I’m sure you’ve seen those commercials for mattress stores, claiming that since we spend at least one quarter of our lives sleeping, we should make sure we are doing it on a proper mattress. There are lots of different mattresses to choose from, everything from foam memory, pillow top, and even a mattress that raises and lowers at the touch of a remote, just to make sure we get a good night’s sleep. I’m not arguing the need for a decent mattress, but I am wondering why the same reasoning doesn’t apply to other areas of our lives. And maybe it’s because I’ve just returned from a doctor’s appointment, but what I’d really like to know is, why can’t someone put a little bit of time and effort into designing a decent waiting room?
I have no idea exactly what percentage of our lives are spent in waiting rooms, but at the age of 58, I’m quite sure I’ve spent several hundred hours in them. And I can honestly say I didn’t enjoy a single minute.
Waiting rooms are depressingly similar. They’re usually painted some bland color, packed with uncomfortable chairs and finished off with a dark carpet in a pattern that was obviously selected to hide stains. There may be a television attached to the wall, but if there is, it’s inevitably tuned to a 24-hour news channel and the sound is either muted or so loud you can’t hear when your name is finally called. Stacks of magazines are often available, but they are usually either trade magazines or at least six months old, or both. And if you’re in a doctor’s office, you definitely don’t want to know how many sick people have already touched that year-old issue of People you’re skimming through with their germ-ridden hands. If you aren’t sick already, you soon will be.
Luckily, we live in an age where most people can pass the time in the waiting room by reading from their personal electronic device, or a cell phone. But that has it’s downside too, because having a cell phone so handy means that the people who share your waiting room can, and will, talk on them. Loudly and about nothing even remotely interesting. I’ve always believed that if you’re going to force other people to listen to your personal phone conversations, at least make it worth their while. Say, perhaps, by reciting your credit card number, including the expiration date and security code.
Whether you’re waiting for routine medical exam, to have your teeth filled at the dentist or even just the oil changed in your car, no one really wants to be in that waiting room. Sitting elbow to elbow with complete strangers, some of whom have better personal hygiene habits that others, is no picnic, no matter how you look at it. But I believe it doesn’t really have to be that way.
Just think what a difference it would make if waiting rooms were designed to be places that people actually enjoyed. Why not have cheerful decor and big, comfy chairs, with plenty of space between them. Maybe they’d even recline, for those who needed a nap. And each chair would have it’s own screen, and everyone would get their own set of earplugs, so they could watch what they wanted without disturbing others. Cell phones would be collected upon arrival, and returned when the appointment was over. In the corner, there would be a concession stand with drinks and light snacks.
I don’t know about you, but I’d happily trot off to my next appointment if I knew I’d have such a nice room to wait in. I might even show up an hour early, and I certainly wouldn’t complain if the doctor was running a bit behind. I know this sounds a bit far-fetched, but hey, look how far we have come with mattresses. If a mattress can evolve from a husk-filled pallet to the individually adjustable, super-comfortable beds we have now, surely we can design a waiting room worth spending time in. I’m just saying….