Sep 21, 2010

Queuing Theory

The longer I live here, the more convinced I become that Quebec has a massive shortage of operations management professors, or just operations management professionals perhaps. Today was yet another failed example of Queuing Theory, or the mathematical study of queues or lines which "has applications in diverse fields, including telecommunications, traffic engineering, computing and the design of factories, shops, offices and HOSPITALS" (capital emphasis added by author).

Yes, as you can guess, we spent an entire morning in the hospital. We were first advised to arrive half an hour early for our 9:30 appointment, which, as good citizens, we did. Within five minutes my chart was created so I was in the doctor's waiting room by about 9:10. Then there is a process of tickets, lines and waiting. As we already experienced in other parts of the hospital. We took a ticket to "register" with the doctor (don't know why, since I had a set appointment). Then with a bare nod in our direction we were told to sit and wait. About 9:55pm, some 25 minutes late, I was called by my doctor.

There, things were well. The baby's heart is still beating at about 140bpm, and my uterus is about 20cm long, both in line with the number of weeks I'm pregnant (19 weeks and 2 days). I weigh 62.5 kg including my jeans, sweater, and shoes. Probably about the same as the most I've weighed naked. The doctor was her chirpy self and gave me a nice blue sheet to make a series of follow up appointments: one in four weeks time, the next another four weeks later and after that, every two weeks until about a month before the birth, then every week.

"Just go back and take a ticket," she smiled confidently, "and book all the appointments now."


But I think she didn't count on the fact that when I pulled a ticket back in the waiting room, there were some 13 people ahead of me in line. Mass confusion ensued. Some people had been waiting so long to "register" that their doctors called them before they got a chance to do so. Others, heavily pregnant or with babies, were being pulled in for weighing, measurements and vaccinations, and thus missed their number when it was buzzed. Still others, entirely confused about the system, kept going up to the window to be told that there were people waiting in front of them and they should take a ticket. And don't even get me started on the fact that the receptionists were (a) taking phone calls and (b) taking their breaks while there were some 20 people waiting in line.

I waited patiently for my number to be called, knowing that if I tried to phone them to make hundreds of appointments, I'd never get through nor would they ever phone me back.

Of course, by the time my number was buzzed, a flustered looking nasty woman was in no mood to book hundreds of appointments.

"Well, I can't do this now," she shouted at me, "I've got 23 people waiting in line."

"Yes, I know," I shot back, not about to be put off by a 5 foot dwarf pretending to be a Nazi. "I too, have waited for some 45 minutes so that I could make these appointments. Everyone is waiting. It's my turn now."

I don't think anyone has ever dared talk back to this woman. She seemed kind of shocked by my ire, and then actually apologized. She was very sorry, but could only book me for the next appointment, and someone would call me to make the rest. Only, once she'd booked me for four weeks hence, she claimed that I would have to make all the other appointments NEXT time I came in.

As if the queuing system will have improved by then.

I let it be, the Beatles song lyrics running through my head to calm me down. But next time, oh, next time, the dwarf will have my mother's blood that runs through my veins to contend with.

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