Observations In A Waiting Room

One of the things I love to do, is to study human behaviour in different situations/environmental contexts. A doctor's waiting room is one of the ideal spots to do so…

Why does there always seem to be a certain awkward atmosphere in the doctor's waiting room? Have you noticed that? Or is it only me? Is this the case for all doctors' waiting rooms? Is it because each person is wondering, what's wrong with the next?

The waiting room is choc-a-bloc. Quite full. Patients sit in close proximity to one another. Perfect opportunity to study the patients in detail. In the drawn-out silence of this often cold, sterile environment , certain details stand out, like a sore thumb. Especially the hushed tones.

Have you ever wondered why people speak extra softly? The sense of secrecy? Is it because society dictates that we follow proper etiquette? Will it help to minimize the severity of a particular ailment that may be lurking? An assortment of patients await their turn. Some reading magazines. Some snoozing. Time to check out the vital signs of the ailing, seated around me.

There is a senior citizen who actually has Lady Gaga as his ring tone. No seriously. And he appears to have a hotline. His phone beeps every 8 minutes or so. (most probably his child/grandchild's phone that he borrowed…) To my left, a poor slumped infant. Desperately trying to draw oxygen. Nose blocked. Producing a slurping sound instead. Like when you struggle to suck up the dregs from a Wimpy milkshake, through a straw, and it's blocked. Slurp! Slurp! Slurp! Shame, should nebulize the poor thing. A toddler playing in the corner, carrying the remnants of a once-well-loved-but-now-battle-scarred-teddy, who has obviously seen better days. Probably been at the mercy of endless tantrum-ridden-toddlers, for far too long! An elderly gentleman, near the door. Eyes open and close, intermittently… He lets loose the occasional snort…

Amongst this potpourri of patients, a woman with an overbearing perfume. You know the kind that wafts and lingers on the air long after the person has left the room? It ain't of the subtle variety. Must be the young lady engrossed in the contents of a glossy magazine. She appears to be the odd one out. Far too calm and collected. Not a care in the world. Unlike the rest of us restless, twitchy patients. A well-dressed young man perched beside the television. Eyes darting around the room. Shiftily… nervously… trying not to lock eyes with other patients… It's simply good sense, I suppose. You just don't know what they might have…

At this point, it's time to indulge the bored and over-fertile imagination, which is ticking like a Rolex. Or should that be Tag Heuer? Well actually, that would have to change to ticking like a flea market watch, since I haven't done the Rolex thinggie. And not likely to do so.

It's like a mental game show, "Guess The Ailment!"  Is Mr. Shifty-Eyes involved in something shady and underhand? The darting eyes – a dead give away! Probably contracted a socially-related disease from a social connection… Madame Glossy-Mag has a bandage around her ankle. O.K. That doesn't require too much imagination, after all… but wait, on closer inspection, there appears to be a second bandage, around her wrist… mmm… that could actually stretch the imagination, quite a bit… Mr. Snort-And-Snooze looks like the grout type. I forgot to mention madame receptionist, merrily filing her nails behind the reception desk. Looks like she needs to see a doctor herself. Probably anaemic combined with some sort of eating disorder. Needs to check it out…

…And at this point, as if on cue, Madame Nail-Filer looks at the next card on her desk, up at the patients, calls out a name… and my reverie is interrupted…



  1. Alex J. Cavanaugh on October 28, 2012 at 11:52 am

    I guess I need to look up from my iPad now and then…

    • michelle on October 28, 2012 at 12:06 pm

      LOL. Yep, lift your face from the i-Pad now and again… you'll never know what significant moments have slipped by…

  2. Shelly on October 28, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    I often wonder about people I see sitting in traffic. Like what they thinking when they pick their nose or squeeze their zits?
    Hugs and chocolate,

  3. michelle on October 28, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    …probably thinking that mornings are so hectic, that the grooming ritual leaves no time for zit-squeezing/nose-picking activities… something along those lines… 🙂

  4. Tonja on October 28, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    I love people watching at the doctor's office.  I loved reading your observations. 
    The last time I was at the hospital with a child, I couldn't help but notice how dirty the floor was and how the labels for the drawers were not applied with any kind of care – they weren't in line or centered and some were crooked. 
    At one point, a teen walked down the hallway in a hospital gown.  All the clerks and doctors in the center booth thing they were sitting in stood up and said, "Jennifer, Jennifer, where are you going?"  A police officer went after her.  Jennifer was definitely not having a good day. 

    • michelle on October 28, 2012 at 7:37 pm

      Dirty hospital floors? Eeew, that's not on! Hygiene in a hospital should be top priority, since there are already hundreds of germs/viruses within that environment… It sounds like Jennifer should have been watched more closely… 🙂

  5. Rachna Chhabria on October 28, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    OMG. I too have  a  habit of studying people in a doctor's waiting room. I tend to observe a lot when I am out, I study people's body language a lot.

    • michelle on October 28, 2012 at 7:39 pm

      Studying body language/gestures/physical mannerisms is an interesting exercise. It's amazing what you can learn about a person from doing this.

  6. jabblog uk. on October 28, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    Acute observations. People-watching is great fun, so long as you're not caught doing it;-)

    • michelle on October 28, 2012 at 7:40 pm

      Discretion is the keyword, I agree! 🙂

  7. The Golden Eagle on October 28, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    Waiting rooms <i>are</i> rather awkward, aren't they? Hard to tell why when you look at it objectively–everyone is ill and/or needs a checkup at some point.
    Great observations!

    • michelle on October 28, 2012 at 7:43 pm

      Yes, getting ill is a part of the human journey and no person is exempt. We all visit the doctor at some stage or the other… yet that sense of awkwardness prevails… 🙂

  8. Elise Fallson on October 28, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    In France (at least in the region I'm from) it's customary to say hello when you walk into a waiting room of anykind. Everyone returns the hello and then we all avoid eye contact as much as possible. It's kinda weird now that I think about it. Love the observations you made however, would love to simply watch people but if I'm at the doctors office it's usually with my 2 little ones and most of my attention is on them, making sure they stay occupied and not getting into  any trouble. lol! 

    • michelle on October 30, 2012 at 10:14 am

      That's classic! Connect with the rest of the patients, and then ignore them… :)Maybe it's best your attention is focused on the little ones, then you don't have to try extra hard to avoid eye contact. LOL!

  9. Stacey Mitchell on October 29, 2012 at 10:53 am

    That awkward atmosphere! I know just what you mean. I always wonder if I'm going to come away with something worse than I went in with, the way some people cough and splutter. But the people-watching aspect of being in a waiting room is fab 🙂

    • michelle on October 30, 2012 at 10:18 am

      People-watching is a great exercise… a creative way in which to develop characters/personalities, or even build on existing characters in a story… 🙂

  10. Sherry Ellis on October 29, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    LOL!  I guess I really don't pay much attention to other patients in doctor offices.  This is really funny, though!

    • michelle on October 30, 2012 at 10:19 am

      Well, it depends on the patients… some cannot be ignored because they stand out for one reason or the other… it also depends on how long the wait is… 🙂

  11. Susan Kane on October 29, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Some of the most interesting observations come from the Dr. office!  I too am one who joins in speculation.  There is a journal in my purse, in which I write down potential characters for blog posts, and my WIP.  Sounds like you saw a big harvest there!

    • michelle on October 30, 2012 at 10:44 am

      The observation sometimes helps to spark some ideas with regards to characters… I normally just type my thoughts into a draft on my cell phone…

  12. tara tyler on October 29, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    dont look at me, dont judge me, you dont see me…no one likes to go to the dr, it's because of or in prevention of an ailment where we will be emabrassingly examined, revealing disgusting symptoms! and the waiting adds to the anxiety…blech!
    great job writing about it!

    • michelle on October 30, 2012 at 10:49 am

      Sounds like a visit to the doctor is a traumatizing experience for you! LOL. I hate going to the doctor, but my reason is that he often prescribes a load of tablets/meds that only make you feel worse than you did before the visit… aaarrrgh!

  13. Carol Kilgore on October 29, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    I'm a people watcher, too. Love matching people together and making up "their" story 🙂

    • michelle on October 30, 2012 at 10:52 am

      That's interesting… matching two people and creating "their" unique world… maybe a person from the doc's waiting room and another person from a different setting… 🙂 Great exercise!

  14. Rose on October 29, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    I live in the Southern U.S. and here the people are chatty, even in doctor's offices. What I find awkward is my OB/GYN waiting room with the TV perpetually on an informational women's health channel. Nothing like hearing female anatomy discussed in a room full of strangers!

    • michelle on October 30, 2012 at 10:55 am

      Sounds like a more relaxed waiting room environment… 🙂 Discussion of female anatomy in a room full of strangers does sound awkward… even if it's only on the tele…

  15. L. Diane Wolfe on October 30, 2012 at 1:15 am

    It's like an elevator – everyone is quiet and waiting. You can feel the tension.

    • michelle on October 30, 2012 at 10:56 am

      And it's such a confined space that sometimes one is frightened to breathe too hard… LOL… especially when the elevetor is choc-full… 🙂

  16. Medeia Sharif on October 30, 2012 at 6:46 am

    I'm usually reading in the waiting room, but I do look up from time to time to study people. 

    • michelle on October 30, 2012 at 10:58 am

      Apart from studying people, I also like to read in the waiting room. It's the perfect place to catch-up with some reading…

  17. Tyrean on October 30, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    I've never understood why waiting rooms and elevators seemed to be quieter than a library, but I'm just as guilty. Waiting rooms have that "could-be" sick weirdness going on, and elevators are just crammed and awkward.

    • michelle on October 30, 2012 at 9:12 pm

      Maybe waiting rooms could be sub-divided into smaller areas such as "could-be" sick, "fake-sick" and "definitely" sick…  there should be total silence in the third area. LOL. Companies should build larger elevators?

  18. Jen on October 30, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Hehe…glad to know I'm not the only one who people-watches in the darndest of circumstances. I've always wondered why things are so hushed in a doctor's office. And I always wonder what the people around me are in for. Makes for some compelling story telling, even if I just keep it in my head to entertain myself while I'm there 🙂

    • michelle on October 30, 2012 at 9:14 pm

      It helps to alleviate the boredom! 🙂

  19. Kimberly Gabriel on October 30, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    I love this post!! Why do we all speak so softly in waiting rooms? You ask such grat questions!

    • michelle on October 30, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      I don't think that anybody has come up with a suitable answer as to why we all speak in hushed tones in the doctor's waiting room… I wonder where it originates from?

  20. Annalisa Crawford on October 30, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    Last time I was in the doctor's waiting room I had vertigo and couldn't sit up straight. People started shifting away from me! On second thoughts, it might have been my groaning as the world spun that caused them to move away… 

    • michelle on October 31, 2012 at 2:01 pm

      Love the touch of humour!  🙂 On a serious note… vertigo? In a sitting position? Was the room adequately ventilated? Was it over-crowded?

  21. Suzanne Furness on October 31, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    People watching is a great pastime! Waiting rooms, cafes, bus stops all excellent places to let your mind wander.

    • michelle on October 31, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      Absolutely! It's a great way to fuel the creative spirit! 🙂

  22. Teresa C. on October 31, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    I LOVE people watching, because we're all so weird.

    • michelle on October 31, 2012 at 6:49 pm

      Yes, every individual has his/her own special brand of "weirdness"… even the ones who think that they are "normal"… LOL.  What's regarded as "normal" to one person may be "abnormal" to another…

  23. Emily R. King on October 31, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    I'm usually reading in the waiting room, but yes, the atomosphere is charge with apprehension. Lots of people wondering what lies ahead in the examination room.

    • michelle on October 31, 2012 at 6:51 pm

      Yes, and I don't think that will ever change… 🙂 I wonder what goes through the doctor's mind…?

  24. J. A. Bennett on October 31, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    What I want to know is what YOU were suffering from 😉 You only forgot one thing about that waiting room, people playing on their phones. That's what I do anyway. And that poor baby! 🙂

    • michelle on October 31, 2012 at 6:54 pm

      The only thing that I was really suffering from, was annoyance at having to go there in the first place! 🙂 I DON'T like going to the doctor… and yes, there are always those who play on their phones… 🙂

  25. Melissa Maygrove on October 31, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    LOL – You think that's fun…go sit in the emergency room on a Friday night. *giggle-snort*
    Seriously. Great post! 🙂

    • michelle on October 31, 2012 at 6:57 pm

      The emergency room? I can just imagine! There's probably all sorts of weird, whacky and wonderful characters who pass through… 🙂

  26. Julie on October 31, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    It does make the time go by much faster when you people watch in the waiting room. ER's have the most activity, but sometimes you have to wait hours before you're seen by a doctor. Interesting observations!

    • michelle on November 1, 2012 at 7:20 am

      An ER is a hive of non-stop activity. Imagine the interesting stories waiting to be told!!

  27. Morgan Shamy on November 1, 2012 at 1:19 am

    Oh my gosh… what a fascinating post! Maybe I need to visit the doctor more often to be inspired with characters… And new follower via email… I haven't jumped into the network blog or linky tool thing yet! SO glad to be connected—I can tell you're going to be entertaining. 😉 

    • michelle on November 1, 2012 at 7:21 am

      Thanks Morgan. 🙂 Nice to meet you.

  28. Carolyn Brown on November 1, 2012 at 9:42 am

    Michelle, I cannot believe that you have not met Morgan before, Wow! Out of interest Morgan did you follow Michelle over from my blog?
    I love to just sit and watch people, I found this fascinating pastime courtesy of my Grandmother, God bless her soul, we would often sit and chat about the people around us and use our imagination to make up stories about their comings and goings!

    • michelle on November 1, 2012 at 12:47 pm

      It's so interesting that you mentioned your grandmother as your "story-telling mentor"… the word-of-mouth story telling method (oral tradition), is the oldest form. You have your grandma to thank,  for setting you on your writerly journey! That is awesome! 🙂

  29. Nick Wilford on November 1, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Great post! I love people watching, especially if as in this case you have a protracted period of time with nothing to do. You can come up with some great observations and ideas… unfortunately I have to keep these in my head til later though, because I worry that scribbling notes in public will make me look weird! Anyone else get that??

    • michelle on November 1, 2012 at 2:59 pm

      I try not to scribble notes in public… LOL. I type my thoughts into a draft on my cell phone, after all, everyone plays on their cell phones. 🙂

  30. C. Lee McKenzie on November 1, 2012 at 5:16 pm

    This is an absolutely perfect place to mine for characters and situations. Loved this!

    • michelle on November 1, 2012 at 8:57 pm

      In every waiting room, there's a character waiting to be discovered, all you gotta do is keep your eyes and ears open…

  31. Jemi Fraser on November 1, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    I do love to people watch too! The behaviours and nervous tics are always so interesting! 🙂

    • michelle on November 1, 2012 at 8:59 pm

      Yep, body language, mannerisms, gestures… there's no need to sit bored/idle in any waiting area… 🙂

  32. mary aalgaard on November 1, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    It's a "make no eye contact" kind of place. You're super curious about why they are there, but know you're not supposed to ask or care, but you do. And, it's not just "What do they have?" it's also, "I hope I don't catch it!" Funny about the well-dressed, darty-eyed guy. He's got something he wants to go away, and fast.

    • michelle on November 2, 2012 at 8:51 am

      You've actually nailed what I'd call the "waiting-room-mentality"! 🙂

  33. Nas on November 1, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    I like watching people but do feel embrassed when I'm caught! The thing is I get carried away. On roadtrips we have a game we play in the car….next person walking alongside the road- we make up stories of where he came from, where he may be going! It's hilarious!

    • michelle on November 2, 2012 at 8:54 am

      Discretion is the keyword! Don't want to make it too obvious… 🙂 That game sounds like a productive and creative way in which to pass the time…

  34. Lynda R. Young on November 2, 2012 at 2:01 am

    Ah, people watching. I love it!

    • michelle on November 2, 2012 at 8:58 am

      The informal study of human behaviour is one of the most fascinating and harmless activities… it just needs to be carried out in a tactful manner.

  35. Jennifer S. Pitts on November 2, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Great post. The next time I'm trying to figure out new characters for my book, I think I'll make an appt. to the doctor. 

    • michelle on November 4, 2012 at 10:10 am

      He! he! Good idea. If you don't try it, you'll never know… happy character-hunting. 🙂

  36. Jocelyn Rish on November 2, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Asute observations that will make great fodder for future stories!

    • michelle on November 4, 2012 at 10:14 am

      You're so right. Never know when one of them might come in handy. I've got to store these characters in a safe place… file them away for future reference. 🙂

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