Last week I had my follow up appointment at the Ear Nose and Throat Department, after my blocked ears saga. The outcome of the visit was that I was referred for another cochlear impact assessment, of which more in another post some other time. Today’s post is about the process of waiting and queuing,
I arrived at the hospital incredibly early because parking is a nightmare. Public transport isn’t an option. From where I live it would mean taking two buses and one train, with a probable journey time of about two and a half hours each way. That’s if you ever got there at all. So I reported in at the main ENT reception about thirty minutes in advance of the appointment. This is the check-in point, which triggers the clinic knowing that you have arrived. There’s a longish queue, quite a lot of noise and then you get to the front and the receptionist chats away merrily, apparently oblivious to the fact that many patients (I can’t be the only one) can’t hear her. Still, with several “sorry, I didn’t hear that” and “I’m deaf, could you say that again please” we managed to get the job done. Indeed, the young woman was so charming and friendly I felt cheered by her rather than irritated. We laughed about how early I was and she directed me to another reception station about twenty yards away, in the area where the Ear Clinics take place.
One function of the second reception seems to be to tell you exactly where to sit. Imagine a big U. The reception station is in the base of the U, along with lots of chairs laid out in rows. The consulting rooms (there are loads, it’s a big place) are in the two spokes of the U, with more chairs in the long, narrow corridors outside them. On past visits I’ve been directed to the corridors – “to sit outside room X”- but this time the clinic receptionist said no to that. “Just sit in this area please”, at the base of the U. So I did.
It was packed and noisy. I had a book with me but couldn’t concentrate on it. There was a TV (subtitles and no sound thankfully) so I watched that for a while, on and off, to kill the time. Gradually I became aware that the other people waiting near me were sometimes getting up and moving off purposefully, summoned by some system beyond my comprehension (speech, no doubt, but I couldn’t hear it above the hubbub). Whilst I was still early for my appointment I wasn’t worried, but as the time of the appointment came and went I started to feel a little uneasy. I was checked in, so they knew I was there, but what if they called and I didn’t respond? At about twenty minutes past the time on my letter I went to the reception station again and explained the problem. The receptionist told me to move to sit in one of the corridors. Or I thought she did. From long experience of not deciphering things correctly I repeated back to her what I thought she had said. She shook her head. No, she hadn’t said that. I was to go to the room at the far end of one of the corridors and speak to a nurse. I knew that room to be the nurses’ station so I went there and explained the problem once more. A nurse headed off with my letter to see what was happening. Then another nurse appeared, apologising profusely. My particular clinic was running very late.
“No problem”, I said, “that’s fine. I was just worried that I would miss my name being called. Shall I hang about here somewhere?” I indicated the crowded and busy corridor. Virtually every seat was taken.
“Sit wherever you can”, she replied, touching my upper arm in a friendly way. “I’ll come and find you when it’s your turn.” I could have hugged her. I found a seat and, as she passed from then on, she gave me updates. “Just one person before you now”. “Not long now”. Then “OK, follow me” and off we went. That nurse gets my gold star award for customer service.
What would be wonderful, I thought later, is one of those LED screens like they have on trains and at bus stops. “Vera Brearey please go to Consulting Room 3”. It would have saved all that worry. To be fair, the hospital’s letters all say that you can take a friend or relative with you. Indeed, when Nigel phoned them once on my behalf, they asked if I was doing that, in case I needed hearing support. It’s good that the hospital encourages such support but independence is important too. People need to be able to cope with the system on their own.
So perhaps an LED screen, although no doubt they cost quite a lot. In the car on the way home I fell to musing about what else would have helped, at less cost. Maybe a big whiteboard at the front, so if there is no reply to someone’s name being called they can write on it. “Vera Brearey please go to Consulting Room 3”. Then if there is still no reply they could change it to “Vera Brearey – where are you???” (Or maybe not).
Perhaps just a big piece of cardboard, like when tour operators meet you at the airport. A nurse could walk round the room holding it aloft. That would work. I started giggling as the image somehow morphed into one of those young women from the silent movies, who walked across the screen in high heels with a sign board. No, definitely not that; I’m getting silly now.
So what are my tips for medical waiting rooms (without LED screens)? Some of this I did and some of it I should have done.
- Tell the receptionist when you arrive that you are deaf and won’t hear your name called. Ask what the system is for calling the next patient. How can they make sure you don’t miss it?
- Sit facing the area where staff will appear to call out names, if that’s the procedure, to maximise lip reading opportunities. (In my GP surgery lots of the chairs face the wrong way).
- Try not to get so engrossed in your book/magazine/TV programme that all genuine attempts to alert you meet with failure (I’m afraid I would have to plead guilty to this on other occasions).
- If it’s way past your appointment time, tell someone. You never know what might have gone wrong, and it’s better than sitting there worrying.
- Always, always, if it’s important, repeat back the instruction you think someone has given you. You could have got it completely wrong.
- Try to see the funny side……..
Anyone got any other ideas?