|Signs were few and far between in vintage hospitals.
I found myself asking myself, how in the world did old school hospitals function without the copious ( that "c" word is one of the all time favorite words of my generation of nurses) use of signs? The hospital building itself was without an identifying sign. It was completely unnecessary because everyone intuitively knew it was a hospital. A hospital was a hospital and everyone knew where it was. Does God sign the sky?
Walking through a modern hospital corridor with all those solid, opaque doors with confusing (at least to me) signage does cultivate a sense of mystery. When one of these modern, occlusive, door contraptions swing or magically whoosh open, I scramble to peak inside. I could have read the ever present, omniscient signage, but I like the feeling of being an explorer on an adventure. It's like a series of hidden little worlds where computers and electronic doo-dads seem to dominate.
Old hospitals were not like this. No signs necessary. You could sense where you were by the various olfactory, auditory, or visual cues. The radiology department was defined by the scent of photographic fixer and all those lead aprons hanging outside the mostly open doors. No mysteries here. Morgues and central supply were always in the basement and the ORs were always on the top. I rambled on about this in a previous post.
Emergency rooms were always on the same level as the street and there was a memorable sign nearby. Old school emergency triage began at street level and an actual sign began the process by a stern warning: AMBULANCE CASES ONLY. There was always an assemblage of police cars at the ER and I suspect hospital emergency rooms were one of the safest places in all of Chicago.
Hospital labs were easy to navigate. Everything was out in the open. Hematology was defined by the click-clck-click of manual tabulator gizmos used by the technicians to count the various lymphocytes and eosinophils in a sample. I used to love that sound because it reminded me of crickets. A bit of nature in the midst of an urban jungle. The microbiology department was easy to spot with banks of incubators and rows of microscopes. The chemistry lab division smelled, well chemical. You couldn't miss it. The hospital laundry was easy to find, just follow that lovely clean linen smell and as you got closer, little flecks of lint falling like snow clearly defined the locus.
Old hospitals had very few people just strolling through as outpatients because there were no outpatients. Any nurse would be all to happy to direct any lost soul moving about the halls so there was little need for signs. The loud, ubiquitous hospital paging system clearly announced visiting hours and instructions for hospital visitors. One of the greatest advances in modern hospitals is the absence of verbal loud speaker pages. They could really jangle your nerves.
Occasionally, a modern hospital sign will cause my foolish, old brain to crash in a state of persistent befuddlement. What the heck is an outpatient ICU?? I was completely bamboozled by a sign pointing the way to "Ambulatory Surgery." How in the world, I wondered, can you perform surgery on someone while they are walking around? I suspect it is a great way to prevent post op complications like atelectasis and clots, but do the benefits outweigh the risks of surgery in motion?
I' getting carried away here so I'll leave you with some contemporary hospital signage that got my attention and made my blood boil. The sign below serves to provide the patient with all the respect and dignity of a visit to Wal Mart. The remuneration request is for something that is an abstract concept concocted by an office sitting bean counter which contrasts with the mission of healthcare to provide tangible care for a person in need. Money and associated big business is what robbed both doctors and nurses of their status as caring professional care givers and relegated them to nothing more than dollar sign driven minions. It's a sin and a shame.