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Support Can be Beautiful

Derek Alger

Tragedy and the absurd

It was a beautiful autumn afternoon when Kevin Stiles rushed through the new automatic doors at the entrance to the hospital. No time for coffee. He was late as it was. He was expected to be in the supervisor’s office by three, donned in whites and ready for the pre-evening meeting.

Kevin was twenty-two and satisfied, if not ecstatic, to be working on the Central Supply B shift at Martin Van Buren Hospital. The Central Supply technicians on the B shift were delegated the inglorious, yet essential, responsibility of picking up and sterilizing all the soiled utensils from the floors. It was probably one of the most egalitarian jobs in society, at least regarding clientele. Bed pans and urinals have never been known to express any particular preference concerning who utilizes them.

Tonight Kevin was scheduled to be working with Pulsonetti and Garf. The pre-evening meetings were for Garf’s benefit. Garf was a fat little man who compensated for his humdrum life by demanding a forum where he could gossip and complain about nurses and doctors and the hospital in general.

Kevin doubted whether he would ever be able to play the system game of undeviating procedure. Unlike Garf, he could never imagine withholding delivery of a lumbar puncture tray from a patient and waiting doctor because some unit secretary had neglected to fill out a charge slip. No, Kevin was certainly willing to suffer the reprimand from his supervisor instead of risking a patient’s health by fumbling with bureaucratic niceties.

Passing through the narrow hallway from the locker room and rounding the corner into the spacious, sterile surroundings of Central Supply, Kevin nodded a greeting to Pulsonetti, who was reclined on a stainless steel table, a wry smile on his slender face above a dark goatee.

“You want to pick up ‘Slice of Life’ or ‘Essence of Sterility’ tonight?” Pulsonetti asked indifferently, referring to the two wings of the hospital.

“I’ll take the old wing,” Kevin said.

Pulsonetti waved a fly away with the magazine he’d been reading. He was a twenty-nine-year-old artist who was completing his Master’s in art history.

“Some sterility,” he laughed. “All that money shelled out for a new wing and it’s infested with flies.”

The Central Supply department was designed to be capacious because it was to be located two floors below the operating room. During the planning stages someone pointed out how much more efficient and convenient it would be if a dumbwaiter was inserted running right up to the center of the operating room. A large Central Supply room would mean that everything would be more accessible. The only problem, and Kevin still found it difficult to comprehend, was that when it came time for construction someone forgot to include the blueprint with the layout for the dumbwaiter, with the result that the new nine story wing of Martin Van Buren Hospital was completely serviced by elevator delivery.

“I’m gonna get started,” Pulsonetti said, as he slipped off the table and disappeared into the utility room.

Garf tottered around from the inventory shelves with a look of bursting excitement on his face. Waving his stubby arms, he looked like he was trying to maintain his balance.

“Did ya hear, Kevin?” he cried out. “Did ya hear?”


“Girl in SCU,” he said. “Just brought her in. She was clipped by a train. May even lose her arm.”

Kevin could never stomach Garf’s unbridled enthusiasm when it came to spreading news around the hospital. He was disgusted at the way events became spectacle for someone like Garf, almost entertainment at the expense of actuality. Even in a hospital, people relished vividly recounting the misfortune of others, probably out of a combination of morbid curiosity and clinical fascination.

Kevin wondered how old the girl was and what the circumstances of the accident had been, but he wasn’t going to ask Garf. Instead, he made a mental note to avoid the Special Care Unit during the course of the evening.

Time always passed quickly for Kevin at the hospital. He liked working with Pulsonetti and they made a good team. Usually, he and Pulsonetti could get the pick up out of the way and finish all the washing by six. After that, the rest of the night was a cinch. All that remained was to wrap and deliver the utensils while Garf answered the phone.

It was Monday night, meaning pick up would be light because Saturday was the major discharge day. The old wing, although it resembled a war-torn shelter, was easier to pick up. There were only three functioning floors in the old wing and they were designed symmetrically, one on top of the other, with the same interior layout. The new wing, on the other hand, was a labyrinthian maze of patient hovels dispersed in a variety of layouts. depending on the floor and the architect’s particular mood of creativity.

One floor to go, Kevin thought, as he pushed a half full cart up 3 Center. Approaching the nurses’ station, where 3 West and 3 Northwest came together, he imagined that he was in the middle of an indoor version of Times Square. Flashes of white whipped by him every which way, as nurses scurried to answer lights and see to patients. He loved the nurses. In stylish uniforms, they reminded him of Helen of Troy and the days of the Greek Goddess. His mind was distracted by a lovely moving moving thigh when he heard the page.

“Kevin Stiles, 562,” echoed over the PA system. Central Supply technician, Kevin Stiles, 562.”

He walked down the corridor to the phone on the wall, wondering why women on PA systems always talked with a nasal twang. Picking up the receiver, he dialed Central Supply and heard Garf’s voice answer after two rings.

“What is it?” Kevin asked.

“I have to deliver a heavy load of CBI bottles to the fifth floor. Could you take about six coude catheters to Hemo?”

Kevin hopped into the elevator and hurried down to Central Supply. He grabbed the catheters off the shelf and once again found himself riding in an elevator. The elevator stopped on the first floor where the hemodialysis unit was located and Kevin stepped out into a blinding glare of light. Everything was illuminated green and he thought he had accidentally landed in the wonderful world of Oz. Shielding his eyes, he saw two nurses in front of him. both talking with projection.

“Support can be beautiful, is beautiful,” said the first nurse, thrusting her chest out.

“I feel beautiful,” chimed the other.

Through the corner of his eye, Kevin spotted a balloon faced doctor coming up to the nurses from behind.

“God damn it, cut!” an angry voice exploded.

Kevin turned to his left and saw an amalgamation of lights, cameras, and sound equipment. A group of about fifty people were milling around. A short, bald man, wearing khaki pants and carrying a riding crop, bounded toward Kevin. His face was red and the veins on his forehead appeared ready to jump out in attack.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” the gnomish director demanded, slapping his thigh with the riding crop.

“I’m delivering catheters,” Kevin replied.

“Who told you to use this elevator?”

“I always use this elevator.”

“Get his name,” screamed the director. “I want this man reported.” The director dismissed Kevin with a shooing of his riding crop. “Now, out of the way, young man, time is money.”

Kevin drifted off to the side in amazement. He spotted Pulsonetti and walked over to him. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“A bra commercial.”

“I realize that, but why in a hospital. And why during peak hours?”

Pulsonetti shook his head, smiling. “Green,” he said. Kevin looked at the fresh green paint on the wall. “This way the hospital doesn’t have to spring for paint or labor,” Pulsonetti added.

“Action,” beamed the director, regally perched on a high stool.

The two artificial nurses resumed position and once more stepped out of the elevator to go through their routine.

“Support can be beautiful, is beautiful,”

“I feel beautiful,”

Balloon face, the doctor, whistled and cupped his hands over his mouth and the take was over.

“Cut,” the director yelled. “What do you think, Herbie?” he asked a gaunt man seated next to him on a lower stool.

“Great, R.P., it was perfect. But, well, I don’t know?” the man paused, his fingers playing with a medallion dangling from his neck. “Maybe it could use a bit more energy.”

“You mean intensity,” the director corrected.

“Right,” another man agreed.

R.P. swiveled on his stool, studying the faces of his underlings. Satisfied that he was king of this motley assortment of commercial yes men, he raised his megaphone and called out, “Okay, one more time from the top, and this time let’s get it right.”

Kevin nudged Pulsonetti and together they headed off down the hall away from the world dedicated to creating demand.

Later that night, Kevin was sitting alone in Central Supply. Garf was in the hospitality shop downing coffee and Pulsonetti was out on a delivery, no doubt delayed by the opportunity to flirt with a certain young nurse in pediatrics.

The phone rang and Kevin answered, “Central Supply,” in a sing song voice.

“This is SCU. Bring a blood pressure module. STAT!”

Slamming down the phone receiver, Kevin scooped the module off the shelf and rushed out of Central Supply. The Special Care Unit was one flight up so Kevin decided to take the stairs. No sense risking another run in with R.P. and company.

When he entered SCU a nurse ran up and grabbed the module. The exchange completed, Kevin stepped back. He was standing across from the fifth bed in a row of eight. The arterial line cart was next to the last bed where two doctors and assisting nurses were scrambling about.

Support can be beautiful came to Kevin’s mind, as he turned to leave and then he saw her.

She was lying prone and motionless. Her forehead was wrapped with a white pressure bandage. Strands of light auburn hair tried to slip out, but the bandage cut them off before any could dangle more than a quarter of an inch. Her nose was marred grotesquely by two plastic tubes, one occupying each nostril.

There was no question she would live. Her right arm, extended by her side, lay immobile and quiet. Bright red polish decorated her fingernails. Her left shoulder, swollen and rigid, survived as an unoccupied stump. Somewhere in the basement of the hospital was a previously dainty, now useless, mangled arm with polish swimming around in a bottle of formaldehyde.

Kevin let the door to SCU swing closed gently and walked down the hall to the elevator.