The Waiting Room
In the shadow of the MacArthur Freeway, Oakland's Highland Hospital is the community's busiest and perhaps most critical source of emergency medical services for the uninsured and indigent. Over 73,000 patients of every ethnicity and creed pass through the ER annually, including more than two thousand trauma cases. Peter Nicks's documentary is an intimate and intense day-in-the-life portrait of those seeking care, and the doctors, nurses, and social workers that serve them. Ranging from underemployed to chronically destitute, the patients present a grim portrait of the country's dual economic and healthcare crises: a middle-aged man with agonizing spinal bone spurs who must continue to work to pay his mortgage; an addict with severe respiratory issues who has nowhere to go; and a fifteen-year-old gunshot victim whose body is temporarily held as crime scene evidence, among others. Their vulnerability is embraced by a compassionate staff that toils under a constant state of triage, a predicament that can leave people waiting for hours. In the midst of so much pain and suffering, Nicks shows us that life's most dire situations are often illuminated by extraordinary acts of kindness and humanity's innate ability to find a way to connect.