He sat in what might once have been called a waiting room, but was now known as a patient lounge. He thought the patient lounge was very much like a waiting room; both in function, in that it was a room in which people were waiting; and in appearance, festooned as it was with information leaflets, posters, uncomfortable-looking mal-upholstered chairs, and a smattering of people he assumed must be patients. They all looked miserable. He had long since realised that hospitals were not necessarily miserable places in themselves, but that the nature of their business meant that innumerable miseries passed through their doors, and that after a certain amount of time the gloominess, suffering, pain and despair were bound to seep into the fabric of the place. There had been too much loss, too much unhappiness, not to weigh the entire site down.
Even the success stories, the recoveries and the miraculous cures that took place here amongst the apparently randomly scattered yet uniformly ugly buildings full of sterile and unfriendly-looking rooms, even they were outwardly-focussed – a celebration enacted by being able to be elsewhere, and by not having to return. In that sense, he reasoned, the hospital could even be described as a place of hope, albeit the hope to be in another place. But there wasn’t much hope in evidence this afternoon: just gloom, some poorly-stocked vending machines (one of which was out of order), and an untidy pile of magazines that looked as though they had never been new.
Like most people, he had never liked hospitals. Even trivial visits for routine and unthreatening procedures were tainted by memories of past, less benign trips, and of course by the prospect of lengthier visits to come. A visit to the hospital, he concluded, was at once an echo of past anguish, and an uncomfortable glimpse into an uncertain yet inevitable future. The hospital was a place of contrast: the environment was sterile, everything was clean, hard, shiny and efficient, yet the people within were fragile, diseased and broken in various ways. The restaurant did offer an excellent rhubarb crumble on Tuesdays, but it was impossible to enjoy it whilst surrounded by pallid geriatrics, worried-looking relatives speaking in hushed tones, and medical professionals looking anxiously at pagers and watches. To make things worse, the custard was usually lumpy.
He left the patient lounge and followed the red line on the floor back to the reception and main entrance area. “I really must stop coming here for no reason” he muttered to himself.