Documentary focuses unblinking eye on emergency health care in the U.S.

Posted: March 15, 2013

IN THE documentary "The Waiting Room," a rookie physician gets advice on how to inform parents their teen son is dead of gunshot wounds: Tell them he didn't suffer while we were working on him, says the veteran. Don't tell them he's gone to "a better place."

Though, any place would seem to be better than the waiting room of this Oakland, Calif., clinic, ground zero for treating the uninsured and the sick.

Standout moment: A man with kidney failure seeking dialysis has been bounced around so long he declares that he'd rather be dead than endure any more red tape, and we believe him. So does the treating physician, who watches, speechless, on the other side of any known protocol.

There are dozens of such encounters in "The Waiting Room," where overtaxed nurses and physicians handle what one refers to as a "big lobby" - a waiting room full of the desperately ill, often rejected by hospitals with the ability to do so.

"The Waiting Room" is to my mind the best sort of documentary. There is no agenda. It's an unblinking eye that stares at the problem at its epicenter, and in doing so exposes the lunacy of the current system, wherein a last-resort trauma center tries to squeeze the full spectrum of care for seriously ill people with no money, no insurance, no personal physician and no recourse:

A boy with bullet wounds, a man with testicular cancer, a recidivist homeless drunk/addict who's known to the staff by name, a girl with strep throat whose divorced parents aren't speaking.

"The Waiting Room" captures the exquisite exasperation and desperation of the overcrowded emergency room - and, as it progresses, something else: the determined (and ultimately decisive) humanity of the staffers.

This gives you hope that something can be done about our national "big lobby."

I doubt I'll see anything more superheroic in any "Avengers" movie than the administrative nurse who takes the names, organizes the triage and counsels the sick with charm, unearthly calm and tough love.

Her ability to bring order from chaos, to minister to the sick, delusional, the physically and mentally ill, qualifies her for similar jobs that are effectively vacant at the moment.

Speaker of the House, for instance, or Senate majority leader.


comments powered by Disqus