Essays - Winter 2019

The Sleeper

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In a rural hospital, a patient passes the night without knowing how lucky he is to have avoided death

By Frank Huyler | December 3, 2018
Montgomery Martin/Alamy
Montgomery Martin/Alamy

From a distance, the building could be anything—offices or a factory, out in the scrub north of the city. You can see it for miles as you drive down the two-lane road, with mountains in the distance and the big sky overhead. At night, lit up from one end to the other, it gleams like a ship at sea.

But it’s only up close that you can tell what it is—a hospital, built in the middle of nowhere, where the land was cheap. From the windows of its higher rooms, you can look a long way out into the desert.

The hospital is brand-new. It was built to lure the health insurance of the suburbs. But the projections were off, and the money has come in a trickle rather than a gush. So other calculations have been made, services have been cut, and now the hospital feels shiny and bright and strangely empty at the same time.

When I work there, as I sometimes do, I’m always wary. It’s part of the endlessly uneasy solitude of medicine in small hospitals.

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