Spirit > Healing > 15 Ways to Pass the Time While Waiting in the Emergency Room

15 Ways to Pass the Time While Waiting in the Emergency Room

What do you do while waiting in Emergency Room (ER) at the hospital? Maybe you’re bored and frustrated, or angry and scared, or stressed and hungry — or all six! I get it. Yesterday I was stuck in the emergency room at the Lion’s Gate Hospital. I was alone, but I wasn’t bored. I made a list of things to do while waiting; I could see that my fellow patients and their companions were stressed, scared, angry and frustrated. And in pain.

I had lots of time to come up with a list of things to do in Emergency. I was at the hospital for urgent blood work and an ultrasound, then sent to the emergency waiting room to wait for four hours. That was the longest, slowest “emergency” of my life! And then I went home with a prescription for ibuprofen (Advil). I’ll share more of my emergency room story below, as well as a few glimpses of what my husband and I did last year while waiting in the emergency room at the same hospital for six hours. That was after I broke my shoulder.

When I wrote 137 Interesting Things to Do When You’re Bored a few years ago I wasn’t thinking of patients in hospitals, much less critically injured or ill people waiting in Emergency. The problem in the emergency room is that you’re hurt. You may be in great pain, like I was when I broke my shoulder. If you’re in pain, you’re not looking for things to do in the emergency room. You’re begging the ER staff for painkillers. Or maybe you’re crying like a baby (on the inside) or drooping like a flower. 

No matter what shape you’re in, you need something to take your mind off the long, boring hours of waiting in Emergency. Whether you’re the patient, the companion, or the family member you need things to do in the emergency waiting room. And in the three paragraphs above I’ve already given you three ideas. I wonder if you can spot them? That’s the first thing for you to do. 🙂 

15 Things to Do in the Emergency Room

I broke this list into three main categories, with four things to do in each category. The three categories are: 1) Random Things to Do; 2) Mental Things to Do; and 3) Creative Things to Do. Almost none of my ideas are online or involve iPads, iPhones, or other electronic devices.

Some of these tips and ideas will overlap. For example, my “physical things to do” may also be creative. And my “creative ideas” are also mental. Many of them are spiritual, too…because, after all, we are spiritual above all else (even when we’re not conscious of our own spirituality). So there are 12 official things to do while waiting in ER, plus 3 additional ideas.

4 Random Things to Do When You’re Waiting in the ER

what to do when you are waiting in hospital emergency room ER
What to Do While Waiting in the Hospital Emergency Room (ER)

1. Move, walk, pace, stretch. There’s not a lot of room in Emergency Room waiting areas, so you have to pace creatively. Pretend you’re in a prison cell. Or, pretend you’re a monk in a monastery, walking mindfully while being present with the Creator of the Universe. You could also do squats or standing exercises (stand up on your tippy toes, squeeze your butt cheeks, curl and unfurl your toes). I have a hard time sitting still; in fact I’m standing up right now, while I write this blog post! I have a treadmill downstairs, which I bought so I could walk while writing (it wasn’t as easy as I thought). After fours hours waiting in emergency yesterday, I wasn’t just pacing. I was climbing the walls.

2. Be curious about where things are in the hospital. Where, for example, is the ice machine and water dispenser? If you’re an emergency room patient, you may not be allowed to drink much (or any) water. If you’re accompanying a patient, you can drink as much water and chew as much ice as you want! Do it. Take a walk to the water dispenser and ice machine every 15 minutes. Fill up your cup a few sips at a time. This isn’t the most exciting tip or thing to do while you’re waiting in the emergency room for hours, but it will get you up and moving. Where are the washrooms? The X-Ray department? Cafeteria? Maternity ward? ICU? Explore. Be curious. Find something new. Be astonished. Tell us about it. 

3. Learn something new about yourself. For instance, is your personality mainly introverted or extroverted? Take a personality test, such as the one I shared in How to Know If You’re an Introvert or an Extrovert. I always knew I was an introverted writer, but I didn’t know why I didn’t like talking on the phone until I wrote that article. Learning new things about yourself isn’t just a good thing to do while you’re in the emergency waiting room, it’s a smart life tip. The more you know about yourself, the better your life will be.

4. Start planning your — or your patient’s — healing and recovery. My worst experience in a hospital waiting room was when my husband took me to ER after I broke my shoulder. I was in so much pain! I couldn’t sit because it hurt. I stood against the wall, my head drooping, my eyes half closed, my breathing weak and shallow. It was pretty scary. Little did I know that was just the beginning…I had shoulder surgery the next morning. The orthopedic surgeon used a metal plate and eight screws to repair my shoulder. That’s when I wrote 17 Gifts to Help With Healing and Recovery After Surgery.

One of my most popular blog posts is 20 Thoughtful Gift Ideas for Someone Terminally Ill or Dying. It may be worth a read, depending on the reason you’re in the ER waiting room. 

4 Mental Things to Do While Waiting in the Emergency Room

5. Make up stories about the patients in the waiting room. What happened to that construction worker’s leg, and why isn’t she crying? I’d be weeping like a baby if my kneecap was smashed and my ankle broken. Maybe she smokes dope and is feeling no pain, like I’ve heard some construction workers do on their breaks. Who drove her to the ER? What is she reading, and how can she stay so calm? Maybe this isn’t her first time waiting in the emergency room at the hospital. She’s chill. 

6. Eavesdrop on the ER nurses, doctors, porters and staff. This is my favorite thing to do while waiting in the emergency room — or being anywhere in the hospital! Actually, it’s my favorite thing to do everywhere. I love listening to people’s conversations. Yesterday I overheard part of one conversation in the hospital that freaked me out, though: it was the radiology doctor calling my family doctor right after my ultrasound, and asking to be put through immediately. Yikes.

7. Eavesdrop on your fellow emergency room patients. Here’s a conversation I overheard between two patients in the hospital’s emergency room yesterday: “Oh dear,” said the little old lady, “I hope your cough isn’t contagious! I fear I’m suffering a relapse of my pneumonia, and can’t afford to catch a cold.”  The 50-something year old man waved her away. “Nah, you can’t catch this,” he said. “It’s cancer cough, not cold cough. Cancer started in my tongue, moved to my throat, and has spread to my lungs. There ain’t no way you’re catching what I got.” And off they went, chatting about their health afflictions for over an hour.

8. Pray for the health outcome you want. What brought you to the emergency room? Maybe you’re  sitting with a sick child, or working as a paid caregiver for an elderly lady. Maybe your husband accidentally chopped off his thumb, or you’re suffering from a relapse of a past medical procedure. If you need help praying while you’re in the Emergency Room, read Prayers for Healing and Recovery for Patients After Surgery. The prayers will help will all types of illnesses and medical conditions…including whatever brought you to the hospital or Emergency Room.

Bonus thing to do while you’re waiting in emergency: be present with God. This is actually how I spent most of my time in the ER yesterday. Being present with God isn’t praying, and it’s  not really meditating. It’s just slipping into the space beneath my thoughts. I feel God’s presence in me — it’s the Holy Spirit. It’s a deep awareness of Jesus Christ, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit (who I often call Ruach). When I’m present with God, I’m not scared or angry. I’m not frustrated or stressed because there is no room for that. It’s just awareness. Deep peace, joy, freedom, openness and love. If you need more peace, love and joy, read 3 Simple Ways to Talk to the Holy Spirit.

4 Creative Things to Do in the Emergency Room (ER)

9. Sketch, knit, write stories, solve crossword puzzles. Yesterday a lady knitted a whole scarf while waiting in the Lion’s Gate Hospital Emergency Room! And it was beautiful. She clearly knows how not to be bored, frustrated and stressed in the hospital. She has lots of experience in waiting rooms. She doesn’t get upset or angry about feeling helpless or scared while waiting in emergency. She doesn’t even need things to do anymore. She just grabs her knitting and knits something new.

What to Do When You're Waiting in the ER
What to Do When You’re Waiting in the ER

10. Talk to the person closest to you. Look around. Who is sitting closest to you? What might happen if you said “So, what brought you here? Can I buy you a drink?” Ha ha. Or you might just be honest. “I’ve been sitting in this emergency waiting room for seven hours, and I am so bored. How do you keep from going mad while you’re waiting for the ER doc and hospital staff?”

11. Write about the accident or health issue that brought you to emergency. Writing down the details of your medical incident isn’t just something to do when you’re bored waiting in the ER. It’s actually a smart way to keep track of health details that might be important later. For instance, did the ultrasound doctor say “possible pericardial infection” or “normal bout of pericarditis”? Did the ER nurse say she’d bring painkillers stat, or did she say you’d have to wait for another sever hours? Write this stuff down, especially if you’re alone in the waiting room.

12. Start writing your memoir. It’s never too late to write the story of your life — and you can start it with the reason you’re sitting in emergency with nothing to do! Writing can bring clarity and insight into your own soul. “Talking about the past can have a healing function, but what we find is that talk, literally, is cheap,” Dr Hunter says in How to Write Your Life Story. “We speak words and they fly away before we’ve faced what it is they convey.  This is not the case with the written word. Writers find themselves saying, ‘I never really thought about it before’ or ‘I never saw it this way until I started to write it.’  Writing can slow us down enough so we take notice, and when we write we find the deep truths that we’ve forgotten we knew.”

3 Additional Things to Do in the ER (From the First 3 Paragraphs of This Blog Post)

Right before my main list of Things to Do in the Emergency Waiting Room I said, “In the three paragraphs above I’ve already given you three ideas [of what to do while you’re waiting in Emerg]. I wonder if you can spot them? :-)”

Did you find three things to do? Here they are:

  1. Make your own list of things to do while you’re waiting in the Emergency Room (ER) at the hospital (1st paragraph).
  2. Recall your past hospitalizations and waiting stints in emergency rooms (2nd paragraph, the clue was “what my husband and I did last year while waiting in the emergency room for six hours. That was after I broke my shoulder.”)
  3. Read 137 Interesting Things to Do When You’re Bored (3rd paragraph).

And here’s a bonus thing to do from the 3rd paragraph: Beg the ER staff for painkillers, cry like a baby, or droop like a flower. I did all three when I was at the Lion’s Gate emergency room after breaking my shoulder. Yesterday wasn’t as bad though (I have pericarditis, by the way. I may not have mentioned that that’s why I was in the ER for four hours yesterday. If you know anything about living and sleeping with pericarditis, let me know! This is a whole new diagnosis for me).

And there you have 15 things to do when you’re waiting in the hospital’s emergency room! How are you doing? Feel free to share your own list of things to do in the comments below. Or, write the story of what brought you to the hospital. Why are you waiting in the emergency room, and what do you hope to gain from this experience? 🙂 

In peace and passion,



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