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5. Whose Disembodied Head

Nurse Sloggett nodded a wordless of course/goodbye at Dr. Ed, whose disembodied head then retreated as suddenly through the door’s narrow opening as it had arrived. Dr. Ed then left his office the back way, towards the service elevator.

The physical plant of University Hospital was, for a Canadian institution of this sort, a relatively handsome one—from the outside. It had been completed in the late 1960s, when the infrastructural enthusiasm of the post-war boom (having collided with the twin evils of increasingly bear-minded markets and parsimonious—not to mention usurious—central banks) was just beginning to draw to a close. The dour limestone of the original building, a building that could be numbered among the country’s oldest, was at that time dwarfed by (rather than supplemented with) a new addition, which was conceived by the very same architects who were charged with updating the central post office. Its confident, modernist façade was a collage of granite, aluminum and glass that emphasised rather than diminished its essential boxiness, with prominent rectangular panels and bold vertical lines.

The hospital addition had not aged too well, however. To be honest, even when new it had suited the conceptual aspirations of its architect somewhat more fully than the workaday needs of its subsequent inhabitants; but now, in 1993, it was just plain old. You would not know it if you were somehow spirited directly into Dr. Ed’s dominion (‘Old Building’, 4th floor, F-wing, avoiding the crumbling plaster in E-wing, climbing past outmoded Radiology and dank (with ‘non-functional’ air-conditioning) Geriatrics on level 2, circumspectly skirting the horror that was nominally the Cafeteria on level 3— whose state of repair was so very much ‘temporarily inoperative’ (its steam generating plant was now essentially shot, and the kitchen! Well, all meals were trucked in from the City, over 150 km away, weren’t they?) that, had you had you taken a wrong turn and somehow ended up surrounded by a bank of microwaves that filled three walls in a U-shaped alcove, all of which were re-reheating melamine bowlfuls of re-reconstituted dehydrated mashed potato flakes, well let’s just say that you would have been glad you were, like the lucky game-piece landing on the first corner of the Monopoly board, ‘just visiting’.

But if you somehow bypassed all of that and found yourself (again: somehow) inside Dr. Ed’s private fiefdom, you would see something altogether different. The sallow tiling of the past had been replaced with a pleasing, padded blue carpet throughout. Painted-shut windows had given way to tinted Argon-filled double-glazing. Back-breaking wooden chairs from 1945 had been sold off to the local school board, and staff and clients alike now perched contentedly atop lumbar, thorax and cervical spine-sparing ergonomic wonders. Green X-ray death machine CRT terminals had finally met their maker, and no-glare, low-EMF monitors now stood in their stead, switching themselves on and off and notifying maintenance as needed, as did the HEPA-quality air filtering/conditioning system and the full-spectrum overhead lighting. The entire floor had been treated to a retrofitting with fibre-optic cable, and every computer was linked to the university’s Unix-based network. Dr. Ed’s department was a hospital within a hospital, the wealth and refinement of civilised Rome at the centre of an increasingly neglected and therefore chaotic Empire.

A few other departments had followed Dr. Ed’s lead in courting private sector monies. The Fertility Clinic was a good example, as was Physiotherapy. Ophthalmology was a contender, and though the Biotechnology lab in the basement was only just now catching on, it was said to be “making great strides”. But the vast bulk of the facility remained neglected, and the hospital was, in turn (so Dr. Ed felt) thereby neglecting its patients.

Shooting out of the service elevator at ground zero, Dr. Ed moved rapidly through the Los Alamos post-blast landscape of Emerg. Acoustic ceiling tiles were missing; wires were hanging down; the walls on the north side had been given one coat of a purplish gray two years ago, while the south facing wall retained its original ear-wax beige. The corridor was littered with gurneys, and as he rounded the corner into Admissions, he encountered the usual congestion: dozens of mothers and fathers, all with children in tow, were packed into the waiting room, all low-priority no-family-doctor influenza broken bone, etc. etc. cases. Dozens more milled about in the foyer, waiting their turn to be seen by the triage nurse before they could be allowed to wait their turn for a randomly multiple number of Medicare hours. Dr. Ed wove his way through them all with the speed, grace, and inexorability of an Yvan Cournoyer or a Guy Lafleur skating across the opposing team’s blue line.

Dr. Ed paused before entering the revolving door to the outside to look back, having noticed his psychiatric colleague and golfing partner, Bernie Berenstein, who was looking at a file. Dr. Ed remembered that he had promised, and forgotten, to take Bernie’s on-call on Monday. That wasn’t like him, forgetting like that. Luckily, nothing had come of it, and today, today was, well, today was another day.

Today was Wednesday. Wednesday, December 8th, 1993. It was both the anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment and a Roman Catholic feast day, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Orgtastic!! had reminded him of these facts with a sound file of his own choosing, sampled and programmed by his ‘son’ several months ago, not long after they had first made contact. The piece was from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater (not Christopher Hogwood’s commendable, all-digital 1989 release, recorded on period instruments with The Academy of Ancient Music, but the miraculous 1981 recording by Lamberto Gardelli, with the Ladies of The Hungarian Radio and Television Chorus—Dr. Ed knew his music, alright). But ah, ah yes, ‘Inflammatus’:


In the old days, in the very old days, a long, long, long time before he was Dr. Ed, Dr. Ed used to fast on Fridays (to mark Our Lord’s Passion) as well as on major feast days such as this. But that was in the old days. These days, he (most certainly) did not.