My friend, the one who’s dying, took me out
To where the patients go to smoke, IV’s
And oxygen in tanks attached to them—
A tiny patio for skeletons.
-Rafael Campo, "Lost in the Hospital" (5-8)
In the Spring 2015 Intima piece “On Elevators,” I navigate the spatial experience of a hospital, charting how the diverse anxieties of the exam room, waiting room, break room and boardroom intersect briefly inside the cramped quarters of an elevator. In her piece “Coming out of the Medical Closet” in the Spring 2014 Intima, nursing student Angelica Recierdo similarly characterizes the medical closet as a place to gather not only supplies, but emotional strength to enter a patient’s room. The closet provides a necessary space to acknowledge stress and empathize with colleagues. In the thick of a fast-paced shift, it facilitates subtle but crucial exchanges of nonverbal communication. Despite being frigid and sterile, the medical supply closet ultimately functions as a space to retreat and gather courage. This courage transcends the closet, as Recierdo and her fellow nurses share it with distressed patients and their families. Recierdo’s piece provides a thoughtful example of the complex impact of physical spaces in the hospital setting.
As health systems continue to evolve, many hospitals choose to invest in evidence-based design, the practice of structuring spaces to actively promote the safety and well-being of patients and staff. Yet much of hospital infrastructure in the United States remains outdated, particularly in highly urban settings, where the scarcity of space exacerbates other limitations. In these hospital settings, it is doubly important to become aware of the dynamic impact of physical spaces, of the connections they forge and the divisions they create, of the elevators where they converge and the closets they transcend.
Tarina Quraishi is a 2014 graduate of Harvard College, where she studied literature and biology. She currently works at Massachusetts General Hospital. Read her piece, “On Elevators” in the Spring 2015 Intima.
© 2015 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine