Why do waiting rooms feel so sad?
It is time to reinvent these essential, but depressing environments
I used to be a vampire’s assistant.
Not a real vampire’s assistant like Guillermo de la Cruz, the enabling apprentice on the hilarious mocumentary comedy What We Do in the Shadows. (Great show, by the way).
I was a blood donor recruiter at the New England Deaconess hospital in the late ‘80s. It was my second job out of college, and still early on in my campaign to save the world (another post for another day).
Asking people to donate blood is tough on a normal day. Only 3% of age-eligible people in the US give blood. We owe these heroes an eternal debt of gratitude. Giving blood is a selfless act of generosity and courage. It takes time and requires a willingness to allow someone to put a very large needle in your arm for up to 30 minutes.
My job was to find these heroes early on in the AIDS epidemic.
It takes a lot of cookies, cheeze-its, and juice to encourage people to donate blood when the fear of disease transmission through infected blood is at an all-time high.
But this story isn’t about that.
It is about the depressing state of the design of waiting rooms in America.
While working at the Blood Bank, I spent way too much time in the muzak equivalent of environmental design.
Our waiting room had grey/beige walls, fluorescent lighting, faux leather seats in a weird blue-green-grey color, and this nubby rug that I guess was chosen because it didn’t show dirt. You know what I am talking about. Neutral tones that are selected because they are at the top of the bland scale. However, in their attempt to blend into the background, they amplify the boredom, fear, uncertainty, and dread of those poor souls stuck waiting in the waiting room.
Every room I have ever waited in produced the same queasy, sick-to-my-stomach, walking-on-shaky ground, the-worse-is-yet-to-come feeling. For instance:
Waiting for my annual shots as a kid at our pediatrician, Dr. Brodie’s, office. Okay, those Highlights magazines with the “find the hidden objects” games did help a little.
Waiting at college health services to find out if I had mono. I know, mom, I never told you about that. I didn’t have it thank heavens.
Waiting in the children’s ward at the local hospital when my oldest had an incredibly high fever. After a week in the hospital and he was fine.
Waiting in the children’s ward when my youngest broke his femur for the second time. He never played football, but I don’t think he would have anyways.
And, waiting for my beloved to get out of a routine surgery that turned out not to be so routine. He was fine, eventually. Thanks for asking.
If your experience has been anything like mine, you sit in these monotonous rooms with generic artwork, uncomfortable seats, and other scared people, and even a five-minute wait feels like an eternity. The space is so inoffensive that it is actually offensive and leaves you with nothing to think about except the worse possible outcome.
As the country emerges from the pandemic, a lot of attention is being paid to mental health and wellness. I truly hope that includes some serious reinvention of waiting rooms. Not that anyone asked me, but here are a few simple suggestions:
Free wifi and charging stations that don’t require you to contort your body into unnatural positions to plug them in.
Real plants. Succulents don’t require a lot of care.
Natural light. It is amazing how a little sunlight can brighten a room.
Maybe a little color? A purple wall, some bright green throw pillows, maybe even some pink accents.
A water cooler.
An exhibit featuring local community artists.
How hard would it be to put in a meditation room?
Consider some of those big exercise balls to sit on.
Maybe a standing desk?
I’m just getting started!
I honestly hope, dear readers, that you have no reason to sit in a waiting room any time soon. However, if you do, I hope they’ve implemented a few of these improvements.
If not, maybe just close your eyes and imagine them.
I’m certain it will give you something much better to think about.
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Waiting rooms will never be the same again LOL. I love your ideas and I love your sense of humor <3
This made me smile, Marji! I love the way you captured the essence of the waiting room.