Who isn’t familiar with this scenario?
It took almost a month to get an appointment with your dermatologist (a common waiting period for most specialists). You bided your time slathering lotion on your eczema and suppressing the compulsion to tear your itchy skin off with a garden rake.
Now you’re in the waiting room. You arrived a little early, just in case you catch a break and see the doctor sooner. No chance. You don’t hear your name called until a half hour later. You jump up like a kid on Christmas as you hear your name called, and the nurse ushers you into the exam room. "The doctor will be with you shortly," she says, closing the door.
But 10 minutes later, you’re still sitting on the cold white butcher paper that covers the exam table, now wearing the obligatory paper gown that neither flatters your figure nor shields it from the air conditioning. And your ability to ignore your itchy skin is fading. You start thinking about that rake again. (Just be glad you’re not in the ER, where the average wait is 56 minutes. Note to self: don’t go there unless it really IS an emergency!).
You’re starting to get miffed as the long wait continues. Suddenly you hear voices on the other side of the door, and you can almost see the door knob turn, but the clamor soon dissipates.
You are left with a disappointed groan.
Not surprisingly, one study has noted that the longer patients wait to see doctors, the lower they rate their satisfaction. So what can you do to pass the time, keep your sanity, and improve your chances of not biting your busy doctor’s head off when he or she does open the door?
While you wait on the paper sheet, you might as well be constructive. Here are some suggestions our editorial staff members came up with to help you bide your time while waiting for your doctor.
And make sure you also check out this month’s related contest: Passing Time at Your Doctor’s Office.
Become an artist
If you have kids, you’ve probably seen the walls of a pediatrician’s office decorated with art drawn on exam table paper. Now it’s your turn to express your creativity. Bring a box of crayons to your appointment. Draw the skyline of your city. Color zoo animals. Create a comic strip in which the doctor is early for your appointment and hands you a written guarantee of how much your insurance will cover.
Forget the gown. Take the exam table sheet and make a toga. Guys: Wrap the sheet around your waist a few times, then up over one shoulder, down your back, and tuck it in. Gals: Wrap it around your body about a dozen times, then make sure it’s snugly tucked in under one armpit.
The value of the paper sheet continues. Tear off a few strips of exam table paper and create some origami. To learn how, click here. If you bring your crayons, you can double your fun and make colorful cows, birds, and flowers. If you are really ambitious, tear off a long sheet, use really big folds, and make a giant pelican. Place it in a casual location. Use your cell phone camera to capture your doctor’s reaction.
Tell yourself doctor jokes
Ever hear the one where the nurse tells the doctor there’s an invisible patient in his waiting room?
"Tell him I can't see him," says the doctor. Then tell yourself, "That wasn’t very funny."
Bring your iPod
Fill it with songs like "Weird Al" Yankovic’s "Like a Surgeon" and sing aloud. Or download and watch your favorite episodes of "Scrubs" and recite your favorite Dr. Cox putdown.
Other fun things to do while waiting for your doctor
- Build a house out of tongue depressors (bring some glue with you).
- Hide the reflex hammer (also called a plessor, plexar, or percussor). When the doctor looks for it, direct him or her with prompts like "getting warmer."
- Flip the exam room posters upside down and see if anyone notices.
- Play "what’s in the drawer" and come up with creative names for unknown objects.
Of course, you could also do boring things to keep yourself occupied, but we’re not so sure you’ll be happier for it when your doctor stops by. Still, we’ve listed a few things, just to stay balanced:
- Bring your checkbook and pay your bills. (Stay clear of sharp objects when doing this.)
- Clip coupons. "Oh look, 50 cents off pot pies. Yum"
- Clean out your purse or wallet. "Does my driver’s license photo make me look fat?"
- Read a magazine. "Oh good, 10 things your doctor doesn’t want you to know."
Not to be a downer, but the reality is the average wait time could get a lot longer in the coming years. Today’s family doctors, for instance, see more patients, do more paperwork, and have fewer rewards for their efforts. And, there are fewer of them. So you might want to be open-minded about waiting. Staying calm, being patient, and trying to understand the pressures on your doctor can go a long way toward making your visit about health, not anger.
Having a little fun while you’re at it can’t hurt, either.