Tales of Survival: Snapshots of Bellevue at Night

September 10, 2010

Christopher Tully, MD

Bellevue is a beast.  I’m not sure if there is any other way to describe it.  The corridors feel as if the streets of New York City have spilled into its sprawling confines as patients, families and employees mix to create a constant buzz.  The piecemeal construction of the hospital center only adds to the chaos.  There are just enough blind angles to make awkward collisions with a patient or co-worker common-place.  Its endless hallways and linoleum floors stretch on for an inappropriate distance.  The walk from the front entrance on First Avenue to the Hospital Building elevators requires both agility to avoid the throngs of foot traffic and stamina (344 steps, I counted).  Bellevue in the daytime is truly a beast.

At night, Bellevue is a far different place.  Much like the city that surrounds it, the chaos slows, the crowds thin, and the noise quiets.  Although some parts of the hospital never sleep (the emergency room), the remainder of the hospital is largely empty and encounters with fellow workers occur primarily by chance.  The hospital separates into isolated snapshots, each picture existing in its own place and time, waiting for morning to come.

One can see:

The line of night employees clutching plastic baggies full of half-priced baked goods at Au Bon Pain.  The Feeding Frenzy.

The chance encounter with a surgical resident going to or from the emergency room.  Ships Passing in the Night.

The peaceful, snoring, often shoeless New York City men and women sleeping the night away with the smell of alcohol and feet floating in the air.  The Unmovable Statues.

The blue-gowned patients moving silently and methodically up and down the hallways.  Exercise.

The rhythmic and mechanical wooshing of air entering and leaving lungs.  Life Maintained.

The intern, head bowed, hands crossed, and eyes closed in front of the blue computer screen.  Praying.

The surprise encounter with orange-suited men shuffling through the basement hallways.  Crime and Healthcare.

The uninterrupted ascent and descent of the faux wood-paneled elevators and a white-coated resident leaning in the corner, eyes closed.  A Moment of Peace.

The rapid, unconscious and almost choreographic movement of housestaff responding to a code. Serenity Interrupted.

The empty trauma slot floor covered with bloody gloves, gowns, and papers.  A Life Saved. . . or Lost.

The golden-red sunrise over Brooklyn, Queens and the East River.  Another Night Done.

For those who have never worked an overnight shift at Bellevue Hospital (or any hospital), these snapshots probably seem like a foreign world, a world left to overworked housestaff and television dramas.  However, to those who have worked the graveyard shift, these images hopefully remind you of a time you may not necessarily want back, but still remember fondly.

And to those working at Bellevue tonight, good luck.

Christopher Tully is a third year internal medicine resident at NYU Langone Medical Center and contributing editor to Clinical Correlations

2 comments on “Tales of Survival: Snapshots of Bellevue at Night

  • Avatar of William Denson
    William Denson on

    Last night my son, Josh, had his first night on call as an intern in Internal Medicine at Bellevue. 31 years ago (1981) I had my first night on call as in intern in Internal Medicine at Grady Hospital in Atlanta.

    Same story, nothing is different. I knew Grady like the back of my hand. It brings back great memories.

  • Avatar of Sharon
    Sharon on

    I’m a nurse and worked my share of nightshifts at St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver Canada. St. Paul’s is very much like Bellvue – different sections added onto each other over time. The corridors were mostly even from one building to the next but there was the occasional “speed bump” between buildings.

    At 3:00 am one morning, I realized that all the patients, some very sick, were in the hands of 22 and 27 year olds – nurses, interns, residents – all supervised by one or two nuns who silently patrolled the halls doing bed counts for communion in the morning, and maybe a grizzled ER doc who slept at the desk with one eye open. That moment of realization was like seeing a full moon for the first time – awe struck at the responsibility and sobering that patients were counting on us they’d wake up in the morning. I’ve never forgotten that moment – 38 years ago.

Comments are closed.