Jan 7, 2005


In our little town, we don't have a lot of big buildings. Not truly big ones, at least. Our mall is one story, and rambles along a single crooked line. Our main bank offices are no more than about three stories, and the tallest building in town is an ugly glass spike that, while being about 10 stories tall is, in fact, about 40' square at it's base, so it doesn't really count as being big. Ugly, yes. Empty, yes. Big, no.

One of our two major hospitals, however, is big. And by that I mean BIG. It sprawls. It's got annexes, and multiple entrances, parking structures and physical plants and it's even got outlying sattelites that border on the sports field and residential neighborhoods.

And it's easy to get turned around in.

Yesterday, on an errand of mercy (bringing my always thoughtful mother-in-law some red beans and rice for lunch) the wife and I got turned around a bit. The wife insists she knew exactly where we were all the time, but I know better. I could hear the despair in her voice. We had gotten turned around. I know this was initially brought on by the front door we used, which shouted a welcome at us in an oddly strained prerecorded voice. We got in safely, and I started counting the "No Smoking" signs. Soon thereafter it happened: not only did we get misplaced, we ended up somehow behind the walls. I knew then how a rat feels when it's sneaking around a house through the insulation.

Hospitals, being what they are, are always insanely clean. We ended up in the dirty parts. We kept finding hallways through unmarked doors that were filled with construction scaffolds, lunchboxes, sawhorses, and never a sign of humans. That was the worst part. We walked for city blocks, and never saw another soul. Evidence of people, but no people. We climbed flight after flight of stairs, dark dingy stairs, stairs that would make an OSHA rep cringe and grip his clipboard tighter. We tramped down corridors floored in that horrible 60's orange/brown/taupe colour scheme that you only see on old episodes of The Avengers. We passed offices with strange names like "Pharinoendochrinocardiospecific Analysis" and "Operational and Rhinobombastic Offices, No Entrance before 9pm." And they were always EMPTY!

It was deeply surreal, walking those places. Occasionally we would come out on these long glass corridors that crossed parts of the buildings, but all you could see outside was gravel roofs covered in odd protrusions and antennae, and more buildings. You could stand in one of these corridors and stare back at where you thought you ought to be going, and somehow, headed in that direction, there would be no doors, no more windows, just long angled corridors floored in peeling tiles and that indefinable smell of old cleaning supplies. And the "No Smoking" signs stopped, as though we had suddenly passed into a part of the hospital where smoking was suddenly allowed, where doctors in white lab coats would amble by talking about their latest surgery, puffing on Camels and Lucky Strike unfiltereds.

When we finally delivered our package and were within sight of the parking structure, I passed a friend of mine from college. After the initial hellos and howdjado's I found out that she worked there, so I asked her how she found her way around the place without a Sherpa, a GPS and a forward observer. She laughed and said that often she didn't, that doors would inexplicably become walls and that decor would change from week to week, keeping anyone from using carpet patterns as landmarks. Whole offices would be swallowed up overnight, and reappear floors and blocks away from where they were. When my wife related the tale of a previous trek through the building during which she found the place where they manufacture the nuns my friend started to creep, and then scamper away from us up the seemingly mobile corridor, staring over her shoulder at a blinking red light in the corner of the ceiling. I don't know if I'll be seeing her anytime soon.

I know for a fact that, barring my leg falling off I shan't be setting any part of me back in that building.


Ex-Fed said...

This was a very well written entry and I got a real chuckle from it. Thanks. It was a good way to start the morning.

Hope you enjoy mine.


Vulgar Wizard said...

Is your m-in-l a patient at Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory? No, it must be Cabrini, thus the nuns?

Irrelephant said...

Thanx for the kind words, Ex-Fed! Daughter-mine, she's a pediatric nurse at Christus, and finding her station isn't supposed to be THAT hard, but DANG that's a big place, and when you can't park within three blocks of it it's that much harder to find a landmark to orient yourself. At least, for me it is. *lol*