Almost always, in my experience, a doctor's waiting room has a funereal feel to it. Just about everybody sitting in the chairs is there because they've got some sort of medical issue, which isn't exactly a cause for joy.
And if people were feeling good when they entered the waiting room, generally they soon understand why it's got the word waiting in its name.
But yesterday was different. Here's why.
My wife had gone with me to an appointment I had at a clinic here in Salem. We arrived a few minutes early for my 1:50 pm appointment.
After checking in, we sat down in a waiting area that, at first glance, worried me. Almost every chair was filled, which indicated that, per usual, my doctor was behind schedule.
There were just two empty chairs adjacent to each other, so we sat down in them. Per usual, the area was completely quiet. No one was talking. I'd brought some magazines, so I started to read one. My wife took out her iPhone and perused what it had to offer.
I'd noticed that a woman to our right was sitting with her head in her hands. After we'd been there for about ten minutes, she let out a sigh.
My wife, who was sitting next to her, said, "Have you been waiting long?"
Turns out, she had. "I made the mistake of getting here half an hour early," she said. Then she described how she'd been having kidney pain.
That kicked off a lively discussion about a topic dear to the heart of everybody in a waiting room: waiting. I told a story about a professor I had in graduate school who would only wait for 20 minutes to see a doctor. Then he'd walk out and bill the doctor for his wasted time.
A man sitting next to me said, "But then he'd never get medical care, right?"
I had to agree that my professor probably had embellished his story, and that I wasn't recommending billing a doctor for time spent in a waiting room, since I don't think the professor ever had gotten paid.
"Sure sounded like you were recommending this," the man said with a laugh. "OK, I guess I was," I responded.
And so it went. Once the conversational ice had been broken, the four of us, two strangers plus my wife and me, passed the time pleasantly.
It made a huge difference to my mood.
I don't like seeing a doctor, and I especially don't like having to wait 45 minutes, like I did yesterday. But my wife's simple act of speaking to the woman, who clearly wasn't enjoying herself prior to that, changed the atmosphere in the waiting room completely.
Instead of being patients with medical problems having to passively wait for our names to be called and then ushered into an examination room, we became people with quite a bit in common.
Like a distaste for waiting. And a love of dogs, along with other subjects I've forgotten.
Just remembered another thing I said -- how another clinic I went to a few times had a whiteboard with the doctor's names on it, which, sort of like an airport waiting area, indicated whether the doctor was on time and, if not, how many minutes behind schedule the doctor was.
Great idea. Shows a lot of respect for the patients. Or rather, people, in the waiting area.