So I've been spending quite a bit of time the past three days learning hospital culture. First of all there's the color coding of personnel. Maroon seems to be the lowest caste: orderlies and nurse's aides. Green is next: nurses. Then blue: residents. Then white: real docs. Until you figure this out—maybe everyone else already knew this, but I had a Eureka moment when it became clear that people weren't just wearing their favorite color—it's hard to know who does what, because almost everyone takes temperatures and asks personal questions. People you've just met ask, When did you have your last bowel movement? and When you urinate, do you feel as if you've emptied your bladder? These are not your usual ice breakers.
Then there's the cuisine. I know it's a cliche, but it still seems weird to serve the unhealthiest food in the world in a place where people go to get well. Don't these people read? Who chooses that menu? Somewhere someone's actually deciding to serve that bad-tasting, bad-for-you food. Why does that person still have a job?
Then there's the paradoxical numerical imbalance between personnel and patients. When you include everyone in every color of uniform, there seem to be far more care givers than care recipients. Yet—here's the paradoxical part—there's not remotely enough care to go around. There is never a helpful person handy when, say, you need to get another slug of morphine or when the lady in the next cubicle is crying, "Help, help, someone, please help me."
And finally there's the weird phenomenon of people who look like children making life-and-death decisions for people who appear to be their elders. How do these young doctors and nurses get to be so smart and so sophisticated and so confident so young? I myself can't decide whether to change the case of a noun or insert a comma without consulting a colleague, and these kids make unilateral decisions that determine who lives and who dies. And they don't seem tortured by the responsibility. They're another race entirely, different from you and me.