The crowded emergency room of Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif., is the setting of Peter Nicks’s wrenching documentary “The Waiting Room.” Shot in 2010 over five months, the film, which has no narrator, titles, statistical analysis or overt editorializing, observes a composite day there during which nearly 250 patients — most of them uninsured — pour in.
Many find themselves stalled for hours at this public hospital, where patients are told to take numbers and wait to be called. Their waiting time increases if there is an influx of trauma patients, who are given priority. If the system seems heartless, it is the best that can be done with limited resources by a caring staff that does an impressive job of holding chaos at bay.
The film augments a dispassionate, cinéma vérité style with occasional voice-overs of patients and hospital staff members, most of them unidentified until the final credits. One doctor describes Highland Hospital as “an institution of last resort for so many people.”
The movie focuses on about 10 patients as they navigate the intimidating bureaucracy of a health care system that seems stretched to the breaking point. You have to admire the unflappable calm of a staff confronting the anger, fear and desperation of an unending stream of people in dire need of medical attention. Brief time-lapse segments, shot from above, give a sense of the tide of humanity rolling in and out as the hours pass.
A student with testicular cancer seeks help after being rejected by a private hospital, which at the last minute canceled his scheduled operation because he lacked insurance. An older recurrent visitor, who abuses multiple substances, faces homelessness if the exasperated pastor who has looked after him refuses to take responsibility for his release. Occupying another badly needed bed, he will remain in the hospital until he has a place to go.
Another fragile patient, who has just been discharged and appears to be in no condition to fend for herself, is helped to a bus. But what will happen to her? The film doesn’t say.Continue reading the main story
The Waiting Room Creative Writing Essay
The waiting room was still and quiet except for the hypnotic tick of
the old plastic clock hanging on the wall. A smell evoking images of
latex gloves and mouthwash hung in the air, as the dentist worked
behind the closed door. The little boy across the room fidgeted
uncontrollably while his mother chose to ignore it. Her face was drawn
and pale. Her hands were placed on top of her lap and she wrung them
continuously. She wore baggy red patterned trousers, a multi-coloured
striped jumper and on her head was a faded red bandana, firmly sealed
over a mass of scruffy brown curls. The child’s brown hair stuck out
in all directions. His coat was dated, his tracksuit bottoms gathered
around his ankles, and his black shoes hung of his feet with the
frayed laces draping downwards.
The white washed walls in the waiting room revealed not a spot of
dirt. The navy carpet was woven and the red seats were covered in a
plastic ‘ wipe clean’ material. Eyes delivered across to the large
wooden door as the silver handle turned. The door creaked open and out
stepped the dental nurse. She was young, tall and slight. Her ponytail
hung over one shoulder, her cheeks were blushed red, mascara made her
eyelashes look like spiders legs and her lips were tinted pink. The
nurse looked down to her note pad and called, “Miss Mines, if you’d
like to come through, the dentist is ready.” The lady with the odd
attire stood up and with her little boy in tow, took a deep breath and
walked slowly towards the door.
The door to the dentist’s room quietly shut and whispers swept across
the waiting room.
“Did you see the state of that little boy, how could his mother leave
him to get like that.” Bickered to elderly women in the corner.
“I heard she’s going to court for benefit fraud, claiming the little
boy had an illness she was,” the two secretaries behind the desk
Slowly, the gossip calmed and again the only noise in the waiting room
was the hypnotic tick of the clock. Minutes passed by and it wasn’t
long before the scruffy lady and her little boy stepped out of the
dentist’s room and made their way to the secretary’s desk. The
secretary looked up. “Can I help you?” she enquired. The lady didn’t
answer but gazed out of the window behind the desk; her big brown eyes
were shallow and empty. Her little boy began to tug on her jumper,
“Mummy…the lady…Mummy!” The mother soon...
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