Abandoned Hospital at Raetihi

About a month ago a friend (she is a mid-wife) sent me a link to a set of photographs of the abandoned – and since demolished – hospital at Raetihi. It triggered powerful yet inchoate memories; for this was the place where I was born. Insofar as I can recover them, these memories are entirely at odds with the ambiance of the photographs. The stucco was white and gleaming, the roof red, the concrete forecourt swept and clean; while inside there was that peculiar hospital smell, compounded of disinfectant and cooked or cooking food, of body odours and the substances used to suppress them. There’s auditory recall as well: the sound of nurses’ sensible shoes squeaking down corridors floored with grey linoleum of the kind that seems to consist of several thicknesses with an air cushion beneath (or interleaved), so that it gives softly under the feet. The shoes, like the uniforms, were white; and the place seemed, to my childish mind, the acme of efficiency and a kind of sophistication I could only marvel at: here mysteries were daily enacted; here was a zone where error never came. But if, as I sometimes think, these fugitive memories are nearly as old as I am, then it is, precisely, error that has given them to me. I do not think I recall my actual birth; but I was a big baby and during it, my mother’s abdominal muscles tore and she had to return to the hospital for an operation to have the damage repaired. My sisters and I were breast-fed and so, aged six months or so, back to the hospital with my mother I went. In her autobiography she remarks that the surgeon, also our GP, one Dr. Jordan, asked her if she would like a navel? Or not? She said she would. I sometimes recall the odd occasion when I saw my mother’s tummy unveiled, as it were – she was ashamed of the scars, I think, and usually kept her midriff covered – and, inter alia, the pang of guilt I always felt. I must have known from a fairly young age that that rucked and wrinkled, that crenellated belly skin was, albeit obscurely, my own doing. Curiously, the arrival of the link to the set of pictures coincided with the anniversary of my mother’s death; twelve years to the day. Not that I attach any particular significance to that. However, the desolation of the images did make me wonder: mostly about the way our best endeavours fall inevitably into decay, how our optimistic building for the future always ends, as this place has ended, in ruin. This has perhaps a larger (tho’ not much larger) meaning. Raetihi was, when I knew it in the 1950s, in contrast to the dump that was Ohakune, a bustling service town for the surrounding farming district; here the streets were wide and the cars were new, the shops full of gleaming consumer goods, the footpaths thronged with well-dressed women in ’50s frocks, men wearing jackets and kids with their socks pulled up and their hair brushed or plaited or pony-tailed. Now it’s a ghost town. My mother, too, is a ghost. And I? I feel, not without a certain grim appreciation, my identity daily thinning towards the same fate.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Abandoned Hospital at Raetihi

  1. Clive

    What street was this hospital at

    • me

      I think it was in Ward Street – that’s where the Nurses Home, now Snowy Waters Lodge, is/was . . . & I certainly remember the hospital being in that part of town.

  2. Mark

    I’m part-way through Michael Jackson’s Road Markings–and your reflections–firstness–death–resonate with his observations.

    • me

      It’s a good book, isn’t it? I read it twice.

      • Mark

        Really enjoying it–love his voice, and insights–”it’s why we write…to make a space for the broken things in our lives”–and the stories no-one else remembers or knows about…

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