The Waiting Room

| October 15, 2013

This new documentary shows a 24 hour period in what’s implied to be a typical hospital emergency room.  We see many patients come and go, seeking care for themselves, or friends, family, or spouses. They struggle and are frustrated, and most of them have no idea how they’re going to pay for the care they desperately need.

My mother has worked as a nurse for my whole life.  She’s done it all: emergency room, intensive care, home care, days, nights, everything.  When I was about 13, I asked her on a whim if I could come with her to work and she agreed to let me come hang out with her during her night shift at the emergency room.  We’ve often talked since about how that was a particularly eventful night in the ER.  I saw a drug addict come in who had mutilated his own body with some kind of blade.  I saw a team of doctors and nurses trying to resuscitate an obese naked woman.  It was pretty intense.

The day spent in this California ER also struck me as pretty interesting in terms of the patients coming in and out.  One man, who suffered a gunshot wound in his leg, would vent his anger about having to wait longer than others with more crucial injuries, and then say a quick prayer asking God to take away his anger.  Another man who came to the hospital for dialysis, which is a procedure to use a machine to filter your blood when your kidneys begin to fail, became belligerent when his doctor started asking him some routine questions, and ultimately asked to have his chest tube removed so he could leave and make it on his own.  He remained persistent even when the doctor told him that without the procedure, he would die fairly soon.

The little individual stories told here are great.  You start to root for people who are hopelessly struggling with work and house payments and feeding their families, and their injuries and diseases simply come at the worst possible time.  You also sympathize with the staff of the hospital, who are just doing the best they can with the resources they have available.  Whether it’s a doctor trying to guilt a neurologist into seeing a recent stroke patient rather than making him wait months, or a social worker practically begging a priest on the phone to let a drug addicted patient return to his facility after released because he has nowhere else to go.

While it’s clear that The Waiting Room has an argument to make about the state of our healthcare system, that argument is never explicitly made.  This is my favorite part of the documentary.  I hate documentaries that strive to make an argument, because it’s hard for me to trust that they’re giving me all of the relevant information.  It’s too easy to edit together footage to support your thesis, and manipulate your audience.  So, this movie taking more of an informative approach to its presentation, and showing its audience firsthand what a day in the life of the medical industry is like for everyone involved is really effective.

I do have to say that the film isn’t the most exciting documentary I’ve ever seen.  One of the doctors at one point mentions that people have a particular perception of hospitals based on what they see on TV, where it’s nonstop action and adventure.  This dullness is definitely visible in this film, but as you get to know each of the patients and their back stories, it becomes easier to get invested in the events of the story.

Available now on DVD from Cinedigm.

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
Filed in: Video and DVD

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