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
“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
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
“I’m gonna get started,” Pulsonetti said, as he
slipped off the table and disappeared into the utility
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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
“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
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.
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
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
Kevin let the door to SCU swing closed gently and walked down the hall to the elevator.