Tales of Survival: The Bellevue Clap

December 24, 2009

bellevueamb2Bellevue Hospital, the nation’s oldest public hospital and the heart of our residency program, provides unique and unforgettable training for new physicians.  It is probably safe to say that every resident who trains at Bellevue graduates with a lifetime of stories about the experience. “Tales of Survival” was created to convey some of those stories.

Christopher Tully, MD

The entrance to Bellevue Hospital is a spacious, I.M. Pei-designed Ambulatory Care Building consisting of five floors of exam rooms enclosing a sun-drenched marble atrium, all capped by a glass-and-black-beamed ceiling.  This addition skillfully and seamlessly drapes across the now-ancient appearing previous entrance to this historic hospital, its classic red brick and columnar facade now hidden beneath its modern appendage.  I generally don’t spend much time in this intersection between the new and old Bellevue as I am usually scurrying across the expanse to get my signout, not wanting to be the last intern to show up and receive the passive-aggressive ire of the intern night float.  The end of the day, however, tends to be a slower trip.  My feet drag a bit more, my thoughts from the day distract me, and my general fatigue from being an intern is most evident.

It was during one of these slow walks that I first noticed the Bellevue Clap.  It is a clap with the essence removed.  My hands come together like any normal clap, but it is like the sound gets sucked away and flattened.  We all know the sound of a clap.  The cupped fullness of hands slapping together in such a way as to produce a noise that echoes, startles and excites.  I am not sure how or when I found it, but much like the factory workers of old, the clap has become my whistle signaling the end of the workday.   It silences the constant ringing of patient call bells, pagers, telephones, and telemetry stations.  It quiets the sonorous, almost rhythmic chirping of a patient coughing on a ventilator and eliminates the constant chatter of nurses and housestaff.  It ends a day full of Spanish, Bengali, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Polish; the melting pot of languages is now silent.  After the Bellevue Clap, my hospital day ends and I enter the world of New York City.

I am sure many of you have noticed this little quirk of Bellevue, and by no means do I take credit for its creation or its discovery.  While I am a bit hesitant to share my little ritual with everyone, I figure we all need a bit of help ending our crazy days.  So if you want to experience the Bellevue Clap for yourself, simply find the final letter A on your way out of Bellevue Hospital, and with one swing, let it all fade away.

Christopher Tully is now a second year resident in internal medicine at NYU Medical Center.

One comment on “Tales of Survival: The Bellevue Clap

  • Avatar of Loren Greene
    Loren Greene on

    In the days of the Old Bellevue (as opposed to the “New” Bellevue, there was a cafeteria in the basement, where you were greated by random cats. We feasted on potato chips and sandwiches (which we called “rule out chicken/rule out tuna)and tepid soup of unknown origin.
    Happy holidays.

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