Every night, I make the four-minute walk from our apartment to the hospital. The trip is short and mundane, but often the highlight of my day. Taipei can be oppressively hot when the sun is out, but the evenings are often beautifully mild and breezy. All around the VGH campus, people sit outside chatting and enjoying the night: families with small children, couples, elderly. It’s no small joy to see people laughing and having a good time in a place where there is also so much suffering and pain.
In particular, I love seeing all the old men hanging out in their hospital pajamas, cigarette in one hand and IV stand in the other. It’s a perfect picture of defiance – or maybe just habit. Oddly, it’s also quite calming to see – and helps me put a lot of this past year into perspective.
But the walk isn’t all peace and tranquility – there’s also a few moments of pure terror. Let me explain.
To get to VGH from our flat, you enter through a nondescript gate at the rear of the campus and walk through a parking lot to the main building. The lot runs along drainage channel about fifteen feet wide. (In the photo, the lot is in the foreground; the channel and main building are at left.)
At night, the parking lot is a feeding ground for what looks like several hundred bats. The bats flitter chaotically between the channel and the high lamps, devouring mosquitoes and terrifying passerby like myself. (OK, maybe only myself…none of the other passerby seem to notice or care.) Navigating this gauntlet of hungry bats, many of which of which fly uncomfortably close, is nerve-wracking. I try to keep myself calm by recalling grade school lessons about bats and their superior navigational SONAR. But I also can’t forget the story I read long ago about the young girl that died of rabies after being lightly scratched – lightly scratched! – by a passing bat.
As I write this, I realize that if there’s ever a good place to be scratched, bitten, mutilated, gouged, pecked, or clawed by a bat, it’s probably the parking lot of a major metropolitan hospital. I’ll just have to keep calm enough to remember this on my walk later tonight.
(Veterans General Hospital, Taipei)