Creative Non-Fiction - Flash 

The walls of The American Hospital in Dubai weren’t painted a haze blue or a salmon pink. They weren’t covered in scrapes from trollies and cheap scenic art prints. Nurses didn’t rush through the hallways and patients didn’t wait in flimsy chairs along the sides. The American Hospital looked more like an art gallery than a hospital.  A coat – probably two – of an unscratchable eggshell white covered the walls. The abstract art hung frameless, labeled and undistributed. Not a panicked patient or a sassy nurse in sight.
The American Hospital looked different from other hospitals, but the smell was all too familiar. Of disinfectant, bleach and sterilized laundry. This time, I wasn’t visiting a new mother, a friend who got their tonsils removed, or a sickly ancient relative. This time, my first time at the American Hospital, I headed straight to the ICU.
“A minor brain stroke like this is common with stress,” I heard the doctor say when the double doors to the spaceship-like unit unlatched. My nose wrinkled from a sharp waft of rubbing alcohol. Mom walked away from the doctor, towards me, and wrapped her arms around my neck. Her Bulgari perfume clung to the fuzzy wool of her chunky sweater that itched against my cheek. Mom squeezed my ten-year-old body tighter and the smells wrestled in my nose.
“They make good carrot cake,” Mom whispere. “You know, that little café in the hospital lobby.” I loved carrot cake. I know she brought it up to distract me.
“Where’s Dad?”
“He’s okay.”
“I said where.”
            The air in Dad’s unit was dense; the result of a humidifier that sat on a free-hanging glossy white shelf. The humidifier didn’t mask the rubbing alcohol, only adding to it, a minty blast. Wires travelled from Dad’s chest, along crisp white bed sheets, to a beeping monitor. I dangled my feet off the edge of the bed, as Dad slipped his cold fingers over mine and smiled. Then cried. And I hoped then, that the bleach and the alcohol and the disinfectant had begun to irritate his eyes, like they did mine.
            “Did you see the paintings in the lobby?” he said, wiping his tears with the back of his free hand. I loved to paint. He too was trying to distract me.

You see my theory is that the smell of hospitals serves a purpose: it distracts from the reality of humans at their weakest; a dying grandparent, a recovering cancer patient, a hand-tied surgeon, a helpless nurse, a speechless mother. Or a father, tearful in front of his daughter, for the first time.

Back to Top