Patience for the patient

Today I spent a good part of my afternoon in the waiting room of a hospital clinic. My purpose was to take my son for his after care appointment following the broken collarbone experience a week ago. I write about this as a work related post for two reasons. The hospital is a workplace that we all take for granted. The people who are patients also work or rely on others who work for their livelihood.

So in this context who has priority.

In the post regarding my visit to emergency the priority system is a given – triage. Clearly we would like to ensure that the patient that is most critical is looked after immediately, especially if it is a matter of life or death.

But what happens when it is no longer about life or death and more about convenience, timing, understanding the system, managing yourself. This is what I observed today. I also experienced my own learning journey in the process leading up and being part of the visit.

It's just an appointment, right?

Earlier last week I booked the follow up appointment. Easy. Just called, got a time and was told to come in by the receptionist.

Then two days prior I received a call from another person confirming the appointment. Only this time the person was abrubt, bossy, demanding and inflexible. Clearly there was a system and I did not understand. So in every way possible I was told no matter what I wanted that I would have no choice but to wait on the day until the doctor was available to see us. It did not matter what time we had an appointment because it dependent on the doctor arriving.

Now in ordinary circumstances I am usually an example for go with the flow responses, seek first to understand etc. However in this instance the care of my son was at stake and I wanted the best. Only the more I wanted the best for him the more I realised it was a take a number and just wait your turn experience.

A journey in letting go again

I tried to find another way where I could ‘control’ this situation. I rang around friends for references, ideas, etc. I even consulted our GP who kindly advised that given the timing we were getting the best care going to the clinic for the follow up.

So off to the clinic I went today. I brought along books, notepads, work, Ipod and all sorts of things to pass the time in case my son got bored talking with me (remember he is only just 11!). I was prepared to sit, wait and go with the system.

We arrived at 1:45 to check in for 2:00. We left the hospital at 4:30. Not bad.

We are lucky

As I sat in the waiting room I had a chance to observe life in front of my eyes. I say life because there were people of all sizes, shapes, ages, backgrounds. Given the type of clinic we were in I also observed people in far worse situations than my son. I certainly felt grateful that my son still had both arms, was not wearing a neck brace, could see out of both eyes, could walk without assistance, was not being delivered in a wheel chair or by patient transport on a guerney. As I saw all these other situations the wait became one of gratitude not misery. I sat with my son really feeling alive, lucky and appreciative.

The show for entertainment

What else happened that was a highlight of our experience was observing the range of emotions and behaviour in the staff behind the check in desks.

At the peak of check in the queue behind the counter was at least 12 people long with twice this number in seats already waiting. We were just another wave of people among the regular tide flowing in every day.

A machine in a human body

The lady behind the counter was an unbelievable example of multi tasking. She could take phone calls, check us in, move the next patient into the rooms at the same time. Never once however did she crack a smile. Never once did she connect to us in a human manner. Never once did she ask how we were or look us in the eye. We were a name, a number and a person to check off the list and log into the computer. When she did come alive it was to push back at people requesting to get their appointment time earlier, or ask when the doctor would be in.

Didn’t we see the 5 signs posted in various places in front of us warning of long waits.

The human emerges

Then the wave was checked in and things calmed down for a while. A co-worker showed up delivering a lady in a wheelchair. The receptionist who seemed barely alive suddenly smiled from ear to ear, joked and showed her human side. And what a lovely human side. What a shame it was reserved only for special occasions.

I could understand her jadedness, her protective shell of defence she built around her to buffet the onslaught from demanding people. Each person who came into this space only cared about one thing – their world, not hers.

Going in with compassion

I on the other hand approached the whole situation with patience and understanding. I never complained, patiently waited as she handled our check in, presented all information required without being asked and sat down without protest..

Or not

All was well and we were almost about to be called in. Then a man and his girlfriend showed up. My son recognised the man as someone who had also been in emergency last weekend. So he was also getting a follow up visit.

As they stood at the check in you could see that they were not getting their way and were flustered by the experience. It had been over two hours since we checked in. They were trying to get an earlier appointment having not made the booking time earlier like the rest of the people in the room.

Making example for others

Next thing the other nurse, the one that handled our booking gruffly on the phone, took over. She said loudly to the man that if he wanted he could ask the rest of the patients in the waiting room if they would like to let him go first. Obviously this was not good enough so then she said it even louder so the ENTIRE waiting room could hear. So he said sure he would ask. So he turned around and called for our attention. He asked very pleadingly and politely if everyone was willing to let him go first ahead of them. Why? Because HE had to get back to work.

Someone else's turn for a lesson

I was stunned. For a minute I was prepared to give up my place thinking the reason he was in a hurry was because of pain or an emergency and that the hospital was not helping. When I realised it was simply a priority issue in his own life I stopped. Then a man nearby turned around and said “Mate, I have been here for long time already and I have to get back to work too.”

Just then my son’s name was called.

Wiping the guilt

I did not feel guilty about taking our turn as it happened. In fact I felt that this man needed to learn something important. PATIENCE! I was learning it and so could be a teacher in the same instance. In fact I was treated to some words of wisdom by an elderly couple that sat next to us earlier.

Being really virtuous

They were seated for the long haul as well. Though given the condition of the elderly lady not in as much comfort as me and my son. The lady got up and said to her husband she could not sit for long so wanted to move. As they walked by the old man looked warmly down at me and said “This is all a great lesson in patience, isn’t it, and smiled.” Now I am sure they have had their fair share of experiences in clinic waiting rooms. It was our turn for a simple visit. The least I could have was patience.

So what did I have patience for? Well mostly the fact that the staff working in this environment had to put up with people every day who thought the whole experience was about them and not anyone else. Since when does the world revolve around you?

Let's go there...