If you follow Pop Theology, you’ll notice I’ve been focusing on documentaries as of late. The five Oscar nominees are rich viewing experiences that incite a variety of emotional responses and will no doubt contribute, in very important ways, to ongoing dialogue around issues as diverse as the procurement of AIDS treatment drugs and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. A small scale documentary that didn’t get the wider publicity it deserved, The Waiting Room, which is a welcome voice in discussions around health care issues, is equal in all respects to its awards-nominated counterparts.
Highland Hospital in Oakland, California, is the central trauma hospital for Alameda County. Given Oakland’s high violent crime rate, nearly all gunshot victims are taken here for emergency surgery. As such, the ER is one of the busiest and most intense in the country. A doctor friend told me that the cream-of-the-crop medical students apply for residencies there because of the demanding work load. A stat on the hospital’s website says, “The busiest Emergency Department in the county, with some 80,000 visits annually.” As one of the largest public hospitals in the region, it is also a magnet for the “medically indigent” and uninsured who come there for emergency and, unfortunately, primary care.
There are implications here for discussions of gun control and changes in health care. These are discussions worth having at length elsewhere, but it’s hard to watch this documentary and not come away with the sense that the system is broken in significant ways. I certainly left with an even greater compassion for people trapped by a lack of insurance who suffer the ambiguity of illness that is no respecter of coverage or a lack thereof. If you don’t connect with, sympathize with, or resonate with at least one person in this documentary, then you are in need of medical attention yourself because you no longer have a pulse.
Look for The Waiting Room when it releases on DVD later this year. You can visit the film’s website to be notified when it releases on DVD.