As I make my way through the entrance of the clinic at 7.50 am, the cluster where I work in which sees patients presenting your acute symptoms such as fever, cough, pain in various body parts among other ailments already has people waiting, even before the doctors have started or even arrived for the day. These people probably came here to get a queue number way before I even started leaving the house, still groggy and feeling reluctant to leave the warmth of my bed. I can only ever imagine how much it takes for these sick patients to drag themselves out just to see a doctor in the morning, a consultation which sometimes lasts about 5 minutes but costs them an hour's wait, which very often rouses a lot of unwanted ire.
I took up the job opening at the polyclinic near my house recently and am currently working as a health attendant. Basically our job is to assist the doctors in the consultation rooms, deliver documents and attend to patient queries, which can be a really difficult task sometimes. Despite my limited experience of almost 3 short weeks now, it has been an absolute eye-opener seeing the gamut of personalities - amongst patients, doctors and even the staff and my co-workers. To be honest, prior to working here I had never visited a polyclinic before, but I was aware that the waiting times were really something. I never envisioned before however, that so much support was involved behind the scenes of that of the doctors and nurses. I found out, and experienced first-hand, how the HAs were the ones to first bear the brunt of a fury of patient complaints as well as queries; people who are indignant that they have to wait for such a long time, who have missed or are worried that they have missed their queue numbers, who ask for directions to the laboratory or the pharmacy, who want to see the doctor again to clarify some matters.
In the recent days, I've had patients (usually the uncles and women) who approached me and started giving me a long lecture on how the service there is terrible and that there was no point in making an appointment when we couldn't meet it promptly. In other cases, there were several patients who came to me asking to be seen first though their queue numbers were far away, citing that they have other appointments to attend. I would explain that it wasn't possible as the doctors do follow the system and non-emergency situations cannot be given an exception. Unable to fathom that, faces sour within the split of a second while others roll their eyes and storm back to their seats (or out of the clinic) while muttering fervently under their breath. While I agree that the waiting times are certainly unacceptable if it carries on this way, and people who make appointments should not be delayed for too long, I feel like there are also many things patients do not really understand. For one, it is not the duty of the HAs (the staff you see on stand-by in the waiting area) to keep track of every single missed queue, and when queues are missed, patients would definitely have to wait once again and cannot be seen immediately. Also, complaining to the HAs isn't going to be helpful because we can only offer the feedback time and again back to the admin side but the queue numbers are really in the hands of the doctors and how they are able to cope with the crowd of patients as well. I think people also need to understand that they are not the only ones who have been waiting for very long and that simply jumping the queue would be unfair to others too.
As I'd only be working as a temporary HA, my duties are somewhat limited and it's easy for me to help deliver documents to and fro. I don't mind complaint aspect too much too since it's only for a few months. I do sympathise my co-worker aunties though, who have been really enlightening and welcoming towards me. Most of them are middle aged aunties and it gets a little awkward when they are talking about family and other well, real life stuff while all that I can ever interest them with are the details of my very mundane academic life. The job of the HA however extends far greater than what I'll probably be doing during my time there. These aunties buy breakfast and lunch for the doctors, clean the rooms every morning and after closing, take blood pressure, be chaperons for the doctors when they need to check a patient, help the admin staff clarify discrepancies in referrals and serve the doctors in every way possible. It is tiring for them I can tell and its admirable that they manage to keep their cool after dealing with some unreasonable and unruly people after all these years, while the same people have tested the limits of my patience within these few days. I feel that these HAs are not given enough recognition for their efforts and when patients start become unreasonable without knowing that it is not our fault that they have to wait for eons, I feel this wave of injustice bubbling over. These HAs are afterall, still your average citizens, whom outside of work also return as patients at some point, whom have left their office jobs years ago and have returned just to make a living after their kids have grown up and started working. At the very least, they deserve the same respect accorded to the doctors and nurses because it takes two hands to clap, this place cannot function one without the other.
Well I guess at the end of the day, encountering these situations are also what makes the whole experience interesting and it is definitely inevitable. I realised however, that what keeps me going as I drag myself out of bed everyday is also the experience of watching patients being diagnosed, being of service to others, having the patients thank you for your assistance,
And last but not the least, the feeling of having earned something with your own hands.