July 08, 2012

Post-Modern Waiting Room

After the American Century

I am sitting in a new emergency room, where I have taken my mother-in-law, because she has broken her thumb working in the garden. She insisted that she could cut the hedge while smoking a cigar at the same time, but fell over a bush. I did not see it, as I was up on a ladder with my back to her. That is another story, not to be told here. But for almost four hours I have been sitting in this curious public space, where many ailing people come through, all of them ambulatory. Those who are more seriously injured or ill come in by ambulance and by-pass this room. 

In fact, if I did not know what this place was, I might have difficulty deciding what it is.
There is one small girl in a wheelchair, but she looks lively and smiles at her father, while they watch the Tour de France on the conveniently placed television. There are several people chatting to friends on their smart phones. If anyone is hungry, an array of dispensing machines sells sandwiches, coffee, candy, and the like. The only clue to this being part of a large hospital, once one is inside, is that occasionally someone clad in the characteristic hospital whites passes through.

The service seems glacially slow. After four hours,  she has been x-rayed, but only a few minutes ago did she get called in to hear an analysis of the result. Presumably she will emerge with a split on her thumb and some pain killers. 

In this room I can see a crowd running before the bulls in Pamplona on one TV, and as mentioned the Tour de France on another. The first is silent, the second rather quiet. The slender muscular men have traversed mountains and raced through cheering crowds in the towns for hours now, while I have been pacing or sitting in this room. 

I can also see in front of me a curious installation with three screens - shaped as a rectangle, a triangle, and an apple -  that show striking black and white photographs. These screens are half way up the wall in front of me, about four meters about the floor. The images are all of New York City and Los Angeles. (Am I really in Denmark?)  I can see various celebrities, the Empire State Building, the Disney Concert Hall, Times Square, a crowded street of taxi cabs, the New York Times building, two cops, the Guggenheim Museum, a hot dog stand  on "LA Beach."  All the images are un-captioned, and almost all are in black and white. There is no sound track, and most of the people in this air-conditioned space seem to pay no attention to them at all.

This is, in short, another pleasant but banal post-modern space, with no references within it that anchor the room in its space and time. In it the ill and the well intermingle with no clear differentiation. Here, the images of various nations intermingle without context and with no relation other than juxtaposition. 

I, too, am juxtapositioned here, writing to you justapositioned somewhere else. My wife and mother-in-law have been gone for more than 45 minutes. I assume they will one day return, and in the meantime the Tour de France churns forward, potential patients sleep, and I realize that there is nothing more to say about this post-modern waiting room. Godot is not coming here. No doubt he knows that this has been the sunniest, warmest, and all-around best day of the Danish summer so far. Or at least that is what the weather forecasters say on the big flat screen off to my left.

Additional note:  a few months later about 60 angry men carrying clubs and other weapons charged into this waiting room at night, looking for a young man who had already been stabbed and shot in the leg. He had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. Clearly feeling that he had not been hurt enough, this posse of angry men-- and yes, I have to say the truth here, they seem to have been all of MIddle Eastern background -- charged in, threatened personnel, but were frustrated, as they could not find and "punish" the already wounded man. They also smashed up an ambulance.  Everyone now condemns the incident, which would have been completely unimaginable in Denmark 25 years ago.

What to make of this incident in that space? Would they have behaved differently had it been more obviously part of a hospital?  Does the postmodernity of the space make it into a mere background, where any action is possible?