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October 5, 2017

There’s nothing that’s really new about NRAH

Even with all its good design and fresh functionality, the New Royal Adelaide Hospital will always be essentially the same as the old one.

  • Words: Farrin Foster

Yesterday, I entered the New Royal Adelaide Hospital (NRAH) for the first time.

It’s a short walk from the CityMag office.

Farrin Foster is CityMag’s editor

Although it’s only been open a few weeks, its impact on the West End is visible already. As I crossed Morphett Street and took Hindley west towards the hospital doors, I could see businesses, like the newly-opened West Oak Hotel, overflowing with the side trade that comes from bundling thousands of people in one corner of the city.

The NRAH building shines at the corner of West and North Terraces, and I was carried through its doors to where I wanted to go using a series of smartly designed and well-placed signs.

Waiting for the lift, I looked out on the central courtyard – filled with trees and lovely landscaping, it passes natural light into many of the wings of the hospital.

I remembered the last few times I’d visited the Old Royal Adelaide Hospital, with its dark rabbit warren corridors that had accumulated years of scuffing, scratches, and anguish – and I thought how different this was.

And then I opened the door of the room in which my friend lay, and I realised that in all the ways that matter most, there is no difference between NRAH and ORAH.

I have spent a lot of time in hospitals. Hooked to oxygen machines as a child. In Glenside with my Grandmother. In the Intensive Care Unit at Flinders with my Brother. Over, and over, and over again in the emergency department at the RAH with my Grandad. By my uncle’s bedside in Modbury.

A shiny corridor makes no difference to what these places are. Regardless of the trappings, hospitals are where you go when you, or a person you love, has been brought low by a terrible force that’s beyond your control.

Hospitals are accidental monuments to our mortality.

Within their walls is both our struggle and triumph against it, and our uneasy submission to it. No amount of set dressing can erase that. No central courtyard can remove the stress from the faces of the staff who work here, trying to hold sickness at bay, or the vulnerability from the bodies and minds of those under their care.

But maybe there are things about NRAH that will ease the burden a little. Your own room, with a window, could provide a tiny slice of solace in a time when everything seems like far, far too much to cope with.

I hope that’s the case.

Because as I left NRAH, swept out by the same smooth navigational tools that swept me in, a panic of memories rose up and lodged below my sternum.

My feet carried me the short distance back to the office, and I steeled myself to get on with the job at hand.

Life. Fucking. Goes. On, I told myself. But the memory of the hospital – although the building is so new – already managed to echo back to me the knowledge that sometimes life doesn’t go on. Sometimes, it ends.

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