The other day, having scheduled a medical consultation I was led into a waiting room by a nurse.  “The doctor will be in shortly”, she said cheerfully, before closing the door, making it seem as if he was but steps away.  I sit down fully expecting him to pop in before I could even get comfortable.  But that’s not what happened.  Ten minutes passed.  No problem, I thought – when was the last time a doctor saw you immediately?  Now it was twenty minutes.  Probably got tied up unexpectedly with another patient.  It happens.  Forty minutes.  What the hell is going on?  I did have an appointment.  Does he even know I’m here?  My time is valuable, too!  I open the door hoping someone will pass by who can tell me what’s happening.  Sure enough I manage to flag down a passing nurse.  She’ll “check it out,” she assures me.  Five minutes later the doctor comes running in, full of apologies.  He mumbles something largely unintelligible, leaving me with the sense that he’d forgotten and had not been told I was waiting.  What we have here is a prime example of the waiting phenomenon, an experience familiar to everyone.

We’ve calculated how much time Americans spend in their cars commuting to work.  We’ve figured out just how sleep deprived we are, or how much time we spend watching commercials or doing housework, but no one has kept track of time consumed just waiting.  Totals are likely to be eye opening.

It can happen in a crowded restaurant as you wait for a table or later for your meal to arrive.  Also, in medical offices as I’ve just described or on the telephone as you await a response from a live human being.  Then, too, on a highway, once gridlock has set in, as well as in many other instances.  What is of interest here is not just the elapsed time, but individual reactions as he or she waits and waits and …

There are, most everyone will acknowledge, distinct stages that people pass through as patience gives way to impatience, then annoyance, anger, even outrage.  Let us define and examine this progression.

Optimism – All is well.  Nothing’s amiss.

Confidence – Not much time has elapsed.  Just a few more minutes at most.

Unease – Hasn’t enough time passed already?

Really now! – This is getting ridiculous.

Why me? – Someone has it out for me!

Who the hell do they think they are? – Outrageous!

I’m outta here.  – I’m leaving.

Never again.  – There are plenty of others.

Next time you’re waiting, consider what you’ve just read.  Hopefully it can help.

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