I know that as a doctor, I am supposed have the patience and tolerance of a saint, but there’s nothing that makes my blood boil as much as a patient saying to me, ‘I have been waiting for a long time.’
I try very hard to stay on time with both my clinics and operating lists as much a possible. This is because I understand the frustration of waiting, and I am considerate of the importance of other people’s time, but most of all, I hate seeing my staff being abused. I always minimise double-booking time slots as much as possible, I block off time for travelling between hospitals and clinics, and I allocate time according to the type of condition. However, unforeseen circumstances happens from time to time. Sick patients on morning ward rounds that makes me late to my office, unexpected cancer diagnosis of a patient requiring an extra half an hour to ask questions and discuss options, an add-on referral from the emergency department of someone who has injured themselves, a post-op patient who developed an infection that I have to squeeze in between other patients in my dressing clinic, an urgent phone-call from a colleague with a difficult problem, an operation that took twice as long because the cancer was more extensive than what the scan showed, a patient who brought his whole family into the consultation to ask me a barrage of questions about his operation, a call-back to the operating room in the middle of a busy clinic because another surgeon rang into trouble requiring an extra pair of hands, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, all I need is one delay and the rest of the day crumbles under the domino effect. Initially, it may be a 1/2 hour delay, by the end of the day, depending on how many interruptions and unexpected events, it could culminate to hours. Often, meal times are sacrificed with chicken nuggets and chips eaten in the car running in between hospitals, not to mention, a surgeon’s bladder is not only developed because of long operations, but tested during a busy clinic where a toilet break is humanly impossible with a full waiting room.
So, when I am meeting my 20th patient for the day, I am often unsure as to how to respond when the first thing he/she says is ‘I have been waiting for a long time.’
The following responses come to mind.
‘I am sorry, I was just practicing my putting in my office with the new golf clubs I got for Christmas, whilst everyone was sitting in the waiting room’.
‘Really? Well, I had just finished the loveliest 2-hour champagne lunch with my girlfriends in the sun on the terrace at Stamford.’
‘Oh, did you have somewhere that you had to go after your operation? I am pretty sure you are booked in to rest in bed for 5 days.’
‘Good afternoon to you too. I am more than happy to spend the next 5 minutes of your consultation explaining why I am running late or we could just get on with what you’ve come to see me about today.’
‘I am sorry for your wait, I had to google your operation and watch it on Youtube a few times to make sure I know what to do when you are on the table.’
‘I was busy this morning, because I had to sell my stocks and buy some new ones when the stock-market opened this morning. Tell you what, I made a killing today.’
‘Well, I’d better do your operation quickly as not to keep others waiting.’
‘I had to catch up on all the posts on Facebook and Instagram. Hang on a sec, I need to twit about the rude patient I am seeing right now.’
‘Wow, have you? So have I, I have been here since 7am waiting to get my hands on you!’ *insert evil laugh here*
‘Is that so? Well, I tell you what we are going to do about that. I am going to turn around and walk away, when I come back, we will try this again, let’s see if you can start with “Hello”.’
‘We can get the operations done faster without an anaesthetic if you want.’
‘Yeah, sorry about that, but there was this really cute surgeon I just met in the tearoom and we had a quickie in the utility cupboard.’
There is an endless of responses I have silently accumulated over the last decade. Yes, I only use my ‘inside voice’ for situations like this. On the outside, I just take a deep breath to counteract the my rising blood pressure and to suppress the steam that is about to burst from my ears. I smile and I say, (through clenched teeth) ‘Let’s have a look at what you are here for today.’
If your surgery or appointment is at the end of a day, and you have been waiting for hours, the last thing your harassed, tired and frazzled surgeon need to hear is ‘I have been waiting a long time.’ Even if you are the first patient in the morning, and your surgeon arrives late, it is most likely that he/she have been up since 5am, dealing with the stress of sorting out some sick postoperative patients on the ward. We do not deliberate run late or keep our patients waiting because we think our time is more important. We run late simply because we have not control over time, or the factors that take it away from us.
But to be brutally honest (and more importantly), don’t piss off your surgeon before your operation, just remember who is asleep and who is holding the sharp instrument.
There is a reason why it is called a Waiting Room.