Saturday, May 12, 2007

Horse Altitudes

I was sitting with the consultant across the hall from my office in the nurses break room. She was giving me my final lesson in using our new voice activated dictation software, a program named Dragon that has a desktop icon featuring a dog, and a headset emblazoned with a parrot. Despite (or maybe because of) its mixed zoological metaphor, I had to confess a growing fondness for the software: it is capable of both astounding accuracy, and hilariously surreal mistakes (vide infra.) I probably enjoy the hilarious mistakes more than I do the astounding accuracy, but that's another story. As we sat there reviewing text macros and vocabulary training, suddenly the fire alarm went off.

Don't worry about that, I said cheerfully to the consultant, It's usually nothing. I proceeded to yammer on about the alarm -- three bells pitched a step apart sounding at three different tempi -- until we both became aware of some frenzied activity outside the door.

It's a fire ! Right outside your office ! exclaimed Nurse Sally. The office manager sprinted past with a fire extinguisher. I dashed into my office to rescue my backpack, pulled aside the slatted blind and saw a wall of white smoke.

By the time I got outside, the fire was out. By all accounts it had been a swift, spectacular blaze, going from a few flames flickering in the mulch to a small pine tree fully engulfed in flames within a matter of minutes. I stared at the blackened, smoldering tree skeleton. My tree ! I'd enjoyed that tree and the little now-singed bush beside it. In winter, I liked watching snow pile up on its branches. And now this ! I felt a bit ill.

Then I got pissed. Damned smokers, I thought. I'd been complaining for years about how the hospital entrance's "No Smoking Within 25 Feet of Building" sign simply moved smokers a distance down the sidewalk to the yellow newspaper vending box just outside my office window. Less than ten feet away, I might add, from the building. All day I watch people stand there smoking -- some with IV poles, hospital gowns and hospital bracelets -- and drinking coffee, tossing butts into the mulch and leaving their Dunkin' Donuts empties on the newspaper box. Afternoons, if any door or window is open, the stench of tobacco smoke pours into the clinic. And I get pissed, and rant, but can't help thinking that the smoker's probably got some dying loved one in the ICU and who am I to add to their woes by getting on their case. So I simply fire off another self-righteous email to the office manager lamenting the non-enforement of the smoking policy and let it go at that.

But now there had been a casualty. A tree was dead. Bushes were singed.

My office window was cracked.

There were victims, VICTIMS !!!

I got on my high horse. It whinnied and snorted, up for a good fight. Is there any atmosphere more envigorating than what's found in the horse altitudes ?

Then it came. The revelation. I dismounted and stared, wide-eyed, at the dead tree. There had been a burning bush right outside my office window !

A burning bush ! I turned to the person beside me, an ER nurse.

It was a burning bush ! I exclaimed. Like in the Bible ! God spoke to Moses from a burning bush ! First my dictation software is a fire-breathing dragon and then my laptop takes to surreal and gnomic utterances, and now there's a freakin' burning bush right outside my office window ! Well, there was one, and I missed it, and now it's just a burnt-out bush, maybe like Graham Greene's burnt-out case, but what does it all mean ? My God !!!

She peered at me, and, with wide eyes and a frozen little smile, slowly backed away.

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