What’s he building in there?

August 18, 2008

There’s a back way to the canteen that takes me past the hospital’s delivery entrance. From the open-sided corridor at the back of the dock you can see two blaring rectangles of sunlight across an empty concrete apron: the open corrugated doors and the truck bays, very ordinary except it looks like an old Bond movie set. Off to one side there’s a cage: ceiling to floor wide-gauge mesh, several signs and plaques of the Keep Out! and Danger! variety. And in this cage, and spilling around it when it’s full, the day’s deliveries are stacked, waiting for the trolleys to convey them to their various destinations around the mini-city of the hospital.

Most days there are boxes of syringes and needles and intravenous lines, of yellow plastic aprons and purple gloves; sometimes there are giant cartons of technology, widescreens and towers and printer/fax/photocopier components; every day is linen day, vast plastic bags of sheets and pillow cases and towels so sharp and rough I’m always surprised the bags don’t shred. Four pristinely empty cribs of white steel tubing. And paper, and manila folders, and staff uniforms hanging orderly in disciplined rows, and more paper, reams and reams of paper, and oxygen cylinders, and gas-scavenging interface valves, and skin-staplers, and scalpel-blade sets, and miles of tightly ravelled sutures, and tubes, lots of different tubes – tubes for people’s brains and for their arses, for their throats and noses and stomachs and bladders and veins and arteries and chests and urinary tracts. Boxes and boxes and boxes of them.

And someone in there, in that cage, is stacking all those boxes. I never see the stacker, though I hear him sometimes: scrapes and huffs and unconnected mutterings of cardboard and carbon-based lifeforms. But he’s very creative. The stacks are never the same twice: you’d expect just piles of boxes, straightforward, efficient, boring. But he builds castles in there, labyrinths that spill out of the cage and spread across the dock, pirate ships, colonial villas – though these are all my interpretations, partial at best, of the built environment in and from the cage that changes daily and across each day. Very occasionally, if I’m passing at suppertime or early on a night shift, the stacks have dwindled and I can just make out a moving shape (though it’s darker then, of course). But the deliveries never really stop, and the building blocks reaccumulate, and he – or she or they – continue their quasi-Sisyphean task.

Today there was a double archway of tracheostomy tubing and what looked to be a pulpit made out of emptied keyboard and mouse boxes. No cross though. Not an obvious one, at least.

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