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A hospital story
Walking in hospitals always has me trying to swallow this incredible lump in my throat


September 5, 2005

The hospital is a funny, paradoxical place. Within its confined walls, mothers give birth; the dying take their departure there. It is a place for life's greatest turning points -- if only they added in a chapel and a graduation ceremony, it would be one compact "life" in a box.

It is a place where hot shot doctors with huge diamond rings and truck loads of medical text books under their belts work along side crippled men with torn shoes washing the floor. And although the doctor seems to have the most responsibility, a small mistake either makes can have fatal consequences.

In Iran of course, if you step inside a public hospital it is not surprising to see doctors in bad shape either. Sometimes in the middle of writing you a prescription or listening to you go on about your illness they will cut in and remind you of all their troubles and unpaid bills - "bad az een hameh badbakhti o dars khoondan". (And after all those years of trouble and schooling).

There is also always the lingering fear patients have: "I sure hope this doc is not from daneshgah-e Azad!" -- the privately owned franchise of universities scattered across every remote city or village. They are more famous for selling degrees than offering anybody a decent education.

That fear is what leads me to quietly walk up to the board and try to find information about the doctor's credentials. All along I am forgetting just a few months back when my friend goes to a highly renowned physician only to have him mistake a female cramp for appendicitis.

The emergency room I am in now is rather deserted. Down the hall an old woman is weeping while leaning on a young man. Coming up with my friend, I saw a large group of people with big bouquets of flowers there to greet their new born.

Sitting there with my friend watching a little girl on the opposite side of the room I remember myself at her age and the hospital visits and urine tests I had to give one after another. Due to my frequent infections and diarrhea, I was a regular visitor.

I remember the awkwardness; how it felt to sit there holding my mother's hand hour after hour sipping large bottles of juice in hopes of a small sample that never came; the hospital staff who would come up to us every so often asking for it. The diarrhea would suddenly disappear as soon as we reached the hospital entrance.

This hospital is a pretty decent looking place. It is privately owned and so only host to certain parts of society. The last time I visited one was ages ago in my parents' hometown of Dezful/Khuzestan. The memory of that still makes me shudder; an archaic looking building with squeaky doors and a musty, malodorous smell. Injured people were scattered everywhere and the sight of it was enough to make me feel nauseous. Years after the war it still resembled a war zone. But I know doctors who give up their comfortable, city practices every few months and had down there -- I guess there is still hope in the world after all.

All across the hallways there are pictures of little girls with nurse's uniforms asking us to be quiet. My grandmother says they were replacements for photos of an older female nurse who did the job before the revolution. Some of the pictures feature a little girl pancaked in makeup and to me it looks extremely grotesque. They remind me of magazine covers all across newsstands that feature little girls with dyed hair and colorful makeup. Seeing those young faces like that makes you feel sick sometimes. When parliament banned featuring large photos of females on magazine covers a few years back, suddenly magazines decided to feature children.

Walking in hospitals always has me trying to swallow this incredible lump in my throat. The lump begins to get bigger the longer I stay, to a point where I think I might no longer be able to control it. I see patients having suffered fatal strokes and expectant mothers. I see old women on wheelchairs and injured children. And then there are the old men who are busy sweeping while having a difficult time standing on their own two feet.

Deep inside I thank god I am here only because of a bad flu my friend is dealing with. But then I see her on the hospital bed with all sorts of needles stuck inside her pale body and that too doesn't help the lump go away. I try to remind myself that at 5 years of age I never let myself shed a tear in public places; that it's simply stupid and childish to start crying now. And though I don't, there is an urge that never seems to go away.

It is way past nightfall when we finally leave. We walk outside as I hold her hand and wait for the car. I try to smile but all the while the lump gets in the way. I help her get in and close the car door behind her. The white silent building stairs back at me with lights showing through all its windows. Many weird, life turning events are taking place inside those walls and they don't know business hours. A hospital never sleeps. It always just silently watches.

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Najmeh Fakhraie


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