Thoughts from a Waiting Room.
– Kristian S. K. Bang, Aarhus Denmark
Thoughts on waiting
“Tik-tok, tik-tok, tik-tok”, the minutes seem endless. The white walls and anonymous ceiling boards counteract any form of inspirational thinking. The slight humming from the fluorescent tubes in the ceiling tranquilizes every brain cell and you feel numb.
“First you need to boil the water, THEN put in the pasta” the person sitting opposite to you yells on the phone, clearly guiding her offspring and overlooking the ‘turn off your cell phone’-sign. You’ve only been here for five minutes and you are already getting annoyed.
You now have the choice of two activities. One, you start counting the stains on the ceiling, often resulting in time standing still. Two, start reading out-dated magazines or super exciting information on haemorrhoids, last mentioned presented in a brownish-khaki layout.
Welcome to the waiting room!
Waiting Room 2.0
While some hospitals and private practitioners have the time and money for interior designers, sculptural light fixtures and expensive uninspiring abstract art, others may have to look in new low-cost directions.
We have to ask ourselves if the waiting room is just a place to park our patients or if it can be utilized as part of the treatment?
Here at Aarhus University Hospital we have a tradition of buying and installing art that can decorate our departments and inspire both hospital workers and patients. There is an art committee selecting, buying and selling the art and of course colleagues able to give an opinion. But what happens when the art committee, the colleagues and the funders disappear and you are left with your very own corner of the hospital and a blank canvas.
Pia, my teacher and a great medical photographer, found herself in that situation four years ago when her department moved to a new building and she was left alone with her photo studio. “Before, if I wanted to put up anything it had to go through a selection committee and everyone had an opinion about everything, it was horrible! Now I get to do whatever I feel like”, she says with a smile on her face. Once the department moved out she started putting up images taken on travels and in her spare time – personal work. “It was so boring before! There was only non-descript abstract paintings, white walls and grey doors”. One after the other images were put up on the walls of the waiting room and a series started to form, architectural ceilings, images from Australia and her infamous road kill series.
Pia explains that it is all about entertainment. The patients can pass the time studying the images. It gives them something else to think about and they forget that they are sick for just a short while. The pictures – like good art – should arouse curiosity and the viewer should start asking questions; in other words the images should give rise to further contemplation.
What am I looking at?
Road kill, really? The series of dead animals decorating the entire door to the office space started (as all the other series of images in the waiting room) with a curious photographer’s eye. When asked Pia says, “I thought it looked oddly beautiful with that a dried-up bird surrounded with flowers, it’s like a little piece of art”.
In 2014 we made a survey asking 152 of our patients if they agreed with Pia and it turned out that 84% of the people asked thought that the decoration in the waiting room was “average or above”, that 22% thought it was “fantastic” and that only 2% thought it was “absolutely horrible”.
Unfortunately, we have nothing to compare our survey with but we would consider that the response is positive.
Besides the images, Pia has taken other unorthodox initiatives. She threw out the uncomfortable designer chairs and put in the old fabric clad, high backrest and armrest chairs that you can actually sit in without your entire body aching. There is a radio and patients waiting are welcome to change channel and/or volume. There are toys for the kids, some of it sponsored by LEGO, the rest found on flea markets and at Christmas time an extensive amount of holiday décor is put up. Sometimes when the Danish Royal family has a birthday or a wedding, Pia will put on a plastic tiara and talk to all her patients in third person, “today I will treat they like royalty” she will say.
When I first arrived at Pia’s weird waiting room I was provoked. I felt it was too much and that it seemed unprofessional. That was until I got to work there and I found out that, the road kill, the tiara, the Christmas decorations are all functioning parts of her own little clinic.
She has the philosophy that if you can laugh about something together or you start a dialogue based on a common experience (like the waiting room) a deeper connection is made instantly. That connection can then be used to treat the patient in an even better way, making them comfortable in the odd setting clinical photography is and making them forget that they are sick for just a brief moment. The patients put down their guards and you find out that there are real people behind the social security numbers, real people who have also been to Australia or who also find it funny that the Christmas decorations are a little over the top. Patients leave Pia’s studio with a smile and thank her for the great experience and it all starts with a little craziness and a tiny waiting room.
I urge you to do it yourself. Take an extra look at your waiting room. Remove the faceless art, throw in some colour and some craziness, and feel the power of connection.
Flower bird – Pia Crone Madsen.
The Waiting Room – Kristian Bang