I first published the following on March 12, 2015 as a Facebook Note.
A couple days ago, I shared an article about how the old UCHSC campus is being demolished in order to make way for some new development. Clearly, the news of the demolition shook me more than I initially realized. Since reading the article, I’ve been thinking a lot about that campus and the really vivid memories I have of that place. It was a focal point for the first 20 or so years of my life.
First I was a patient. That started in the ’70s. Back then, we referred to the hospital as Colorado General. I got my hemophilia treatments there when I was little. Whenever I had a bleed (on average, about once a week), it meant a trip to the Pediatrics Department. The waiting room… I can still visualize the layout, almost exactly. In through the door, turn right… check-in counter on the immediate right, and the first waiting area on the left. Continue forward to the second waiting area, where the toys were crap, but there were interesting posters about nutrition and taking care of babies on the walls. In the first waiting area, there were two pieces of art that provided me with cumulative hours of fascination: one was a tapestry of a unicorn sitting in a golden pen, with white-trunked trees all around… later in life I would come to realize that was a copy of a relatively famous piece of art; the other was a mosaic of various celestial bodies including the sun and moon, both with very friendly and comforting faces.
There was the cranky old Pediatrics doctor who I always seemed to pass in the hallway when heading back to a treatment room. He called me “little girl” and I called him “pussy cat”. I have no idea how or why this started.
The treatment rooms. There were probably 8-10 treatment rooms, arranged on two parallel hallways, with a nurse’s station in between. As far as I’m concerned, there was only one treatment room: the one with the mural of the bright yellow VW Beetle on the wall. I can’t tell you what was on the wall of any of the other rooms. The VW room was MY ROOM. I didn’t always get it (and was disappointed when I didn’t), but it was still my room. I found the painting of the car comforting.
These rooms were also where I would go for my annual hemophilia evaluation. Basically, they would park you in a room and like eight different people would come around to talk to you about all sorts of stuff related to hemophilia. The doctor would come… and the treatment nurse… and the social worker… and the geneticist. For fuck’s sake… it always felt like it took all day, when in reality it was usually about two or three hours.
In the hallway, between visits, my parents (usually my dad) and I would meet and get to know other hemophilia patients. Some around my age, some much older. I met some of my earliest heroes and mentors in those hallways. A community was born in those hallways. Today, hemophilia treatment centers go to great lengths to keep patients from encountering one another during visits, largely because of HIPAA laws. This is unfortunate, and I believe an unintended consequence. Something important has been lost, or at least forced out to other venues, and that’s a real tragedy.
I won’t even go into the details of visits to the ER at Colorado General. I’ll just say I HATED that place. Most likely because, if I was there, I was also in blinding pain from a bleed.
My dad learned to give me my clotting factor in one of the treatment rooms I described above. This freed us: from about the age of 6 forward, I no longer had to sit in the car for half an hour in excruciating pain as my dad floored it across town to get me to my medicine. We could keep the medicine in our fridge, and do the treatments at home. I remember going with my dad to the Belle Bonfils Blood Center (a weird side-door on the medical school building across the street from the hospital) to pick up my clotting factor.
Later in life, the hospital and campus took on different meanings for me, although I was a patient of the hemophilia treatment center until I left Colorado.
My mom worked in a couple different research departments at the medical school. Somewhere along the way, they stopped calling it Colorado General and started calling it UCHSC: University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
My brother also worked there for a while, taking care of lab animals. I remember being very puzzled by the PETA freaks who would occasionally picket outside the medical school, because I had seen first-hand how well cared for and humanely treated the animals were there. Reality check, people: medical advances don’t happen without animal testing. It is simply a part of our reality. What went on at that facility was never arbitrary, reckless or abusive.
I also had a job there when I was in high school. I worked as an office assistant and general help in the Cardiac Electrophysiology department. I loved that job, because at the tender age of 16, I felt valued and important… I worked at a HOSPITAL. One of my jobs was to do xeroxing for my office. It was funny, because I had to go over to the copier on the skybridge. I had a relationship with that machine. Edwina, the sweet little matronly lady who worked in the office adjacent to the copy room swore up and down that I was the only one in the whole hospital who could make that damned copier work.
I also had a monstrous crush on a nurse named Linda who worked in the Gastroenterology department which happened to be located exactly between Cardiac EP and the copy room. I’m sure she just saw me as the kind of awkward, shy teenager with long hair who worked in EP. Sigh.
The best part of my time working there was getting to know the network of underground tunnels that connected the hospital to the medical school and the medical library. I knew where the secret break rooms were with the good vending machines that had the most delicious ice cream sandwiches on the planet. I also knew insider secrets like how to properly order an avocado, mushroom and swiss sub at All-V’s on 8th avenue, and what time the “burrito guy” showed up under the sky bridge.
One of my most profound memories was one of the simplest. I had a little free time one afternoon, and was over on the med school side of the bridge. I got curious and took the elevator up to the top floor (six or seven, I don’t recall). Unlike all the other floors that were brightly lit and open when you stepped off the elevator, this floor was silent as a tomb, lit only dimly. Directly opposite the elevators was a display case with a heavily oxidized bust of Eleanor Roosevelt. It was lit from the pedestal, which gave it a sort of creepy and ominous feeling. On the front of the pedestal was a small plaque which had inscribed one of her most famous quotes: “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” I’ve always carried that with me.
As I got older and began my professional life as a designer, my mom leveraged some of her connections to get me design work for various departments. One project in particular — the student prospectus for the Molecular Biology program — was a particularly fond memory for me. See, UCHSC had an in-house print shop and they had their own designer (another of many women I had a crush on at UCHSC). As such, they weren’t too thrilled about young upstart designers from outside the system beating their time. And man, they raked me over the coals on this particular project, because I specced a combination of printing techniques for the cover (including complicated screens and a large foil stamp) plus a really unorthodox paper choice, and it made them really grumpy because it was a bitch to print. They did it though, and did it beautifully. The department was DELIGHTED. But the cherry on top of it all, was that some months later, the print shop won an award for the piece. From that point on, they treated me like visiting royalty. I’m sure I was the only outside vendor they were ever so kind to.
I could go on and on about memories I have about that place. It was incredibly meaningful to me. And now it’s being torn down to make way for housing.
There’s an episode of Frasier which makes the observation that many of life’s big events (births, illnesses, recoveries, deaths) happen at a hospital. This is certainly the case for me. There are a lot of ghosts on that 2 blocks of land.
I’m not complaining. I get it. Life goes on. That’s valuable property, there at 9th and Colorado, and it’s been sitting empty for a long time. But I’m still sad to see it go. And so I let this doggerel stream forth from my keyboard in the hopes that somehow, some way… I don’t know… somebody will know that place had meaning… meaning that persists, even now as the buildings are being torn to the ground.
Goodbye old friend.