Waiting rooms are the ultimate place for people-watching.
Little Dude and I have spent and continue to spend A LOT of time in hospital waiting rooms. He mostly has his head down, buried in my iPhone, playing one of his favorite apps. Sometimes I am similarly plugged in, looking down at my iPad, and passing the time on Facebook and Twitter, as well as reading blogs (of course!).
But, when I decide to look up (or let’s face it, if my iPad battery needs to be charged), I am drawn in by watching the people around us.
At the hospital where Little Dude is treated in New York, the patients waiting are children of all ages, along with their accompanying adult. We are at a Children’s Hospital so this makes sense. There is usually not much socializing at this hospital because everyone is waiting for their treatments, check-ups, or both, and we all just want to get out of there as quickly as possible. I do see many of the same faces, and frequently I exchange a polite smile with a mom or dad as we recognize each other.
When Little Dude was receiving treatment at Mass General in Boston, the waiting rooms were a completely different experience.
The oncology waiting room was usually empty or almost empty. This fascinated and puzzled me. Where was everybody? The only thing I had to watch was a large tank filled with beautiful tropical fish. I didn’t mind the quick wait and by quick I mean we were sitting there for maybe one minute. It almost made me want to continue Little Dude’s treatment up there for that reason alone. Apparently, the laws of supply and demand and models of medical care make a Boston hospital and a New York hospital very different experiences. In other words, New York needs to get a clue and learn from Boston.
The proton radiation waiting room at Mass General, although more crowded than oncology, was still efficient. There are only six hospitals in the entire country right now that offer this type of radiation. So yes, the waiting room could be filled, but it was usually related to a temporary malfunctioning machine rather than over-scheduling.
This waiting room was actually my favorite so far. And it had nothing to do with the usually tolerable waiting time. It had to do with the people, and not just the ones I observed, but also the ones I chatted with and got to know a little bit.
Although both children and adults are treated at the proton center, Little Dude always seemed to be scheduled at the same time as the older men waiting to have radiation on their prostates. How did I know this? Well, maybe the fact that they were all sitting there in their gowns was a hint, but I also knew that proton radiation on prostates can be a very effective and preferred way to go. And the other reason I knew? These men liked to chat! I found out all about one man’s prostate, although his thick Italian accent made it hard to catch a lot of details. That was probably a good thing. Another man’s wife shared part of his medical history with me as well and she was very sweet with Little Dude, even bringing him a present one day. So, we became buddies with some of our fellow wait-ers, and it was a true bonding experience.
The Ringing of The Bell
The bonding with fellow patients could also happen from a far. A distinguishing feature of the proton center waiting room was the “Good Luck Bell.” When a person finished all of their radiation treatments, which could generally last anywhere from 4-7 weeks, he or she would ring the “Good Luck Bell” three times. The staff as well as any family or friends, would gather around them as they rang the bell. Everyone would clap and cheer, including those of us in the waiting room watching this occur. I would tear up a bit, and always told Little Dude that his day to ring the bell would arrive before he knew it, which it did. I always felt a strong connection to whomever was ringing the bell, whether I had ever talked to him or not. We were all there for similar reasons, and I wanted to celebrate alongside them. We may have only crossed paths in a waiting room, but I am rooting for them all the way.