There is a sense of crossing a dimensional gap when one enters a hospital. This is in the normal circumstance. In the United States, at least, crossing the threshold of a hospital means leaving a world which is schizoid about your well-being - on one hand, you're a citizen and an American and have been taught that you are Important, but on the other you are a cog in the vast mechanism of Capital and a voter who is treated as a consumable resource - and entering a world which is *still* schizoid about your well-being but in an entirely different manner. Inside the hospital (presuming that you do not work there, in which case it is your Workplace and treats you much as most such do) you are one of two things: Patient or Visitor. The mechanisms and workflows and systems of the hospital are designed to treat you as one of those two things.
If you're not entering the hospital for treatment, you are a Visitor, regardless of family-or-friend-or-most-cherished-enemy status vis-a-vis the designated Patient on whom your visit depends. Your access to the patient may vary depending on your relationship, but not at the hospital doors. That will happen at the entry to the ICU, or your Patient's ward, or at the floor desk, and depending on both the patient's condition and the time of day and several other factors intentionally opaque to the Visitor but probably including such data as the height or existence of your socks and the degree to which your slouch is apparent.
An acquaintance of mine, recently confined to a hospital as Patient, remarked via Twitter that the hospital hallways are those of a holding pen, and that they reek of the twin primal scents of Poop and Death. Both of these are chemical olfactory triggers designed by the Universe and the powers of natural selection to wield immense and involuntary power over a Visitor or Patient exposed to them. Your heartbeat will likely increase slightly. Your breathing may speed up. Adrenalin, preparing to goad you into either escaping or savaging Whatever-Is-Making-The-Smell, will start to drip into your bloodstream. Slight movements near your peripheral vision will in fact cause you to swivel your head sharply, desperate to identify the perpetrator rather than assume with blase complacence that the movement was a leaf, a shadow, a bird out a window.
There is a reason hospitals feature so prominently in horror movies.
I am presently in a hospital. It is the New England Baptist hospital in Brookline, Massachusetts; it squats grandly atop Parker Hill where its relatively short edifice can nevertheless leer smugly over at the top of the more impressive hospital buildings of the Longwood Medical Area, some blocks away at the bottom of the hill. It is a small-to-midsize hospital; smallish for an urban area, large for a rural, probably about right for a suburban hospital. It consists of several buildings networked with ground-floor level glass-sided corridors, all at odd angles due to the buildings being on a hilltop and thus not sharing a local level ground plane. There are courtyards in between the buildings, all sunk just far enough between them to have deep shadows even in the middle of the day, and all of them visible from the network of habitrail corridors as murky and mysterious places down just at the bottom expanse of vision.
In all of them are picnic tables of the American Standard X-legged and attached-bench variety, along with a few large shade items - trees or panels or wire-mesh parasols.
I have never seen anyone in any of these gardens. While that might be understandable in a New England winter, it is presently August, and the temperature outside is 74 degrees Fahrenheit with cloudless blue skies and a very mild, refreshing breeze. Those conditions, coupled with the absolutely empty outdoor areas, induce a mild feeling of the creeps.
The Creeps are not helped, furthermore, by one ultimately strange fact about this hospital, presently.
There is nobody in it.
That is not technically true, of course; there are all manner of patients and nurses and staff members in the wards, upstairs. However, I am sitting in a Family Waiting Lounge just inside the main entrance. It is a Saturday. There are exactly zero staff members to be found anywhere between the now-automated-and-unmanned parking lot ticket dispenser and the upstairs wards. None. In the main entryway there is a desk, with a plaque on it that reads 'INFORMATION' in soothingly-standard brass lettering, with two telephones and a discreetly-embedded computer terminal and a vase on the raised front service counter of the desk with a single bright red flower in it and a notepad carefully aligned with the desk's edge and four ballpoint pens waiting militarily on-deck in a jar just above the pad, which is bright white and empty and shining.
There is a chair behind the desk, and a lounge behind the chair. There are no people visible anywhere, and what is worse, there are none audible anywhere, even in the medium distances afforded here inside the building.
I entered the hospital through the automatic doors at the front, passed the unmanned Information Desk, glanced in on the entirely unpeopled Family Waiting Lounge just inside the main double doors - all Hospitals seem to have Main Double Doors, they indicate the areas into which you are Not To Go unless a staff member has verified your entry, and although this hospital has Main Double Doors, they are (horrors) locked open against the walls - and wandered all the way to the back of the ground floor main building, finding an empty lecture hall, several empty bathrooms, four closed, shuttered, and presumably empty offices labeled Head of Catering, Food Service Supervisor, Transportation, and Security, and finally the cafeteria, which is closed and locked and has a sign on it proclaiming that I missed the designated end of the Lunch Sitting by seven and a half minutes. Listening at the door produces a complete lack of any sound save the constant whirring noise made by industrial food-storage equipment, the comforting susurrus of refrigeration pumps.
There's just nobody here.
The hallway is four carpet-squares wide, each carpet square itself eighteen inches on a side, with lined carpet on it. The squares are alternating, so that a checkerboard of carpet differing only by the orientation of its lines marches down the hallway into the silent perspective trap that (I have determined) ends somewhere near the elevators.
In the Family Waiting lounge, in addition to the seventeen padded Ikea-grade armchairs and the several Marriott-grade sofas and the single now-silent 56" Samsung LCD TV on one wall, there are two 'desk units' which contain nothing save a flat work surface surrounded on three sides by panelling. They are here for the use of laptops or by those who still write by hand and need a semiprivate flat surface on which to do so. They are entirely unadorned, no drawers, markings, flourishes, nothing. A brownish-red surface with a completely unconvincing woodgrain covers all of their visible planes.
One place that New England Baptist hospital shines is in its hallway signage. There are several sorts. In addition to the functional signs, composed entirely of international-standard iconography and a bland typeface whose name is unknown to me, there are the 'Workplace Message' signs which seem to be addressed to Staff, Patients and Visitors alike. These are uniformly chirpy. One example, placed prominently on the stairway doors just beneath and larger than the Official Exit Icon: "FREE EXERCISE EQUIPMENT!" Or in various nooks along the halls, each of which seems to contain a fire extinguisher or firehouse cabinet: "NEB RECYCLES FOR OUR CHILDREN." I briefly consider liberating a Sharpie from a desk somewhere and carefully, neatly placing a strikethrough over 'FOR' but resist the impulse, manfully.
In the hallway leading to the cafeteria (I notice that the directional signage, hanging above the intersections, is *curved* slightly. Each sign projects slightly into the hallway it faces, the curve looking, from beneath, remarkably similar to the curve of an automobile windshield; I have no idea why this is so) there are a series of photographs, framed with excessive matting around each one - color photographs of African wildlife, the size of each photo just below the point at which the amount of color they contained would begin to clash noticeably with the industrial pale green and cream of the hospital's decor. There is a Lion, staring into the camera. There is a bog-standard shot of a Giraffe's head, backdropped by blue sky and a single cloud, staring placidly into the lens. There is another of a lion cub, lying on its back and batting playfully at a branch just above. There are two or three of complex-looking birds that I cannot identify, and one of what appears to be a Tarsier of some sort, along with a more somber picture of a larger Ape staring at the viewer. In addition, at the midpoint of the hallway, along with a small informational poster detailing the origin and funding for the exhibit, there is a single picture of the photographer, which will be important in a moment.
At one end of the hallway is the only depressing shot of the group, and naturally it is of a human - an extremely dark-skinned African native, a woman, staring somberly into space somewhere over the photographer's right shoulder, taken at a slight upwards angle and from close enough that the subject must be posing or stoically ignoring the photographer, which amounts to the same thing. She looks weary and accepting, of what I have no idea. The attempt of the shot, as far as I can tell, is to present her as a noble creature with Much In Common with the impressive wildlife with which she shares a Continent, and now this Hallway.
The photographer, it must be admitted at this point, is an extremely white woman. Her picture graces a small plot near the informational plaque. Not only is she white, but she is wearing a white shift of some sort, just the edges of which are visible as she is pictured lying down, her head on a pillow, just the head and a bit of the neck and her right arm (on which she is resting her cheek) visible. The background is white, her clothes are white, and the picture is deliberately overexposed, resulting in most of the definition fading into a white blur. She looks diaphanous, frankly, with short hair that appears to be blonde or white (it's white in the photo). I look at this, then look at the remainder of the brightly-colored and darker photos around the hallway, and decide not to bother trying to infer anything from this.
The elevator has two doors.
I like elevators like this - with front and rear entry doors. They always seem to me Magical Fantasy Escape Locks - enter one way, leave the other with the world divided into the World In Front of the Elevator and the World Behind. The Elevator itself is the only means of transition, and hence is heavily freighted with escape.
On the fourth floor, I leave through the front door of the elevator as directed, turn left, then left again to reach the ward that is my destination - and pass what absolutely has to be the rear doors of that same elevator. The fact that a short corridor joins the two is jarring to my childhood fantasy of such conveyances, and I am forced to press the button, get in, and then press both buttons - 4 and 4R - and see for myself that in fact both doors can be open at the same time. I feel reality screaming through the elevatorspace, the airlock breached, for thirty seconds before the car DINGs and closes quietly.