THE WAITING ROOM captures on twenty-four hour stretch in the emergency waiting room of Oakland’s Highland Hospital. During that time scores of people come, and wait, and talk to staff, and wait, and get treated, and wait, and fuss over costs. Then they wait some more.
The film takes a great approach, as it goes by primarily without narration. Once in a while, a voice of one of the staffers will kick in to fill in some blanks – such as why some people are where they are, or why the turnover seems to be so slow – but by and large we just look and listen.
In the waiting room, people talk, they pray, they occasionally crack a smile, and above all they worry. They worry about what’s ailing them – or worse, those they love – and they wonder why things take as long as they do. Behind the swinging doors, where doctors and staff work tirelessly on the unending line of people coming and going, things move a little bit quicker…but only just. We’re made to understand that it’s not just a matter of treating people and turning them over. What’s not evident to those waiting, is that sometimes once the person ahead of them is treated, they don’t have anywhere to go. Thus, the whole system slows to a crawl.
What’s interesting about the way Peter Nicks has framed the doc, is the way we get familiar with faces instead of names. We don’t see any text appear on-screen introducing us to the subjects, or telling us why they are there…but we remember them. We remember the way they related to the staff (for better and for worse). We especially remember the way they relate with one-another.
These people, who are here with equal parts hope and need, become personally tested while they wait. Some will rise, and quietly lean on those they are there with, others start getting prickly and find themselves quibbling with those they care about. One can’t really blame them – it’s just a situation that brings out the bad side of things.
THE WAITING ROOM does two wonderful things before it’s all over. For starters, it takes a tedious situation and fills it with human emotion and real heart. That’s no small feat, since as sexy as a show like “Grey’s Anatomy” makes hospital work seem, the truth is that every part of it – especially the emergency room – is a real slog for all involved. The second, and perhaps most wonderful detail of the film, is the way it leaves the audience with a measure of hope.
The reality is that even the best medical systems in the world are strained by how hard we lean on them. Further to that, the American medical system has a whole host of other problems that leave it nowhere close to the best medical systems. However, the hope comes from the people who continue to be there for us when we need them most. People who come back day after day with a positive attitude, and work tirelessly to help us.