I had an appointment with my doctor after work yesterday and arrived about 15 minutes early. The 15-foot-by-15-foot waiting room was jammed with patients. After I checked in and forked over my co-pay, I couldn’t find a seat so I leaned against the wall and observed the antics of my fellow patients. I did a quick headcount and was surprised that 22 people were crammed into this tiny waiting room. Having been to this doctor’s office many times and always finding it crowded, I did a little quick math in my head and guessed that the three doctors associated with this practice must see at least 25 patients a day per doctor.
My co-pay was only $10, but some people paid as much as $25. So, erring on the low side, I counted on my fingers and guessed that this little operation tucked away on a quiet side street in Hillcrest generated nearly $300,000 a year just in co-pay fees. Hmm. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how much they billed the insurance companies. I should have been a doctor.
I was struck more profoundly by the body language and social commerce of the patients than I was with the unimaginable amount of money this lazy little office generated. Most of the people were over 50 and many were likely in their 70’s. Two were in wheelchairs; four leaned on canes; three were hunched over with obvious spine issues; one man was missing his left arm from the elbow down. There wasn’t a happy or hopeful face in the crowd.
One woman sitting in a wheelchair looked to be over 80. Her feet and lower legs were tightly wrapped in what looked like Saran Wrap. I couldn’t imagine what medical purpose this served. Her pure white hair was frizzy and unruly. She stared blankly at the stained carpeting, never lifting her head or making eye contact with anyone. Her lips were moving but she didn’t utter a sound. Every once in a while she made the sign of the cross. The expression on her pale face was one of total desperation and resignation. It occurred to me that this woman was deep into the end game. Maybe she was dying of a terminal illness; maybe her body just couldn’t cope with the demands of living any longer. Whatever the case, watching her broke my heart.
When I left the office, the few medical issues I was dealing with didn’t seem so important anymore, nor did the amount of money the doctors raked in. I didn’t feel like a man who was more than halfway through his life journey. I felt refreshed and invigorated. My aches and pains were not so bad after all. Strange how a reality check can overhaul your perspective. I felt like walking back into the waiting room and giving that old woman a hug, but I didn’t. She’d never understand. Perhaps I’ll just pray for her.