The Bigger Picture

April 25, 2012 3:58 pm

Today has been an odd day. My Mother fell ill this morning so we had to make the mad rush to our local A&E department to get her treated. Of course, being the NHS, on a Sunday, the waiting times were astronomical and as a result we had plenty of time to kill before her name was called.

Sitting in A&E is one of those opportunities that allows you to be in a room with a wide spectrum of people for a long amount of time. The young, the old; the rich and the poor; the patients with a plethora of friends and family, and the ones with no-one at all. Simply put, the accident and emergency waiting room is the ultimate sample of society. Looking around, I begin to think. Who are these people, how did they end up here and where did they come from? There were the obvious signs; the Telegraph-reading Tory supporters and the Nike-wearing teens. But I endeavoured to look a bit deeper; the relationships that they had with those whom they were accompanying, the faces they pulled at names of patients from other cultures as they were called, and the sly remarks they made about others in the socially acceptable quiet voice that they think no-one else can hear.
Now, 95% of the people in the waiting room would be people I wouldn’t choose to spend my time with, and I doubt the Nike-wearing youth or the Tory supporting Telegraph readers would choose to spend their time with me. However, this process of waiting in the A&E patient room required us to do so; to spend time with each other. You see, each and everyday, a collection of families, couples and people on their own are pulled together to this particular A&E waiting room, and waiting rooms all across the UK by a force that can only be described as fate. They are united in their hatred of waiting times, annoying receptionists and crying children waiting to be seen. Delving even deeper, I wanted to identify why it felt so strange to be stuck in a room full of people that are different to you. Surely, it’s no different to hopping on a train, or waiting in a queue at the Post Office? Then it struck me. The reason why the A&E waiting room is different to all the other examples is that there is no hierarchy of power within this group of patients waiting to be seen. We are all in an equal position; a monotonous first come, first served seemingly never-ending quest for treatment.
It’s an unwritten fact that society is plagued by inequality and difference. The rich ruling class have the immediate advantage from birth over the poorer classes and the poorer classes suffer as a result. Half of the social issues we are facing today are based on inequality; unemployment in the working classes, low education achievement in the lower classes; even poorer health prospects in the working classes. Therefore, would it not be better for our Western-style society, getting what we want at whatever cost, to take a leaf out of the book of the A&E waiting room’s way of doing things? The great social commentators of the right wing have informed us that we can get whatever we want if we set our minds to it; if we TRY hard enough. But what about those who do not have the money or circumstance to try? We can’t expect society ever to be fair if we start the race of life at different starting points. This all got me pondering; should we model our lives on the ideas of fair equality, or fair competition? Is being born into privilege, affluence and opportunity fair? Or should we model the way in which our society functions on the humble accident and emergency ward waiting room?

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