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7 Ways to Improve Your Waiting Room Experience

illustration of people in a hospital waiting room

We made our first trip to the emergency room after receiving a call from the school that our then-nine-year-old daughter had fallen doing a cartwheel and was complaining of a sore arm. I headed to the school to assess the first-ever broken-arm-by-recess-cartwheel. (Three weeks after this cast was removed, we received a similar call. The same daughter had broken the same arm in a game of tag.) But it was Ellie, our middle daughter who got us thinking about how we could make these emergency room visits a little less stressful on everyone, with just a few minutes of preparation. Ellie had torn a ligament in her ankle but thought running a 10k for charity might offer some magical healing power. Instead, it landed us at emerg. After that visit to the place no parent wants to go, I came up with the following list of items to make the ER a little more bearable.


Most parents are thinking about snacks 24/7 (or is that just me?), but in an emergency situation, it might slip your mind. Even if your emergency happens immediately after a meal, a healthy snack will come in handy. Protein bars, fruit and foods that don’t emit ripe odours are best. 

Clothes for all seasons

You might leave your house on a hot, summer day wearing shorts and tank tops, but when you emerge from emerg, it could very well be a different temperature. (Same goes for winter. You arrive in a snowstorm and leave in a thaw.) Layers are key. Throw sweaters in your bag for you and your child, and pairs of socks if you are in sandals. A pillow and a favourite book can also go a long way. 

A refillable water bottle and change to buy more water

In my experience, vending machines and kiosks in hospitals don’t often have healthy food options. Water can be scarce. Our last trip to emerge, my daughter made a game of timing me as I ran out to the car for more water. On the plus side, it gave me time to stretch, and I was able to make sure my daughter stayed hydrated. If you don’t drink water, before long, your body will feel like you’ve been on a long flight—except all of the passengers are sick and when you land, you’ve only made it as far as the X-ray department.

A fully charged cell phone

This might be the most important reminder, because you can’t always find a spare wall outlet. This is your only contact with the outside world. This is your lifeline. Have the kids and spouse you left behind send you pictures of things like your apple tree to remind you what season it was when you left the house (because you know the wait can feel months-long). It’ll be fun—you will feel like you are in a prison cell receiving letters on Sunday.

But kidding aside, if you’re dealing with a serious or even semi-serious issue, family and friends will be looking for updates. You’ll want to be able to keep in touch.

Unscented hand sanitizer

Sure, you might have salted caramel and ripe raspberry sanitizers in your purse on the regular, but strong scents can upset those around you or make a sick child feel even more nauseated. (On our last trip, we had mint-scented sanitizer that was less offensive than the pumpkin spice flavour we left in the car.) A non-scented option is also easier to offer to your fellow waiting room warriors to help diffuse the spread of unwelcome germs.

Tablet, pad of paper and a writing utensil

This is one time a handheld device will be a welcome distraction for your child. Bring the tablet. Your patient will inevitably get bored of Netflix, though, and an old-fashioned pad of paper and a pen can be used for tic-tac-toe and hangman—plus you can use it to jot down notes from the doctor.

Diapers or sanitary pads

Even if your kids haven’t worn diapers for years, someone else in the waiting room might run out because they had no idea they would be in the waiting room for two weeks. If you have spares in the cupboard from the end of potty training—go ahead, be a hero. Same goes for feminine hygiene products. 

Note to self: Avoid reading magazines with pictures of green pastures and sunsets because you may never see either again

On one of our hospital visits, I started reading a recipe that required fresh strawberries. By the time we were discharged, it was raspberry season.

​Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Winter 2017. Photo: iStockphoto.

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