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September 6, 2006

I spent a lot of time doing that today–waiting.  I had a doctor’s
appointment at 2 p.m., for which I had to arrive 15 minutes early in
order to fill out intake forms.  I arrived 20 minutes early,
filled out the forms in 10 minutes, then proceeded to wait for another
hour and 20 minutes before finally being called into the patient room.

We all know that the waiting doesn’t end once you’re in the patient
room.  For another 10 minutes I waited for the doctor to come in
and see me.  During those 10 minutes, I read and reread the “Learn
about the 2 sources of cholesterol” brochure, the “Free Diabetes Class”
announcement, and the “Urgent Memo” posted across the room from
me.  I also wandered over to the window and looked down at the
buildings and cars 8 stories below me.  I searched the Vine Street
Expressway for Paul’s car, which would have been carrying Paul home
from work at about that time.  I watched a 1996 Camry just like
mine drive across the parking lot directly below me, and noted how fat
the man in the passenger seat was. 

Finally I was interrupted by a knock on the door.  I turned around
anticipating Dr. Nunez, but was greeted by her med student
instead.  I couldn’t prevent a disappointed sigh from leaving my
lips.  After telling Dr. Nunez’s student my entire medical
history–which I had just written down on the intake form I had come
early to complete–the student left to tell Dr. Nunez I was ready for
her (her sweet smile implied that she was either ignoring or was
ignorant of the fact that I had been ready for the doctor for over 1
1/2 hours). 

More waiting.  While Dr. Nunez took her time coming to my room, I
lied back on the krinkly paper covering the patient bed and stared up
at the drop ceiling above me.  I had plenty of time to notice and
contemplate the tiny holes studding the tiles, as if someone had taken
a pencil point and stabbed it into each tile in 100 different
places.  What were purpose of those holes? 
Ventilation?  I also had time to notice that there were no
pictures or magazines in the room, no clues as to who Dr. Nunez was or
what her interests were.  No inspiring posters or poems like the
one secured to the ceiling above the patient chair at my dentist’s
office.  No soothing paintings.  Just an immaculate, rather
large patient room (i.e., second waiting room).

During the 2 1/2 total hours that I ended up waiting in the doctor’s
office this afternoon, I frequently reminded myself of how lucky I was
to have such good health care, even if I had to wait for it.  And
I didn’t even have to wait that long compared to uninsured people, who
have to use one of Philly’s 10 public health centers; and I especially
didn’t have to wait that long compared to people in Brazil or Mexico,
where poor people have to line up early in the morning in the hopes of getting to see a doctor by the day’s end.  I was lucky to wait for only 2 1/2 hours.

Still, I felt frustrated.  I felt disrespected, as if my time is
not as valuable as the doctor’s.  As if I could afford to wait all
afternoon without so much as an apology.  It is belittling to be
treated so casually.  Again, my thoughts turned back to those less
fortunate than myself.  How small and insignificant it must make
them feel to be put on waiting lists that are days, weeks, months, or
even years long in order to see a doctor for their ailments–as if
their health is of little consequence to others.  One shouldn’t
need to have a lot of money in order to earn basic respect from other
human beings, to earn fair treatment. 

It’s too bad that those who do have a lot of money don’t ever have to
wait for anything; maybe if they did, they would be forced to
contemplate some of the imbalances that I was forced to contemplate as
I spent my afternoon in the waiting room(s).

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