Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Nashville. I’m here to visit a friend. She’s in Neurosurgery ICU.
Vandy is busy today. Cars everywhere. Traffic is insane. People in scrubs linger outside monstrous buildings, playing on phones. Doctors and medical staffers wander to and fro. People stand outside the towers, having emotional conversations on cellphones.
There are folks from all walks of life here. I see a young woman using a wheelchair, heading toward the hospital entrance. She is carrying a huge stack of comic books in her lap. Superman comics.
“That’s a lot of comic books,” I say.
“Yeah, they’re for my sister. She loves Superman.”
“Not many girls like Superman.”
“Who lied to you?” she says. “All girls like Superman.”
Together, we go into the main doors of the Cancer Research Building. It’s a revolving door. I hate revolving doors.
Centuries ago, I believe the inventor of the revolving door looked at an ordinary door and said, “What if I took a normal door and added severe anxiety to it?”
Soon, the young woman and I are walking through a long corridor toward the Critical Care Tower. The walls are earth tones. The air smells like disinfectant and plastic.
The woman in the wheelchair tells me that her sister has a very serious injury. I tell her I’m sorry. The young woman tells me she believes God is bigger than injuries.
We move past people aplenty. We see down-and-outers. We see people caught within the purgatory that is the Modern Medical Waiting Room. We wander past medical personnel, weatherworn physicians, and nurses who just look tired.
We see visitors hurriedly heading for the front door to light a cigarette. We pass a man in a clerical collar. We see families who look like they’ve been crying.
We make it to the elevators.
The young woman with the comic books says, “I’ve been basically living at this hospital for two weeks.”
I ask how the hospital staff has been treating her.
“This is the greatest hospital in the United States,” she says. “These employees would give you their right arm if you needed it. I freaking love this place.”
In the hallway, there is a young man lying on a mobile hospital bed. He is large. His bed is being pushed by a tiny nurse with blond hair who looks like she weighs a-buck-six.
The young nurse tells me that this is her first year nursing.
“Do you like it?” I ask her.
She nods enthusiastically. “I’ve never had a job that rewarded me like this.”
Another man gets on the elevator with us. He is wearing a lab coat, pushing a piece of sophisticated machinery that looks like it cost more than a small subtropical contient. I ask what the machine is all about.
“This is an ultrasound machine,” he says. “I use this to look at people’s arteries and veins.”
“It looks expensive.”
“A couple years’ salary.”
“What made you get into this field?”
He shrugs. “It’s a real rush to save someone’s life.”
The elevator stops.
I get off the elevator and realize I am on the wrong floor. I am hopelessly lost.
There is a woman at a visitor’s station. I tell her I’m lost. She just smiles, gets up from her desk, and helps me walk through the confusing passages of Vanderbilt.
And even though she has work to be doing, she leads me through the labyrinth.
On our way to the ICU, she passes several people who are in dire states. This woman is friendly and outgoing to them all.
We pass a young woman lying in a mobile hospital bed, parked in the hallway, playing on her phone.
The old woman says to her, “You need anything, baby?”
The girl’s face is covered in bandages. Only one eye is showing. “No, ma’am, I’m okay.”
We pass another man in a hosptial bed. He is sleeping. His breathing is labored. He is on oxygen. He is wheezing.
The older woman holds her hand out as though she is spreading fairy dust over the patient.
“God, help this man,” says the older woman, beneath her breath.
Finally I arrive where I need to be. I find my friend’s room number. We visit for a few minutes, and when I am back out on the sidewalk, I see my friend using the wheelchair. She is comic-book-less now. She is smoking a cigarette and staring into the sky.
“How’s your sister?” I ask.
The young woman is smiling. “They’re gonna let her come home tomorrow.”
“Thank God,” I say.
She smiles at me.
“And you can thank Vanderbilt, too,” she says.