Today I'm a zombie. I'm one of those half-awake, half-dead, not-so-human creatures walking around the hallowed halls of this wretched hospital in the middle of the night, on a Sunday, on a long weekend. So, the last time my hair touched a comb was 12 hours ago? So, my white coat is stained with ballpen marks all over and brownish icky discolorations at the sleeves? So, I'm wearing a 5-year old scrub-top and my shoes are worn out from too much walking? So, there's oil on my face and I smell like the ER? So, I look like a hobo, with tattered clothes, circles under her eyes, and an empty brain? What's wrong with that? And whose fault is it?
I'm a living dead today because I'm on 24-hour duty again. One of the most dreaded responsibilities a fledgling and struggling Cardiology fellow can ever imagine is a 24-hour duty on a Sunday, when the rest of the world is quiet except the hospital. For some reasons, people always get admitted during Sundays. And why is it that even stable patients get MIs during Sundays? And residents seem to love calling up Cardiology fellows on a Sunday when they could have done so on any other day?
One of the worst nightmares on a PGH Sunday is the elevator, or the lack of it. For as long as I can remember, all the other elevators stop functioning on a Sunday, except one. That single, solitary, overworked elevator traverses all seven floors of the hospital, carrying doctors, watchers, pickpockets, visitors, and employees alike (patients share another elevator). Sometimes the line extends up to the ATM machines (many meters away). Sometimes petty fights happen among those falling in line and those who don't.
Instead of taking the stairs to keep my cardiac muscles healthy, I invariably choose to be a sloth and take the elevator if I have to go up and down at least 2 floors, even if it would take light years falling in line, even if it feels like living in a sardine can while breathing that stale mixture of carbon dioxide, and nitrogen and what-nots for at least 5 minutes. I've been stuck in that elevator twice, at least. One time there was a sudden power interruption and I was stuck in that can for 10 minutes, slowly dying from asphyxia. Another time, the door simply refused to open. We were midway between the 5th and the 6th floor, pounding on the walls and the door, shouting for help. For some reason, the elevator just jerked and suddenly continued it journey up.
For some reason, being stuck in that elevator reminds me of my mortality. It reminds me all the time that despite my dirty white coat and my vestigial props of a stethoscope, I'm still human - a creature stuck in a sardine can, breathing the same toxic air just like everybody else. If, at midnight, the elevator is empty except for that tired-looking operator, my minutes in the PGH elevator afford me brief luxury of a shut-eye, and during that finite ride that seem to take eternity, I just breathe and enjoy everything imperfect around me.