Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Room 2413

I could've sworn the hospital operator said room 2413. But as I wandered the halls, a perplexing look came over my face.  I searched above each door: 2411..2412...2414.  I stopped a smartly dressed nurse rushing past with a cup full of pills.

Where's 2413?

She laughed, and called over her shoulder as an after thought.

There's no 2413, 3413, or 4413 for that matter!

I started to protest, but it was too late.  She was long gone.  And the truth was, I didn't need an explanation.  How many buildings skipped from the twelfth to the fourteenth floor?  How many room numbers had been intentionally changed?

It was a myth.  Superstition and folklore permeated even the most holy of scientific grails, the hospital.  As an institution we failed the most basic test of identity.  And I started to wonder what other myths pervade our culture.

This won't hurt a bit!

How often do we knowingly mislead or water down the truth? Furthermore, how do we justify this charade in light of the dictum "to do no harm"? 

Sadly, I think the answer reveals the worst kind of ugliness.  We would rather defer to ease, than accurately interpret the reflection in the mirror.

Don't worry, we'll do everything!

Because the truth is much more difficult.  Patients die regardless of the room number.  The procedures we perform are often hurtful. 

And "doing everything" can be more than just dangerous.

It can be cruel.

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