Waiting Games

Address: The Waiting Room, Meadowbank, Auckland, New Zealand
Words & Images: Paul White

There’s bad blood between us – me and the other two people in the waiting room. No amount of lowering eyebrows as we read the well-thumbed pages of months-old magazines can change that.
The woman sitting opposite is wearing her slippers. It’s enough to make me suspicious. The man with the shaved head should have shaved off that moustache too. He’s chewing the ends of it as he checks his cell phone.
The nurse calls my name. The other two look up, warily.
‘Blood test results all clear, sir,’ she says.
Not quite so much bad blood between us as I thought then.

It’s a bit like a raffle – they might call your name out any minute. You’ll get up nervously, and almost apologetically that the person sitting next to you didn’t have their name called out.

Almost no one brings a book to read. The younger ones check their smart phones. But there aren’t many younger ones. The older ones read the out-of-date magazines. They’ve probably read them before. Some people just stare at the ceiling. Most people ignore the big screen TV.

The weekend
At the weekend the waiting room itself waits – for Monday morning.

Monday 6.45am.
At this time of day people are even waiting to go in.

Who’s first?
You can’t book an appointment, you have to turn up, and wait your turn.

First thing
Anxiety runs highest at seven in the morning. Most people have fasted for their blood test. Nothing to eat since eight last night: they want their toast, boiled egg, cornflakes or muesli, and they are dying – for a cup of tea. Some have to give a faeces sample – they are in a real hurry.
One or two of the middle-aged ones thought they could do this on the way to work and still get there on time. Sorry.
“Traffic grief! The southern motorway is chocka.”
“Tell me about it. Well, sod that.”
“You’re a legend, thanks, I owe you one.”
Mobile banter.

The big one
What will this blood test reveal? That’s the question. Some people here are dreading the answer.

Vox Pop
“I think nurses are some of the best people on earth. They know so much and they care so much. But these three just stick needles in people all day, every day. Last time, after a twenty-minute wait, it really hurt and I had a bruise, for weeks.”

Sign on the wall
Please tell us if you have an allergy to latex.
There are two elderly ladies sitting next to me. One points at the sign, whispering, “Is that what French letters are made of?”
“I think so, yes,” whispers the other one.
“That’s all right then,” says the first one, out loud.

Reading matter
The magazines date back to November 2015.Even though the Russian war plane that was shot down in Turkey was big news then, the big article in most of these magazines is ‘A Month of Menus’. The menu in Woman’s Day for November 17th was ‘Bangers and Mash”.  History in the making, you could say.

The plasma screen shows random, silent pictures of China. Is it some weird world travel slide show? It’s not even reality TV.
“The sound’s off,” complains a white-haired gent in cavalry twill trousers and a purple cardigan.
The woman sat next to him must be his wife. She taps the hearing aid that snuggles behind his right ear.

Vannie is my nurse. She is Philippino and extremely polite. She blushes deeply when I tell her I’m not sure how to do a ‘mid-stream sample’. She laughs when I say I wish I hadn’t gone before I came. The other one – the tall red-head I had last time, whose badge told me her name was Brenda, never smiles.

The job
“Roll up your right sleeve. Or your left. It doesn’t matter.”
“Clench your fist.”
“You’ve got good veins.” Or “Oh dear, I can’t find a vein.”
“Just a little prick.”
“Press firmly there, please.”
Imagine saying that 117,600 time every week.
The poster on the wall says that’s how many blood samples they do here.

Where to next?
Next door they sell cheap clothes made in China. The shop is run by a Vietnamese woman who says everything you try on is very good for you.
Next door but one is the travel agent, where the world is your oyster. The four agents there obviously don’t like seafood. They stare at their computer screens all day and say you can’t take a brochure because they don’t have many.
Next to the travel agent is the supermarket. There are people in there offering free samples. “No thank you,” I say, “I’ve just given one.”