Call me silly, but I love a nice waiting room. I think they're important. There you are, vulnerable, nervous about seeing the doctor, and if the environment consists of ratty carpet and piles of ancient magazines, that's a professional I'm not likely to patronize.
I want an initial impression of competence. I want visual confirmation that the person I am going to see is up to date and willing to put some effort into me.
Last year I decided to give the Aloha Eye Clinic in Wailuku a try and was cheered when I drove up to the building, white, with a Spanish-tiled roof replete with photovoltaic collectors.
I was immediately comforted by the blazing fire of the royal poinciana tree in the entry courtyard, ringed with attractive benches from which one looks out into the ever-changing glories of 'Iao. There were lots of windows and comfortable chairs in the waiting room, and a courteous, efficient front-desk staff. Plus, it wasn't freezing.
Dr. Mia Carson's former office in Makawao pleased me as well. The waiting room was sunshine-yellow, with an expensive mobile, kids' play area, a trickling fountain and paintings of waterfalls. Once there was even an om painting on the wall. It was consciously "media free."
I must say, people seem to love a certain doctor but his waiting room to my mind is a prime example of how to drive patients away. It is small, dingy and dark, with artificial flowers and no reading light. The bathroom door down the hall clangs behind you like a prison cell.
I went in there on time for an appointment one day and found 17 people ahead of me, almost all of them playing games on their cellphones. I fled from the bath of electromagnetic radiation to metal folding chairs in the hall, and sighed with relief to encounter two women reading magazines.
I moved to the end of the hall when one of them started playing a game on her cellphone, and then became aware that I was sitting by the exit. Just a few steps and I was out the door, fleeing to a competitor.
Listen, guys: It's not that hard.
Dr. Charles Soma's office is decent. Clean, nice light, acceptable artwork, no key necessary for the bathroom. The office building on Wakea Avenue where Dr. Patti Endo practices has a soothing, leafy courtyard in which to wait. Dr. Rob Mastroianni's waiting room in Pukalani is nicely lit by southern-facing windows. It has comfortable chairs and an aquarium, nothing fancy but OK.
The waiting room of the dentist Dr. Chris McNeil is a delight. It features works by local artists, including photographer Bob Bangerter and painter Kim McDonald. (McNeil gave away my favorite McDonald painting of an old church to a patient who attended it as a child.) He's put killer surfing pictures of Jaws in the dental hygienists' room.
Dr. George Martin's office in Kihei is restful, with comfortable chairs in Hawaiian print and PBS softly playing, a good thing since chances are high your face is going to get burned, or worse. One is cheered in the treatment rooms with the wild collection of signed surfing and waterman photos contributed by his many fans.
My favorites are home offices - probably illegal. What's more comforting than a cat?
Interior designer Barbara Hanger agrees with me about the importance of waiting rooms. "The environment sets the mood as to how the professional views their clients. A neglected waiting room gives a feeling they don't really care." A nice waiting room, she thinks, is "part of whole health."
This is not a hard and fast rule, of course. Behind a beautiful waiting room chronic disorganization can lurk. Some old-timers may feel more comfortable in an office that's a little weather-beaten.
Here's a case in point. I needed to see an acupuncturist in Honolulu recently, and asked a friend for a referral. "I can't remember his name or address," he said, "but it's on King Street. You pass Alan Wong's and then there's a car parts place and a Chinese bakery. Turn in there."
That is how I found the acupuncture and herb shop of Gong Hong Au, a former cardiologist in China. Buses roared by as I waited on a folding metal chair before a battered old display case. Then I was ushered into one of two tiny but spotless treatment rooms with narrow beds without the benefit of comfy face cradles.
There, for $49, Dr. Au fixed me right up.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.