Monday, February 1, 2010
In the dark and early hours of the morning
At night a hospital is an eerily quiet and seemingly deserted place. The empty hallways easily echo my footsteps as I pass through the corridors making my usual rounds and at times the stillness is uncomfortably like that of a tomb. I’ve been on night shift since October and I have yet to find, much less be invited into, the hideaways the surgical staff holds up in until they are needed. Rumors abound by those who have fallen into the good fortune of being invited into such hidden lairs that they are full of free drinks and food and furnished with comfortable chairs and huge televisions.
My key card is still ignored by the security pads mounted next the doors of such suspected places. The little glowing red eye located where I wave my card looks like an angry sentinel rejecting all my attempts. Because of this except for the two other fellow members of the hospital Engineering staff working the same hours as me much of my shift, if not all, is spent alone. In many ways that is a good thing, I have time to perform my duties unimpaired by the usual minutia found on day shift with people scrambling to get their needs met first or the ubiquitous workplace politics.
Another advantage is that I have time for my thoughts, free from the idle and often ignorant chatter that passes for conversation by most of the Engineering staff. Being alone with only my thoughts for company they have a habit of flying off on the wildest of fantasies but every once and awhile the outside world intrudes to remind me that I am not the only one dealing with isolation. The surgical department where I can be usually found is located on the third floor of the main building and very late at night has a twilight-like atmosphere after the corridor lights are greatly dimmed to save money.
A few nights ago while in an operating room doing preventive maintenance checks on the surgical lights I stepped outside into the corridor to take a break. That particular corridor is the main thoroughfare for patients being wheeled into surgery and after, to recovery with one side being the doors to the operating rooms and the other side being a long length of huge windows looking down to one of the hospital’s parking lots below. At night that particular parking lot is empty since it mainly serves outpatients services and several nearby doctors’ offices.
Wanting to clear my mind from all the color-coded wires I had to check along with electrical connections and relays I stared out into the night. With the dimmed lights I had an excellent view of the surroundings in spite of the fact there wasn’t much to see. The parking lot was, as usual, empty except for several decorative street lamps that emitted amber cones of light creating small islands of illumination around several parking spaces. A little further out and across the street was a small diner with one small light still on somewhere inside. And beside it was a sub sandwich place that was completely dark except for the neon “open” sign mounted in the window that continues to blink on and off all through the night like some lame practical joke.
Being on the opposite side of the main and emergency entrances there wasn’t even a few people milling about seeking relief from whatever fear or anxiety that had them at a hospital in the first place. From my view it was like the eerie quiet and stillness from the hallways had been extended outside.
As my mind drifted I did happen to notice a car pull into the empty parking lot taking a position right under one of the amber cones of light. Within moments a mature looking man got out of the car and in a clearly nervous way began strolling around the general area and looking at his watch. Nothing about the man was out of the ordinary; his car was a nondescript sedan and his clothes gave no sign of him being neither very poor nor very rich.
Maybe it’s a statement on the demands, or lack of them, of my job but I was fascinated with that person and why he was walking around an empty parking lot in the early hours of the morning. As I continued to watch the unknown man eventual propped himself up against his car and obviously began to wait looking off into the distance. Maybe it was my empathy working overtime but from what I could see of his face he looked lost and alone.
Despite my interest after several minutes I began to feel the need to return to work so I could finish what was left to check of the surgical lights. However, before I turned another car pulled into the parking lot and pulled right next to the waiting man. A woman dressed very much in the same style as the man quickly jumped out and rushed toward him. They embraced each other with a deep longing that was obvious even from where I stood. The kiss afterward was not one of friendship or family but of separated lovers with something illicit hanging in the air between them. I know, I should have walked away and given the two some sort of privacy but some strange and sad story was playing out before me and I was lost in the events going on as much as the two sad lovers meeting in the night.
After they parted from the kiss it was clear both were distraught and worried making elaborate gestures with their arms as they circled each other talking. More than a few times they each checked their watches giving a strong sign that someone, somewhere might soon notice their absence. Several times as they walked around talking they would fall back into each others arms with their embraces oozing hopelessness and a harsh sadness.
As the drama played out something was decided, the lady grabbed the man’s hands with him looking devastated as they exchanged some final words. The couple embraced momentarily one last time with the woman breaking away and then rushing back to her car. Within a few seconds she was out of the parking lot and driving away leaving the man staring after her frozen in place. It may sound ridiculous but the night seemed to engulf the guy.
I watched a few more minutes half expecting the woman to return and in all honesty I guess the man in the parking lot at least hoped she would since he had not moved from the place she left him. However, she did not and even my interest in seeing this to the end was overwhelmed by my need to finish my tasks.
I returned about thirty minutes later and saw that the unknown man had himself left at some point. I admit to some sadness on my part seeing that the parking lot was empty again with nothing to show that two people who desperately needed each other had apparently said their final goodbyes.
Collecting my tools back in the operating room I heard this old Frank Sinatra tune playing on the radio. I thought it fit the mood of the events I saw that night.