Saturday, March 28, 2020
When the butterfly-shaped Rush University Medical Center opened in 2012 on the near West Side, I took a tour. I'm not sure why; they must have invited me, and I went, having a professional interest in hospitals. I've been inside most hospitals in the city, and watched surgical procedures at quite a few of them.
Eight years later I only remember one thing about the tour, because I've repeated it over the years, as an interesting factoid. That the lobby of Rush is cleverly designed to be turned into a field hospital, with oxygen outlets and power sources hidden in the pillars for instance, so that should disaster strike the city, they could immediately fill the place with beds and start treating a large number of patients in the large space.
What kind of a disaster could that be? I mused at the time. A 9/11 attack of some sorts. I tried to wrap my head around the possibilities, but gave up. I really couldn't.
Now we know. On March 11, the hospital announced it's going into "Surge Mode," "as preparations for a potential sharp increase in patients with COVID-19 move into a new phase." Since much of the hospital is designed to handle airborne infectious disease—their emergency room bays have doors, for instance, instead of the usual curtains, and whole wards can be negatively pressurized to keep contaminated air from leaking out—the lobby ward will be used to handle non-COVID-19 cases, to free up hospital space for those battling the virus.
Maybe because eight years ago it seems such a distant, improbable, end-of-the-world possibility, that it gave me an extra jolt this week to realize that the long-planned for calamity is upon us now, and as of Friday Rush is now ramping up their lobby field hospital for the very worst, which might arrive within the next few weeks.