.
Let them wait. Don’t lose your damn nerve. Let them wait.
But I failed. And, gradually I stood. Trembling at the injustice. I walk slowly, as if to prolong the wait, a final protest to the indignity. Silenty she speaks to me as I walk past the desk, drenched in sarcasm and lacking any empathy. She is just a player. I can’t blame her.
It is the waiting room. This room is the greatest insult of all. In its definition a holding pen. While I wait it drains me of my dignity, contained and helpless at the mercy of my inner thoughts and those who watch us enter and exit. To them we must all look the same.
© Nicholas J. Parr, 2015