Blank Canvas

This is for my very first clinical team. They made me fall in love with their specialty.

This is a timeless capsule where night is day and day is night. Where the greatest joys are experienced not for births of new children but for negatives on tests and the joy of a discharge. Where great sorrow can befall those who believed in, expected, certain death are told they have months, if not years for which they must now plan. Where days are spent lying in a bed, waiting eagerly for the five minutes with a physiotherapist whose promise lies in mobility. Waiting endlessly for the doctor-in-charge to visit with good news, whatever that looks like, only to be poked and prodded by many others in an attempt to see if your blood values sit inside some seemingly incomprehensible normal range. A place where doctors know better their ill charges than their healthy family members waiting at home. This is a place where challenges are conquered by some and succumbed to by others.

This is the world of the white-washed wall. This is a world of white-speckled linoleum floors and pine handrails and glass balconies. All are readily erased of memories left by grubby hands and tired souls by one thoughtless sweep of alcohol-infused cloths and micro-fibre mops. Here, the yellow, orange and green colour scheme intended to provide aesthetic relief to the sanitized space only serves as a reminder of all colour missing from this space between sickness and health.

And yet. This is where I live. This is where my heart beats, my brain tingles. The inside world of the hospital is the outside world of my life. The short journey to the patients' normality - the real world - seems like a trip through a theme park, where conversations ebb and flow on topics as varied and incomprehensible to me as many diseases would be to these city slickers. And these are the people whose roles reverse with my own when the time comes to leave my white-washed world.

My world. Where sleep-deprived day dreams and the blank canvas of my world lead to over-active interpretations of my team. The department is not a group of dedicated health professionals working day in and day out to improve the quality of life. No, that sounds too cold. Too impersonal. This is the headquarters of superheroes, legends and movie-thrillers. The meeting rooms aren't spaces for multidisciplinary meetings on patient management, they're covert gatherings to brief the latest task force on high-level missions to save lives. To keep Metropolis safe for the future without the world ever knowing we're here. They waltz into the elevators on ground floor as Clark Kent and fly out as Superman.

There's the Lone Ranger, the cowboy who takes his smoking gun to disease, sickness and common ailments as he saunters down the ward. He knocks off an enemy at a time. The safety's released, his finger's on the trigger and the world awaiting the successful shot.  Bullet and a target. Cannula in place. Job here. Done.

There's the ninja, glimpsed but never truly seen. He's the man of the night. He came. He saw. He conquered. We only know the legend.

There's Charlie and his Angels. Except everyone knows who Charlie is, even if this Charlie doesn't have a chocolate factory. He's the man that everyone loves. With a smile and a wink and a day made. He's got the deft skill of Wolverine with blades in his hands. He's both man and machine. He could go forever. Like a lion, he takes patients' fears and gives them back hope. He takes tears and replaces them with comfort. When Charlie walks into the room, the coloured curtains and white-washed walls disappear. His angels bring respite while he works away in the dungeon below. A smile is worth a thousand operations.

There are the guys that you see hard at work, buried beneath patient files and test results, only to go Super Saiyan the moment they hit the O.R., regardless of how long or how hard they've been working. And here, there's only two types of work. Hard and very, very hard.  They step over that positive pressure threshold that marks out the barrier between ordinary human and something far more extraordinary, hands dripping with the bacteria-vanquishing power of a five-minute scrub, arms at the ready for gowning and gloving. Sterile zone enabled. Locked and loaded. Betadine applied. Now to get down to business.

Deep in focus and surrounded by other greats - the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Radioactive Man - they begin their work. The Masters guide and teach, leaving their audience in awe. Each swipe of the blade, each drive of the screw and hammering in of the Magnificent New Hip is met with silent appreciation. This is the strength of the Incredible Hulk with the tools of Batman and the precision of Michelangelo.

And when you walk past them in the cafeteria as they order food for champions, you'd never know the secrets of the white-washed dungeons where they don their blues. You'd see the harsh lights against the reflective surfaces and the lurid colour-scheme attempting to add a sense of warmth to this temperature-controlled environment. You'd see the bustle of the troops in green, who wash away the footprints of those who come and those who have been.

This is the sea upon which you've been given a white flag. A sea of white. A glimpse of blue. And knowledge that these aren't cartoon heroes. They won't make you last forever. But frame by frame they'll build a new you.


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