Hospitals are not the easiest places to navigate. It’s hard enough when you’re a patient; patients have clearly marked entrances and front desks and large signs that tell them what part of the hospital they’re in, and often which direction to find their target location. It’s slightly different for a student, who is generally assumed to know where they’re going, and even more so for a student who is not quite a part of the hospital system.

To get from the undergraduate section of campus to the medical school library, which is where I do most of my studying, one has to walk across two quads and across a rather busy street. It’s about a fifteen minute walk, and on a nice day that’s perfectly reasonable. When it’s 30 degrees, windy and raining, however, there are two alternate routes that lead through the winding corridors of hospital buildings that allow you to spend about half of the walk indoors.

One of these routes I learned when I started shadowing. I had to meet the clerkship coordinator in one of the west end buildings and follow her through twisting corridors and up and down stairs to the main hospital. At the end of my shift, I had to wind my way back through the hallways to her office to retrieve my backpack. It was sink or swim, and after that I knew a great way to cut through the building without having to step out into the blistering 85 degree weather until I was safely across the street.

There were a few problems with this approach, though, the first being that, while it was a great way to get back from the library, the front doors were locked to anyone trying to get in from the other direction. Reasonable, given that the building in question was mainly administrative offices that didn’t need an endless stream of noisy undergrads and med students using their building as a thoroughfare.

So one rainy afternoon, I decided to try to cut through the other building. This part of the hospital was devoted to outpatient care; clinics where the sick-but-not-too-sick-and-insured go to get procedures or check ups. These doors were not barred to be, and from the outside of the building I could see a straight shot from the entrance to the sky walk that crossed the street. Brilliant right?

Not once, but twice I attempted this genius shortcut. I walked through endless hallways and corridors, twisting passageways with exit signs where no exit appeared to exist. I followed signs for different areas of the hospital that surely must be close to something I might recognize. I meandered past long rows of administrative offices and turn offs for eye care surgeries, urology clinics and cancer radiation until finally, after my fifteen minute walk had become forty-five, I found myself in the main hospital, on the wrong floor in the midst of the usual busy weekday.

All this was made the more awkward by how intensely I did not belong in that complex of the hospital. The doctors I passed were in suits and lab coats; I, a twenty-something student with headphones and thirty pounds of books in my bag, was clearly out of place. I literally didn’t fit; said overstuffed backpack making it difficult to maneuver through hallways that, unlike the main hospital, were never intended to fit gurneys or wheelchairs. I tried to walk with purpose, but I clearly had no idea where I was going.

Yesterday was my final exam for organic chemistry, which was at two in the afternoon (not nine, as I’d been utterly convinced the day before) so I headed to the library to study beforehand. It was a particularly cold day, so as I headed back to the main campus I thought, better cut through. Now I could easily have gone my usual route, through the building that is locked going the other way, but in my infinite wisdom, I thought to myself, “Or I could go back through the other building and once and for all figure out how to go that way.”  Looking out the windows of the sky walk I could see a straight shot of where I wanted to go. Walk straight, turn left, exit. Piece of cake.

As you can probably predict I. Got. Lost. Again. Fortunately I had left with more than enough time to get to my exam because my “straight shot” managed to require a good fifteen minutes of my time just to get across the street. I thought I was walking in a straight line, but somehow, in the windowless corridors, I managed to proceed about ten yards in the time it would have normally taken me to get to campus. I felt like I’d fallen into parallel universe. Where had I been all that time?

When I finally emerged from the building I was only about halfway to my intended destination and had lost enough time as to make even the slightly longer time in the comforting warmth of the indoors completely without worth.

And so it is with this understanding, that I admit defeat. In the future, I suppose, I’ll just have to be cold.

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