Waiting rooms. For any parent, they’re the lowest rung on the ladder straight to hell, aren’t they? If you want to replicate purgatory on earth, go ahead and turn up the volume on an episode of Ellen on the medical clinic television, especially the bit where she dances. Kill. Me. Now.
I’m a bit of a veteran of medical waiting rooms, cubicles, and hallways as I have dragged my daughter Amelia across town to see the specialists and therapists we consult about her deafness and autism spectrum disorder.
If she has nightmares, then I suspect they are set in a dark, cold ante-room embedded in a doctor’s surgery where there are no doors or windows and everybody has dead, staring eyes filled with condemnation.
Or maybe that’s just me.
Because I loathe them so passionately, so completely, that I begin to dread them hours before we’ve been formally introduced.
A quick recce of the set-up in one of these places and you just know how far into the mouth of hell you are going to fall.
Common to the worst examples are big, echoing rooms, with no warmth, colour or anything resembling child-friendly comforts except a monolithic, flat screen TV perched aggressively on the wall. With the sound cranked up to 11 and it always seems to be Dr. Phil o’clock.
I tend to think if a big chunk of your clientele is small children, there’s no excuse for only having a few weather-beaten Little Golden Books and two mangy looking toys slung in a corner to divert the attention of sick, anxious and/or bored kids.
The better waiting rooms on our roster have managed to create a discrete waiting area within the main one that is targeted at its paediatric patients. The best ones will have dedicated a whole room to this purpose.
It doesn’t take a lot of money or architectural redesign to cordon off a little space, make it bright and engaging and fill it with second-hand books and games to distract children from the typically long wait to see a busy doctor.
Without the promise of something, anything, to help divert Amelia’s attention from the loud noise, hostile atmosphere and the stressful examination waiting for her, I know I’m on a hiding-to-nothing.
There will be one or more of screams, meltdowns, tears, frantic escape attempts, disapproving looks (from Amelia and the adults around me), and often the whole shebang.
In short, there will be blood and most of it mine sweated through pores or springing from cuts sustained trying to put my darling child-genie back in the bottle.
As parents, we’re not asking for the world, just some safe territory – an island if you will – that signals the welcoming support of the people and places we invest so much time, hope and money in.
But in the mix with the dreadful, the so-so, and the pretty good I have discovered the gold standard, the Ferrari of all waiting rooms, and it’s inside our new Occupational Therapy (OT) clinic.
Of course it makes sense that a place like this one, which specialises in helping children like Amelia who are dealing with serious challenges, would take extra care in the design of its interior spaces.
But this waiting room benchmark honestly took my breath away. Set apart from the front reception area, it is situated around the corner, occupying its own quiet, judgement-free space.
In fact it is made up of two areas, the first being a corridor with book-shelves and chairs for the parents. And then, nestled into the t-section of the hall, there lives the WAITING ROOM TO BEAT ALL WAITING ROOMS.
It’s dark and quiet and it has a pirate tent in it. That already puts it in Amelia’s top 5 spaces to love list. Need more? How about huge, billowing cushions and pillows of vivid colours not seen since Gene Wilder so dazzled film audiences as Willy Wonka (please don’t mention Johnny Depp’s Wonka to me. Ever).
Two large, wicker boxes hold further curios and delights, like torches to light the way into the pirate den or soft fabrics and toys for the more tactile child customer. There’s also an egg-shaped chair that swivels and has a cloth lid that pulls down to obscure the seated party.
Things to touch and places to disappear – Amelia took one look and fell head over heels. Then in true hoarding style, she dragged most of the contents of the room into the tent and I didn’t see or hear her again until it was time to see our OT.
The space made her feel instantly secure and it kept her busy exploring and hiding for as long as was needed. I’d call that mission accomplished.
The therapists at this clinic don’t seem to keep people waiting more than 10 minutes but somehow they’ve already made waiting the best part of the appointment, not the worst.
It’s fanciful and unrealistic to expect other places to have such purpose-built waiting rooms for kids, but if I walk in and see that your centre hasn’t thought about children at all then I’ll just assume you don’t care. About me, or my child.
Think about how that makes people feel and then maybe try for an upgrade. It doesn’t have to be as stylish and flashy as a Ferrari, but there are plenty of good, second-hand cars on the market that will take its passengers to the same welcome destination.
Then we’ll really know we’re in safe hands.