NHS Nightingale Hospital

By Ellen Dorrington

They built a field hospital a few minutes away from where I live. I can walk five minutes and find its entrance. They closed it a few months ago but it still lingers: a lone security guard sitting by the big windows, eating a sandwich. A flag on the bridge: thank you NHS, next to the Samaritans sign, it’s not too late. Don’t jump.

My memories of the field hospital are complex. It’s an exhibition centre so it changes shape: sneaking in to gawp at the cosplayers, for Comicon. Iced lattes in my hand, the condensation rolling down the plastic cup onto my fingers, as I search for a place to study for my exams. I went to the London Marathon running show. My mum bought me new running shorts. I ran around the streets, passing the big square of it, made of glass and light. I felt faster in the fabric, I felt like the money had made me richer, that it had been sewn into it: my mother’s support. It’s a big, blank space. It becomes what it needs to be. (In March it becomes a holding space for the sick).

When it was a field hospital I didn’t go near it. I walked the other way. I was afraid at what it would bring to the streets surrounding my house: people’s agony. People’s hope, that will sit tight in the air. Sweat and suffering.

Ann Boyer wrote of the pain of a cure. The pain of so much more: of the last days. Of misfortune. Of your body being one of the unlucky ones.

I thought of families and their love being pulled tight as a string. It ties me to my house: I roam the walls I grew up in, I look after my mum, we make dinners for each other and sit in the garden and laugh. I am one of the lucky ones. I stay inside to keep the strings intact. I know there is a family outside like mine.

Today I sit in the garden. I’m safe within these brick walls: the virus doesn’t exist here. I feel connected to the world around me. I look out my window. We all look out our windows. We applaud into the night sky, our hands hanging out of window frames. I think of how our the skin of our hands only touches our own skin. How lonely it feels. What is there to miss? Everyone else is at home too.

I don’t want my streets to be filled with the bodies of people mourning. I don’t want my streets to be the place where someone died. I want time to march solidly on, for all who visit here. I don’t want them to feel that in between time, the time right after when someone dies, and it’s infused with lemon light, and as solid as cloud. I don’t want to see the faces of people and wonder if they belong to someone who is dying.

They built two mortuaries. Who decides these things? Who is the person who says these things need to be done?

I like to think of the roars of the sirens. I like to think that the blank space, like heaven, will be used for healing too. I like to think of how, when all of this is over, we’ll hold our hands out of car windows, or press our cool head to the window, or smudge the condensation into water, and will touch onto the glass and remember. And we open the windows. And we can clap again.


Ellen Dorrington (she/her) is a 22 year old poet, prose, and life writer living in east London. She is a recent graduate with a degree in Creative Writing with Publishing. Her work has been published in multiple anthologies and she has been listed as a special mention in the Spread The Word Life Writing Prize 2020. Find her on Twitter @EllenDorrington.

This piece is a part of DISTANCED 3.0.

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