Monday, October 1, 2007


Today, coincidentally on the first day of my Urology clerkship, the department opened its temporary clinics and offices in the former OB/Gyn space in the oldest part of the hospital complex. This will be the Urology department's home for one year while their more modern space is undergoing a year-long refurbishment.

Oddly enough, this means that today I entered a men's room that, for years, was used by the men who were accompanying -- and waiting for -- the women in labor & delivery. There, on marble dividing panels, are decades of etched graffiti. A quick glance reveals the usual crude defacements, but on closer inspection these panels display something much rarer. I realized that many of the graffiti consisted of a name and a date -- a birthdate! Some of them even included a birth weight. Dozens of births were commemorated here. The first dates I saw were recent, but soon I found 2003, 2001, 1998, 1993, eventually finding dates back to the mid 80s -- over 20 years of births recorded here. And as I kept scanning, I found names followed by short ranges of dates, spanning days or weeks. I could hardly believe it, but there were multiple memorials to infants who had died. Some even included brief messages of love or remembrance.

When and how did it become a tradition to record the births -- and deaths -- of newborns on the men's room stall dividers? Once or twice seems somehow inappropriate, tawdry even, but there was a strange strength to the layers of names and years carved into the cheap marble. Even the intermingled crudities of traditional men's room scrawls seemed neutralized and made transparent against the background of all those babies' names. How many men were overcome by joy or loss or fear of the future and expressed it by adding to the list here? This afternoon I was searching for the earliest date I could find, but now, thinking back, I realize that since the OB department has permanently moved to another part of the hospital there is also a last name and date scrawled there, somewhere.

If any part of an old hospital is described as being haunted, it's usually labor and delivery. Today I found the ghosts.



At October 3, 2007 at 10:52 AM , Anonymous kate said...

I think there is a real primal drive to etch one's personal history permanently into stone. From the first cave paintings to the vietnam memorial to the OB men's room stall... the motivation is the same -- the urge toward permanent recording and memorialization. it is sort of the anti-blog.

At October 3, 2007 at 12:34 PM , Blogger Heather said...

For a long time I have thought that--in many ways--men are often more sensitive than women. More easily damaged by experience; more easily wounded, thus, the tough exteriors we so often see paraded. Survival.
This goes some distance towards confirming my theory. Who--in our glib world--would have expected this. How wonderful to find so much love hidden away like that.
I know my father was hurt at not being allowed in the delivery room for my birth--and was overwhelmed at being there eight years later for my sister's. I know that catching our first baby changed my husband's entire world.
It's nice to know that the two of them are not alone.

At October 3, 2007 at 7:32 PM , Blogger madame_leiderhosen said...

Bennish, Darling.
I love this bit of writing, even if it does drag me into the Men's room at the Urology Lab.
Sometimes the only time we have in an everyday life to pause and reflect may be the moment we are cosing up to the Porcelian God.
I wonder who the first name was. If they continued down this life, I hope it's sweet.


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