Dr. Stanley I. Wolf, a Silver Spring allergist, has always been on the lookout for new ways to get patients to relax in the waiting room. Back in the 1950s, for instance, he was one of the first area physicians to install a television set for patients to watch while they fretted.
"They other doctors thought I was crazy then," he says with a chuckle. "They asked if I wasn't worried about the noise and the dangerous rays."
So it was only natural that, a couple of months ago, Wolf should be among the first to discover there was room for a computer memory chip or two next to the fish tank and the table with its dog-eared magazines.
That's right where he put the electronic video arcade game called "Burger Time." The waiting room hasn't been the same since.
Patients "spend a good amount of time in here waiting for tests and so on," Wolf says. "Not too many people liked waiting around. Now, you'll even find older brothers or sisters bringing in their younger brothers or sisters" to their appointments.
There's been a lot of controversy about video arcade games, the first critters of the computer age really to have a direct impact on the lives of the average American.
Most notable, perhaps, was the sight of youngsters pumping quarter after quarter into machines that filled the air with sounds of growls, whines and explosions. It has offended a lot of people and prompted some communities even to ban video arcades outright.
Wolf never blinked. To break the ice, he gives every patient a free token to use. "After that, they're on their own."
"I didn't want people pointing a finger at me, saying I was trying to squeeze out the last quarter or two from the patients," he says. "So I have a nice big sign up that says that all profits go to Children's Hospital."
He also has turned the volume level way down "so you can't hear it unless you're playing the game."
Since he installed the machine, Wolf says he has been asked by other doctors about the games. "Altogether, there are nine or 10 who have put them in their offices or are going to do so," he says. "Each doctor has a different game. There is a Ms. Pac Man and two Super PacMans, and what we're going to do is rotate them around so that the patients don't get bored with them."
Dr. Joseph Inglefield, a McLean allergist, is one of those who has signed up and plans to give whatever he nets above expenses to Children's Hospital.
"I think they're great, myself," says Inglefield, who notes that some doctors are also giving tokens to youngsters as a reward for good behavior. "They're great for hand-eye coordination. Not every kid can play basketball on the school team, so why not let them play the game?"