The hospital has a circadian rhythm of its own


It wasn’t until I became a nurse that I realized how long a hospital hall could be! And, whether we are walking, rolling, or running down those halls, our steps can seem endless.

Oh sure. Current hospital halls may be relatively short, compared to the immense and cavernous wards of days gone by. But hospital halls have an open and hollow resonance of their own.  They echo profoundly, with their hard-tiled floors and steady stream of clattering equipment. Day and night, beds and wheelchairs, robots and carts clatter along, delivering patients and equipment, food and medication.

Always, there is the constant clatter and shuffle of so many feet as providers and patients, visitors and administrators scurry or scamper, saunter or shamble along those brightly lit corridors. The hospital is a unique kind of city, one that never sleeps.

Among the clatter and commotion are providers of every kind, many deep in thought with the strain of their load weighing heavily upon their brows. Others engage in loud and raucous banter, laughing and jostling to lighten their emotional load.

Scattered among the staff are the patients. Some amble with walkers or canes, some stroll on their own accord. Many ride in wheelchairs or stretchers, their faces tense with worry or pain, or the weight of their own mortality. Family and friends often surround the patients. There is an odd mix of conversation:  anxious whispers, nervous chatter, a discordant scattering of laughter among jarring sobs or silent tears.

Like the other nurses, I spend hours walking among these corridors. Day-after-day, week-after-week, month-after-month and year-after-year I walk among these halls. Sometimes, I push patients in wheelchairs, stretchers or beds. Sometimes, I amble with colleagues or family. Many times I have raced through the halls, responding to codes or delivering emergency supplies, my mind racing and my heart in my throat.

Most often, I walk these halls alone.

And always, I walk the line. Sometimes the line feels like a runway, with all of us on display: the healthcare professionals, the support staff, the patients and their guests. We walk in our odd assortment of clothes – stained scrubs and sharp suits, bright pajamas and faded gowns.

Over time, as I walk the line, like Johnny Cash, I have learned to “keep a close watch on this heart of mine.” I have learned to “keep my eyes wide open all the time.” And, like all health care professionals, I often “find myself alone when each day is through.”

But, unlike Cash, who sang, “As sure as night is dark and day is light,” the hospital has a circadian rhythm of its own. The halls are always bright and full of light. Even when these corridors are filled with some of the darkest moments of people’s lives. Even when no one is there to see the light.  Even when it would be more appropriate to dim the lights, the brightness burns on. And we all walk the line.

Laura Webb is a critical care nurse who blogs at

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