With a crisp gesture, sharp as the crack of a whip, the nurse sends the curtain rings skittering along the track, separating the bed on one side of the room from the other. The doctor does it more sedately, pulling the curtain along as if walking an aging dog, chatting to calm an anxious patient as she does. Either way, the object seems to be patient privacy.
Even when the curtains are drawn tightly enough to prevent a sliver of a glimpse of the person within, the task inevitably fails. There can be no real privacy when a few squares of linoleum and a few yards of fabric separate one bed from its neighbor. Without distance or density to muffle sounds, a discrete murmur directed to one patient easily reaches another.
As someone who has spent a few nights in a hospital bed, am I dismayed or outraged that patient privacy is a polite illusion? In theory, perhaps. In reality: Hell no.
The tedium of confinement sharpens the appetite for distraction, and hospital stories can be particularly tasty. I’ve heard police question a woman about how she landed one bed over from me. Turns out, a would-be boyfriend, spurned and angry, …
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