Originally posted in 2005:
I lingered in the stairwell for a few moments—just a few—today.
The entire stairwell is composed of concrete. The walls are off-white and the floor is now that dingy copper-grey-brown color from years of feet tromping up and down and up and down again on those tired steps. The ceilings are probably close to fourteen feet high and a slim, scratched, rectangular window starts about six feet from the floor. One has to be standing on step two or three from the ground to actually look out the window.
The liquid orange light of the dying sun—and it dies so early these days!—poured through the small gaps between the thick wall of charcoal clouds surrounding the city. A shiny white ribbon of car headlights rippled far below; to its right was a parallel ribbon of shimmering red tail-lights.
It’s cool in that stairwell; the vents that allow the chilly air flow in aren’t visible. Very few people use that stairwell, partially due to its distant location from the rest of the hospital, partially due to the low temperature of the ambient air. It has been completely empty every single time I have set foot in there.
And those few moments of respite are necessary. The ambient noise of the hospital—the malfunctioning IVs, the flushing toilets, the retching or crying or moaning or snoring or yelling patients, the ringing telephones, the beeping pagers, the tapping of keyboards, the thuds of dropped charts, the clatter of dropped silverware, the weird syncopated tonal rhythms of the ventilators, the sobbing of family members, the murmuring of the teams rounding, the sighs of the housestaff and medical students, the uneven rumbling of the cafeteria carts rolling past, the quiet Christmas music floating from the guitar in the performer’s arms—can be too much.
Sometimes it seems like the suffering that surrounds us all never ends. Even though miracles may be happening in every single room—the birth of a baby, the healing of a wound, the deaths of millions of bacteria in the blood, the sealing of fractured bones, the clotting of a wound in the esophagus…
… and for those few moments in the stairwell, everything is quiet and still.
And when my right hand turns the handle and I fling the door open back into the hospital, I am ready to jump right back into the fray.