Liam Farrell: The perfect cure for waiting

'Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It's awful' - Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot.

Waiting is something we doctors don't comprehend; we're always busy, always rushing, always overstretched. It may even have a bright side; watchful waiting, or masterly inactivity, we call it, as we know things often get better on their own, or that a bit of time can make the picture clearer.

In contrast, waiting is a huge, exhausting, and onerous part of the patient experience.

They wait for an appointment to see us. They wait in the waiting room. The waiting room is where a significant transformation occurs, from person to patient. Other aspects of multi-faceted individuality; parent, lover, friend, worker, sportsperson, all are subsumed to the new primary role of patient. And, of course, we doctors aren’t immune, one day it will happen to each of us as well, you and I will be They.

To some degree, medical confidentiality, so often a stifling influence on communication, has already been breached. Everyone else in the waiting room already knows you are sick; only the details are not in the public domain. (I’ve tried to make it more diverting and cheery by installing a few one-armed bandits and poker machines, which make the room seem a bit more jaunty, and apropos of nothing is a nice little earner).

They wait while I explain that antibiotics are not appropriate in this case, have many side-effects, and contribute to the global problem of antibiotic resistance, and then wait as I grudgingly write out the prescription for an antibiotic.

If They have be referred Their problems are only starting, as They are then plunged headlong into the labyrinth of bureaucratic healthcare inefficiency.

They wait for the specialist appointment, for weeks, months, maybe years. They wait for the scan or scans, They wait for the report on the scan, which can be good or bad news. They wait for whatever procedure may be indicated, and probably have it postponed a few times just to add to the ordeal. And if admitted to hospital, every day They will wait for the ward-round and for visits from family and friends.

'I’ve been waiting for twenty minutes,' complained Joe.

'Then I’ve got good news for you, Joe; no more waiting for you,' I reassured him. 'There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you.’

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter@drlfarrell

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