In a distant land of the decaying, I happened upon a hospital. There were many pseudo-hospitals, clinics and traditional healers scattered in the shadow of its mighty walls, but a quick inspection proved them dirty and inadequate.
I made my way into the hospital via a backdoor and climbed the stairwell to the top floor. I pushed the door open to the children’s ward and was repulsed by the smell. Children crowded three to a crib. Few if any of them diapered, and it was obvious they had wallowed in their own filth for some time. A cacophony of desperate tears erupted at my entrance. Infants with open lesions lifted their hands in desperate appeal. Others could not muster the strength to stretch out their weakened limbs and simply stared at me with a dull look.
I realized I needed to find the medical staff quickly and ran from the room to do so. Running down the stairs three at a time, I raced to the ward on the floor below me. I rushed in only to stop suddenly at its silence. The ward seemed to stretch interminably. Row after row of the aged stretched out like merging railroad tracks in the distance. They lay there mute and hopeless. On the horizon of that hall I thought I saw a solitary physician, but I would not swear it if under oath. I numbly spun on my heel and continued my search for doctors.
Floor after floor I descended the building and entered ward after ward that burst with the ill and wounded, largely absent of any healers. The horribly burned, maimed and suffering tossed listlessly on filthy sheets vainly waiting for medicine, comfort or cleaning.
I finally arrived on the ground floor. My pace had slowed to a walk by a mounting sense of despair. As I pushed open the ward door, I was smacked in the face by beauty. Fragrant smells wafted from freshly arranged flowers. Soothing music slipped from hidden speakers. The floor gleamed as if recently polished; bright sunshine beamed in the picture windows.
Hospital beds contained patrons smiling in comfort. Some were in critical condition while others appeared only to have minor abrasions or slight temperatures. The puzzling thing about the ward, however, was its activity. Hoards of doctors raced around like frenzied ants. Nurses, technicians and medical assistants jockeyed for elbowroom around each bed. As new patients trickled in, they were practically devoured by aggressive physicians, desperately trying to pull them to the empty bed of their responsibility. Patients seemed over medicated and triple bandaged.
I stopped a physician hurtling by me to join a throng of thirty gathered around one young man who had cut himself shaving. “Please, could you come with me?” I asked. “There are desperately sick patients on the upper floors!” “I would love to,” he replied, “but I have not been called to those floors.”
Another doctor bumped into me as she vainly tried to join a team who argued about who would get to operate on an ingrown fingernail. “Please, ma’am, it is urgent that we have more doctors upstairs,” I pleaded. She scalded me with her eyes, “Can you not see that there are sick people here as well?” I could of course, and I was not suggesting that all the doctors transfer, but couldn’t one or two?
I drifted towards another bustling group who gathered around a pleasant man explaining just how he would like his tummy tightened. “Excuse me, sir,” I asked one of the short doctors who struggled to see over the shoulders of those in front of him, “Could you possibly come help out on a needy floor?” He winced a little and muttered, “You know, I wish I could, but I am not cut out for that kind of stuff. I am glad you can do it, but…well…you know…I just can’t.” And he scuttled off to join a dozen doctors who were reading the chart of a nearby soul.
I tried several more times but was continually rebuffed. Every reason had a measure of truth. Every reason went further to ensure that those struggling for life on the floors above us would certainly die.
I climbed slowly back up the stairs. The music receded, the lovely fragrance faded. The hustle and bustle of clean, intelligent, capable doctors faded into the silence of desperation. I walked with a heavy heart down the silent halls of the neglected. I could not understand it.
I paused to hold the hand of a sufferer, and my tears joined his in anguished refrain. He took one last fragile breath. His eyes framed one last question. And then he passed into the ranks of the damned.