While waiting in a corner outside the room I would see patients tonight I could see, hear and smell the waiting area. From that corner I thought of how much healthcare administrators and pundits like to compare healthcare to other industries, like retail, hotel, restaurants or any of those on their never-ending list were the service provided is compared to a five star experience.
From that corner in the waiting room I thought, what other industry's waiting room is full of customers of all ages, elderly, children, adults, infants or those not born yet, of all genders, men, women and transgendered? In what other industry's waiting room can one can hear a toddler crying and yelling at the top of his lungs because someone, the triage nurse, is trying to help him while other children, older and younger than him, are play in the waiting area? In what other industry's waiting room would you find a woman hugging a bucket she brought from home where she vomited so many times that now she is only retching and so exhausted from vomiting she no longer cares that her hair lays inside the bucket full of vomit? In what other industry's waiting area are kids playing with kids they may have, but likely never, met before yet other children are held back by their parents on their lap keeping them from wandering the waiting area disregarding the child's innocent desire to play with the other children? In what other industry’s waiting room would you find a number of persons coughing almost in concert, some covering their mouths but most do not? In what other industry’s waiting area would you find a corrections officer standing attentive in a corner with a watchful eye over his prisoner who dons the bright orange suit with the correction prison's initial stenciled in large black block letters across the top of his back as he sits comfortably wearing shackles between his ankles and his wrist handcuffed in front of him? In what other industry’s waiting room can you smell the week old aroma of urine that comes from the drug addict homeless woman in the wheelchair with the black gangrenous toe who if not wheeled by others would sit in the middle of the waiting area as she has nowhere to be and much less anywhere to go and other than talking to herself and answering herself doesn't lift her head up to talk with anyone, not even the child staring at her? In what other industry’s waiting room would you also find a prisoner sitting in civilian clothes with his hair disheveled and his body contorted due to the handcuffs behind his back cause him pain when he tries to sit back in the chair while under surveillance of the police officer standing across the corrections officer, both near the only entry and exit from the waiting area? In what other industry’s waiting area does one person sit curled up in their chair, their head in their hands and their eyes covered with almost blacked out glasses because the room’s light, the playing children, the toddler in the triage room and the woman retching make her headache pound, not to mention the broiling stench of old urine, a gangrenous toe and a bucket of vomit?
As if not enough, in what other industry’s waiting room would you find a steady flow of persons checking in and although discouraged, but knowing their options are limited, look across the sea of people, some of who are sitting or laying on the floor, in the waiting room described above to find an empty seat they can claim or a vacant piece of wall to go lean against? The fact is you would NOT find the same conglomerate of images, noises and smells in any other industry's waiting area. For healthcare workers, this is where we work and from that waiting area we will call and see everyone one of those customers, unless they change their minds and decide to leave after waiting, either to wait in a similar healthcare waiting room milieu elsewhere or return another day when the waiting would not be as long; either, a gamble on their behave. Tonight I stood outside the room I would see patients in and from there I noticed, healthcare waiting areas were not playgrounds at the mall, lounges at hotels, lobbies at banks, terminals at the airport or lines at Starbuck. Yet from that waiting area I will see a number of those patients and most would be appreciative yet some may complain. Healthcare, the only industry genuinely dedicated to helping others is not a customer-service industry.