I've been spending a lot of time in hospitals lately. And the thing about hospitals, is that they make you think a lot about cycles of life and death. For one thing, you can't avoid it. Death, that is. In normal life you can maintain a healthy state of denial. And even when you go into the hospital, you cling to that denial. Death is what is happening to the other people. You're just there to have something taken care of.
You can hold on to that delusion until night.
See, at night in the hospital, the halls are dark and quiet. A faint glow comes from the nurses’ station, but the chatting and clanging of motion and action is suppressed. The stillness is only punctuated by its contrast to what it's like during the day.
In the daytime, nurses rush up and down halls. They laugh and sometimes gossip. There are people who bring trays of food and phones that ring nonstop. And then there are lullaby bells on the loudspeaker. Every time a baby is born, they play the lullaby bells. The bells chime almost every hour. Often more than once. And during the day, you feel a sense of life bustling all around you. Life bustling down the hallway, life bursting into the world.
But at night it's quiet.
The lullaby bells don't ring--either they turn them off for the night, or not that many babies are born during the night, I can't say for sure. But what does ring are the codes. Code blue: seven, eight, nine times a night. Codes ring so consistently that they're almost like clock chimes. It's when they ring that you can't hold onto that denial anymore. Because there aren't that many beds in a hospital, and you can't hide from the bells when you're lying in one of those beds. Every time you hear one of the codes in your sleep, part of you drowsily wonders if this one is for you. So half-awake, you listen. For them to name the floor number and the room number, then to call for everyone in that area to rush over to whatever soul is hovering in that limbic space between life and death.
In Scotland they have a word for that space--the place where it's not quite day and it's not quite night. For the nether space that hovers in between two things, neither one nor the other. They call it the gloaming.
A hospital is a gloaming. Inside it the veil hovers open, ushering in life by day, watching it go by night.
Codes must be called during the day too, but for some reason you don't hear them then. Maybe some part of your mind knows that life and death are different sides of the same thing, so you unconsciously banish one into the dark place. The quiet place.
Sometimes in the hospital, after you're awake enough to realize, no, that was not your code, and, no, you are not sick enough that anyone expects it to be your code, you lie in bed for awhile. There's a blue light coming from somewhere out of sight. It bounces off the shiny floors--polished concrete. You may hear a machine beep in the next room, even hear someone grunt as they turn over in bed. And after awhile you fall back into a restless sleep until pain wakes you up and you push the button for the nurse to come.
Soon enough morning comes and you can have your denial back once again.
But you never lose that sense of gloaming until you're back outside, back home. Away from the place of in-between.
And even then, it lingers.