New Hospital Horizons

Kag Baker saw the inside of a lot of hospitals during her last year.

Being the sort of person who catalogs things compulsively, she livened some of the time  by comparing the various medical facilities, one to the other. Food, colours of bed linens, designs on gowns and scrubs, gift shops, cafeterias. Decor – which can vary wildly in older hospitals, depending on how much area the latest donor re-decorated … she talked about writing a gourmet guide to California health care facilities.

Pismo Beach was too small to have a hospital of its own (though we had three fire stations). The tiny hospital in Arroyo Grande was where Kage spent a lot of her time that final year; it was rather eccentric, and very comfortable. At some point, fund-raising had evidently auctioned off decorating rights to individual rooms, and so no two of them were precisely the same. There was a room done all in grape motifs and prints of vineyards; another whose emphasis was hot air balloons. There was one done in tiger and leopard and bamboo patterns. The Marian Medical Center in SLO was heavily into fruit – photos, wallpapers, stencils. For reasons upon which we speculated wildly, the nurses station was walled in: no sight lines, which made it easier to break Kage out of the place when I needed to. The hospital in San Francisco was sort of health care Ikea: blonde wood and steel and straight lines. It sold plush stuffed bacteria and viruses in the gift shop.

While somewhere someone must have designed some attractive patients’ gowns, no one in California stocks them: they all had designs in pastels that just looked old and faded, and resembled the patterns on the ugly ties worn by elderly uncles. I’ve now gotten several new hospitals checked off myself, and while everything else changes: those damned paisley and diamond gowns are everywhere.

As I’ve mentioned before, Cedars Sinai has become my favourite medical center; they get all my business these last 3 years. The outstanding decor ikon of Cedars is the aquarium: there are fish tanks everywhere. I’ve been in and out of both the North and South Towers, and I’ve been waiting with bated breath to see what was going to show up in the new Cardiac Care and Neurology Buildings. Yestreday, I got my first look as I became a new cardiac patient. My oncologist/gynecologist can work miracles, but not with the stuff in the upper half of me.

The main lobby on the ground floor closely resembles one of those odd rooms in the Great Pyramid – huge, empty and echoing, and no one is quite sure what they are for. There’s an info booth on one edge, manned by a monastically still and silent guard; a forest of pillars, acres of polished stone tiles; you approach the elevators as if advancing on the High Altar. No seating, no people, no notice boards: just a huge echoing high-ceilinged space. There were at least three sets of elevators, too, all leading to different portions of the upper reaches. When we managed to find the Cardiac Center, it looked down into the huge airwell we’d traversed to get there.

But there is no straight line connecting them. Unless one abseils from the 3rd floor clinic offices, I suppose.

The new facilities are, obviously, open but not quite finished.  The air conditioning is turned up much too high, and no one can find the thermostats. The furniture is all  intimidatingly new. The exam tables are totally mechanized, which turns them into real E-ticket rides when the attending nurse confuses the UP button with the automatic scale controls.The Receptionist was entering everyone in manually, apologetically promising to get them all properly entered into the system as soon as her computer came up ….

The staff really was almost as lost as the patients. No one is quite sure how the new computer system works, so there tend to be worried little knots of back office techs at the computer stations, trying to solve the mysteries of the new paperless diagnostic posting system by assembling into a hive mind. The doctors wander through solo, occasionally breaking something or freezing a screen, evidently acting as catalysts in the cytoplasmic confusion.

You leave a bored writer sitting in enough waiting rooms and exam rooms, and some pretty strange metaphors start popping up.

What most struck Kimberly and I about the new clinic, though, was that it had no aquaria. The entire huge building appears to be a fish-free zone; unlike the rest of Cedars Sinai, where enormous glass aquaria seem to form load-bearing walls.  That’s how we knew it couldn’t actually be done yet. At least, not the decorating. Because there were NO fish at all.

Doubtless they will come later. I’ll have plenty of opportunity to find out, as I shall be returning often while they try to make my heart behave. It may take a while, but there’s plenty of time – especially since the computer system controls all the notes and records, and is evidently going through a HAL phase. I watched in great interest (from my merry go round examination chair) as all my doctor’s attempts to order me new prescriptions were FAXed into an unknown dimension.

The nurses finally had to telephone them in this morning. Trying to FAX from the computer terminals evidently cancels the FAXes as the last step in the process.

Still, everyone was very nice and did seem to know what they were doing, medically at least. The environment was giving them altogether too many challenges, but they were hanging in there. A fascinating bevy of tests has been successfully focused me, and will begin next Tuesday.

It’ll all be better when they get an aquarium or two in there. I’m sure of it.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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9 Responses to New Hospital Horizons

  1. johnbrownson says:

    Lighthearted and amusing as ever, Kathleen Dear, but one can read between the lines- even yours. Please, do keep us informed as information becomes available, Love. -Buff


  2. Tom B. says:

    Hope Captain Nemo had returned to watch over you; if not, he may be arranging for the eventual residents of the imminent aquaria.

    Be well, Kathleen.


  3. Medrith says:

    Prayers and best wishes for you! Also for aquaria, apparently they are necessary for that hospital to function.


  4. Miz Kizzle says:

    Fish have a calming effect on “agitated patients.” The Neurobiological Research Laboratory says so. And if you can’t trust the Neurobiological Research Laboratory, who can you trust?
    I hope they straighten out your heart problem. Did you have the fun test where they inject you with some kind of chemical (possibly a form of super-duper jacked-up adrenaline) to make your heart pound like crazy in order to catch it misbehaving? It makes you realize that medical science really hasn’t progressed very far beyond the belief that a good bleeding and a poltice made of sheep’s urine and goose fat will cure pretty much anything.


  5. I just read this entry to my husband who had his own medical adventures a few years ago, and he almost fell off the couch laughing in solidarity at the data entry section of your adventures. Sez he, in all seriousness: She certainly can write. A master of the understatement, is he.

    Wishing you all the best, Kathleen, on this Longest Day.


    • Kate says:

      Thank you, and thank your dear spouse, and a Happy Longest Day to both of you! And please tell your husband – when Fate hands one such amazing and hysterical scenes, writing is as easy as breathing.


  6. Lynda True says:

    I found your blog almost two years ago, when I first discovered that Kage had passed. I was saddened to read the entry on Amazon, and found my way to here via the web site that was set up. I am so sad, and a bit worried, to hear of your medical issues. I’ve visited your blog, off and on, and enjoyed reading your adventures as you’ve continued on through life. I was happy to see Kage’s last book finished, and published, and doing well.

    I will keep you in my thoughts, and continue to read. Be well.


    • Kate says:

      Don’t worry, Lynda. I’m nearly 60, and I’ve lived a wild, rough life. A few things are catching up to me now, that’s all – something catches up to all of us eventually. But I am really doing rather well. I’ve just been tired and sulky lately. But I’ll improve – life has already dealt me the worst it could come up with, and I’ve survived.


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