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Waiting Room Blues

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I didn’t think there was such a thing as ‘Waiting Room Etiquette’ until I had a really long wait to see a very popular doctor the other day. Here I was forced into an awareness of an amazing group of people I have now come to think of as the Waiting Room Horrors.To begin with, they stand out by the way they sit (!).

There were sofas lining three walls, and I noticed many people sprawled on them in such a way as to take up three people’s space per person. They took no notice of tottery senior citizens looking bemusedly around for a place to sit, till some pre-historic creature like myself offered them a seat.

Quietly, studying the inmates, I started observing each one, mainly to pass time and forget the various physical discomforts that had brought me there, but also because I really couldn’t believe some of the things I was seeing or hearing. Here are a few classic types…

The foot-rubber

If you are one of these not uncommon people then all I can say is EWWWW. They first take off their footwear. Then they cross one leg over the other knee. Then they shake it a bit. Then they start picking at the skin on their heels. A little while later, they pick their noses. And some time later that same hand comes up near the face and I am thinking oh no he can’t be going to , I’m sure he’s not, aaaaaaarghhhhhh. He bites his nails. The same nails that had a go at his feet. Well, as I said, eww.There’s an extension of this person…he then gets comfortable by putting his feet up on the elegant fawn coloured upholstery of the sofa. His feet, I may add, have seen better days, cleaner days at least…they are darkly coloured by the contribution of the street and various unswept floors, and the sofa, by the end of the morning, undergoes a subtle alteration in its colour scheme. Not so much elegant fawn as muddy brown. No wonder that doctor’s fees are so high. He has to include the cost of changing his sofa cover far more often than you would expect.The shake-shake-shaker.

I was sitting on one of those moulded chairs all joined together like a chain of prisoners, that you get in airport lounges and waiting rooms. Serviceable enough. I started to read. I dosed off. Dreamt I was being chugged along on a train, jostle jostle chug chug…ooops, I was suddenly jerked awake, not realising I had dropped off, what with the heat and endless waiting…and the train was still moving.I suddenly realised the whole row of chairs was shaking. For a minute my heart did it’s usual “is –this- another –earthquake?” thing it often does, ever since I was woken by the quake on Dec 26th until I realised that one kind man had taken it upon himself to provide all that rhythm, by shaking his leg over and over again.

As we all shook in time to his gyrations it dawned on me that without knowing it, most of us do actually observe some kind of waiting room etiquette – but I only became aware of it in the face of so many people’s complete lack of manners.

We sit quietly and push up to make room for others. We give our seats to elders or those who are obviously very sick. We do not soil the furniture and upholstery! And, oh yes..we do not use the waiting room as an auditorium, imagining we are on stage giving the unasked-for story of our lives. Which brings me to the next type of horror.

The Loud Speaker!

In waiting rooms, we generally talk in undertones. But someone forgot to tell Mr Let-me-tell-you-my-story on my right, who has conducted his eighth conversation on his mobile, without modulating his voice one little bit. We knew what he did for a living, we knew what he did last night, we knew he had a mother in Lucknow. We knew his plans for that night, the next afternoon, and next weekend.We knew he had a carrying voice. Man what an ego. If he was - at the very least a celebrity, or handsome, or had the air of a tycoon, listening to him may have made our day, but as it was, we were collecting the most enormous amount of trivia, not worth sharing with anyone about someone whose face is already a blur in my memory (but whose voice will live on in my nightmares for a while!)

And then there is the ultimate Waiting Room Horror – the patient who should have been a hairstylist, because by the time she has finished describing her symptoms, everyone’s hair is standing on end. Detail by gruesome detail she spells out her history, while eyes widen and people shift uncomfortably. And you may be sure she is a very superior person as her illness is positively exotic compared with yours. Then she describes some of the treatment she has undergone (obviously by some secret club of sadists) and you wonder how she is still alive.

And then she says she can recognise those symptoms now in people who don’t ever suspect they have it. And she looks searchingly and knowingly around the waiting room, and lets her eye rest on you while she nods. Your hair, as I said, is now standing on end, but as you shake away your goosebumps and make a mental note to ask your doctor to test you for whatever it is she has, you realise the upside of her portentous and chilling talk….the shakers have stopped shaking, the foot-pickers have stopped picking and Mr Loud Speaker sits in silent horror.

All is peaceful in the waiting room.




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