Doctor, all this waiting is a royal pain

April 10, 2006|By KEVIN COWHERD | KEVIN COWHERD,SUN COLUMNIST

If you need to visit a doctor for any reason at all these days, one thing's for sure: You better be good at waiting.

Because first you wait in the waiting room.

Then someone calls your name and takes you back to an examining room and says: "OK, now wait in here."

Sometimes, they like to tease you by adding: "The doctor will see you shortly."

But that's just to test your psychological makeup and see how gullible you are.

The truth is, you might wait longer in the examining room to see the doctor than you did in the waiting room.

So why don't they call the examining room what it is?

Why don't they call it the Other Waiting Room?

Or Waiting Room II?

Because once you're in there, the only thing that's changed, really, is your locale.

Your status, on the other hand, is still the same.

You're still waiting to see the doctor.

At least in the main waiting room, you were relatively comfortable, too.

The chairs are usually soft and the floor is carpeted and there are magazines to read, or maybe even an aquarium to stare at if you feel like it.

But when they put you in the examining room, all that changes.

Suddenly the whole patient-ambience thing is thrown off.

Now you're sitting on a cold examining table, generally without your clothes on or while wearing one of those goofy smock things with your butt exposed.

And to make it worse, they have you sit on that annoying strip of tissue paper that crinkles every time you move.

There's not much to do while you wait in the examining room, either.

In fact, there's not even anything interesting to see.

If you're lucky, there's a jar of tongue depressors and a wastebasket and a chart on the wall that shows the gastrointestinal system.

And how long can you look at a gastrointestinal chart?

I tried it once and lasted, like, 30 seconds.

So what you end up doing is brooding about whatever's ailing you, or whatever horrible procedure you're about to endure.

And, of course, this makes you more and more nervous.

Right at this point, a nurse will come in to take your blood pressure.

They have the timing down almost perfectly with this move.

It's almost as if they have a little TV camera on you while you're sitting there getting yourself all worked up.

And once they see you fidgeting and drumming your fingers and jiggling your legs, one of the nurses must turn to the other and say: "Quick, go in and take his blood pressure."

Invariably, after she takes it, she'll say something like: "Hmmm, a little higher than usual."

At times like that, I always think: Well, let's see now.

I'm sitting here stark naked, on a cold table, in a tiny room bathed in harsh fluorescent lighting, waiting for a doctor to poke me and stick needles in me and order an expensive series of tests and do God knows what else.

And my blood pressure's up?

Imagine that.

Here's something else I could never understand: When you're waiting in the examining room, the doctor always knocks before he enters.

Doesn't this strike you as odd?

Why would he knock?

It's not like he's coming into your house.

If anything, it's his house. Well, his office, anyway.

So if anyone should be knocking, it should be you.

That's really how these visits to the doctor should start, if you think about it.

The doctor should already be in the examining room and the patient should be out in the hallway knocking on the door.

Then the doctor could say: "Sure, come on in."

And once you go in and exchange a few pleasantries, the doctor could say: "So what brings you in here today?"

Then you could start right in: "Oh, I'm here for my annual physical" or "Well, I've been getting these headaches" or "Doc, I can't seem to shake this cough" or whatever.

Doesn't that seem like a gentler way to begin a visit to the doctor?

Instead of staring at a gastrointestinal chart?

And having your anxiety levels red-line as you wait and wait and wait?

It wouldn't hurt if the doctor offered you coffee and a bagel, or a nice glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, before he got down to the medical stuff, either.

But I guess that's asking for too much.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

To listen to podcasts featuring Kevin Cowherd, go to baltimoresun.com/cowherd.

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