The do-nothing room


Written Monday, before doctor’s appointment…

I’m feeling very anxious.  I don’t exactly know why.  I just keep having lots of nervy scenarios pop into my head.  My head often spins and my stomach lurches, just while I’m sat in the house or lying in bed.  Lying in bed at night to sleep has to be the worst, I know it is for a lot of people.  The invisible fist that grabs my throat and jars my body.  I get limb-jolts in the pre-sleep fever.  Heart suddenly skips a beat-adrenalin-stomach lurches-errant limbs lash out-at nothing but duvet.

I’m not having a majorly bad time at the moment, compared to how these anxieties have gripped me in the past.  I always compare it to the worst I’ve had, it seems natural somehow, my internal barometer of antsy-ness. 

It’s a beautiful day outside.  Bright, crisp, dry.  I’ll be venturing into the crispy brightness in an hour or so, going to the doctors.  I need a refill.  Sometimes I wish they’d put me on a repeat script so that I wouldn’t have to talk to the doctor for twenty minutes, before emerging with the same piece of green paper in my hand, with the same medication listed on it, that I’ve had every two or three months for more years than I care to remember.

I catch the odd dirty look when I emerge from the surgery, back into the waiting room, ‘Why was she in there so long?  It’s 15 minutes since I was due to go in.’  I do it too.  Not overtly.  But everyone in the waiting room has a collective consciousness, monitoring rough time gaps between people entering the corridor to Narnia (aka the heavy duty door accessing the corridor of surgery rooms) and people emerging, green paper in hand.  If the person in front of me has whipped in and out in under ten minutes, I relax my body language, perhaps offering a grateful half-smile ‘It’s my turn next, and, thanks to your speedy consultation, I shall be spared the discomfort of a long spell in the waiting room.  Praise Be!’

Because there is a huge discomfort factor about waiting rooms.  There’s something about sitting in a row with seven or eight strangers, most of whom are stressed for one reason or another – pain, anxiety, illness, withdrawals – that is draining.  Plus, THEY’RE ALL ILL.  I can’t help try to work out which brand of ill they are, so I might know how far away I should like to sit.  Once sat down one cannot easily change seats, so there’s a judgement call to be made on entering the warzone.  A two second scan reveals:

old guy coughing guts up

young mother with two kids, one playing with the toys, the other sitting forlornly on her lap

teenager, no obvious symptoms presenting yet

an old couple, no idea which one is here for the doc

This information is absorbed by my brain and translated into strategy within those few seconds available, before etiquette demands I choose my seat.  I choose to sit next to the ‘no symptom’ teen.  She’s probably here for the pill, or asthma medication, or some other stereotypical idea I manage to conjure up.  There’s a one-seat gap between us anyway.  I’ve made my choice.

How horrifying, then, when a few seconds later, teen is joined by mother (mum was probably parking the car) and their conversation reveals teen has a hoarse voice (eww, contagious), plus the mother has the sniffles. 


And if neither of those germ vessels manage to get me, well, I’ve just realised that old guy coughing his guts up is in the seat directly behind me (my surgery is large so seats are in three rows).  I realise this as air strikes the back of my neck, projected by his phlegmy cough. 

Damn.  My tactical seating plan has gone to shit.

I think part of the reason I feel enmity towards those people who take up more than ten minutes in the surgery is that, illogically, I believe the less time I spend in the vicinity of The Walking Sick, the less chance I’ll end up with a cold/flu.  Of course, germs can be picked up anywhere, from the doors, to the seats, to the dog-eared magazines.  And, despite my precautions, I do know that germs don’t wear watches.  They don’t lie around for the first ten minutes before exclaiming ‘oh, gosh, is that the time?  We can come and infect you now: so sorry to keep you waiting; though, shucks, I guess this is a waiting room [germ humour.  It’s infectious]  Still, no excuse for being tardy.’

Isn’t it a strange animal – The Waiting Room?  Imagine when the first waiting room was presented to a human being:

What’s this room for?

Oh, this?  This is The Waiting Room.

..Okay, and what shall I do here?

Well, you…wait.

Yes, but what do I actually do?


Yes.  I must know what to do.

People don’t know what to do in waiting rooms, so they feel uncomfortable.  We deal with this intransitive -verb-Room with a succession of time-passing quests. 

Give name to reception.

Sit down.

Look at posters on the wall.

Proceed not to read posters on the wall.

Look ahead into the distance.

Look at feet.

Look at the fixtures and fittings in the room (‘What wonderful skirting boarding you have here!’)

Look in your bag.

Pretend you are looking for something in particular in your bag.

Send a text that doesn’t need sending.

Write a text that doesn’t need writing.

Delete the draft of the unnecessary text.

Glance at the magazine stack on the table.

Ask self  ‘Am I ready to risk germ contamination in return for occupying my hands, pretending to read manky magazines?’

Maybe you are different from me.  Perhaps you don’t mind waiting rooms.  If you like them, however, you are officially in my bad books 😉


10 thoughts on “The do-nothing room

  1. Ha, like it!
    My docs has 3 rows of seating too, but quite far apart from each other. There are some magazines, I NEVER touch them… I just try to watch out the inevitable playing of Mamma Mia on the DVD/TV. Although in the 7 weeks since I last went and last week, they’d built a new room and changed the DVD; It was top gear, which I quite enjoyed. I hate waiting though, the doctors at mine are never on time – bloody students!

  2. I loved this! My GP sugery plays classical music at you the whole time. Which is ok for a while, but then when you have been waiting it ages it loops back to the beginning, and then it starts getting tedious. I also don’t touch the magazines.

    • Thanks, B 🙂

      yeah, I’ve considered taking my own magazine in, but then I’d feel like everyone would assume I was a thief when I came to pop it back in my bag lol.

  3. I think surgery waiting rooms are great places to watch people. It’s sad but sometimes i try and guess what each person is there for, it passes the time and helps to take my mind off why i am there. Also watching what magazine a person picks up to read can tell you a lot. Occasionally my surgery even has the day’s newspapers.

  4. Urgh, I hate waiting rooms too. I usually bring a book of my own or something, but when I am actually there I’m too self-conscious to pull it out so sit there stewing with anxiety. At the moment all magazines and newspapers are removed from the waiting room because of the swine flu.

    • oh right. I haven’t heard much about s/flu lately, but that makes sense to get rid of the mags. I know re anxiety. Depends why I’m there but nothing worse than waiting while anxious :s

  5. Brilliant! You should publish this. Well, obviously you’ve blogged it but grab world fame and loadsa money and send it to the New Yorker or something!

    I ALWAYS catch something and bring it home from the waiting room, usually from the eejits who come out cursing Bad Doctor because, perfectly correctly, he won’t prescribe antibiotics for a virus. There’s one type you haven’t mentioned: the paranoid person who thinks because you have your phone in your hand you are using it to take a photo of her/him and starts squawking loudly.

    How do you feel about waiting for trains/planes/buses?

    M 🙂

    • Hi BM,

      I’m generally okay about waiting for buses, with the exception of horrible cold, windy or wet weather.

      I haven’t ever met the paranoid squawker. Now I know such a creature exists I shall be sure to keep my eyes peeled 😉

      As for publishing, that would be lovely, if only.

      L x

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