Posted by: tommybrennan | February 21, 2012

Woodhull Killed Me. (Part 4)

After the first week at Woodhull, we knew that this behemoth could be tamed.  It would take a lot of time, effort, and creativity.  We knew that we could do the project, but we had to get faster.  I solicited the aid of my 14 year old son John, and Jim convinced his college age son Patrick to help us.  Patrick was about 6’9” so that was to be of great help in the project, especially when a shot had to be taken high up the wall over the doors.

When I look back at the summer of 2002, I am still blown away by what we accomplished.  We drew every door, wall, window, plumbing fixture, fire hose cabinet, fire extinguisher, room name and room number.  To a precision of ¼”.  For a building that was over a million square feet.  In Brooklyn.  In Bedford Stuyvesant.

We were staying at the Pan American Hotel in Queens, as it was the cheapest hotel in the city that we could find.  We started the project with the assumption that we would be able to buy our meals.  This usually meant breakfast at the Sage Diner (now the Pop Diner) which had an incredible retro, 1950’s interior.  Really authentic.  I would usually get oatmeal or eggs and several cups of strong coffee. Jim would get a full breakfast.  Eggs, pancakes, hash browns, the works.  He grew up on a farm, and breakfast meant fuel.  He learned the lesson of eating a good meal in the morning so he had energy all day long.  It served him well.  We needed all the help we could get.

The commute to Woodhull from Queens was fairly circuitous.  On a good day, we could get there in 15 minutes.  On a bad day, it was at least a half an hour.  We would take the Long Island (LI) Expressway and then take Flushing to Broadway, to Marcus Garvey Blvd, and then we would park on Park, Throop, or near PS 373.  It was not unusual to park about a 1/4 mile away and have to walk with our equipment (computer cart, laptop, backpack with laser devices, tape measures, short ladder, extension cords, lunch, chocks, target, levels and speed square) across hot, sweltering pavement in July and August weather.  We were usually soaked with sweat by the time we got to the Main Lobby.

Once we got to the main lobby, the scene was something that I have a tough time describing.  Woodhull is in the middle of a very impoverished and very rough neighborhood.  It rises 10 stories, and stretches across a city block.  It is over 725 feet long.  It is clearly the most dominant structure in its neighborhood.  It is a magnet for people, and there are always men, women, children, some homeless, some hopeless, some hapless, and some happy, sitting in the shade of the building.  Some are waiting for buses.  Some are corralling their children on the way home.  Some are just hanging out.  And some are visiting a loved one at Woodhull.  It is an amazing cross section of US culture.  Many languages are spoken, there are practically no white people, and there is always a buzz of activity.  I was unquestionably a minority in this context.

Entering the lobby at Woodhull is not much different than the outside.  There is always a din, and many people that have no business at Woodhull are milling around.  Some are homeless, some are psych patients who have been discharged but have nowhere else to go, and some have nothing better to do.  Woodhull provides shelter and safety.  At least in a relative sense.  The bathrooms on the first floor are commonly used by the people in the neighborhood, and I saw more than a few people bathing at the sinks.  This is all tolerated by the administration at Woodhull, as these people have nowhere else to go.   Even though this is not how I would want to run a hospital, I cannot fault the administration for allowing this. It is the compassionate thing to do in a neighborhood like this.  If you ever saw Woodhull, you would understand.

Once we got into the hospital, we would roll our cart and our equipment to the next location that was to be measured.  We would take the elevator and walk to where we had left off the day before.  We would plug in our laptop, using an extension cord so we could access the hospitals twist lock-type power.  We would then begin our 12 hour day by one man taking a laser measurement and calling it out.  The other man would draw the element in AutoCAD.  When we got to a door, we would specify left or right door swing and the door width.  A scaled block would then be inserted into the drawing at the precise point in the floor plan.  We would then continue past the door, drafting the interior cuts and jogs of the wall line, following the drywall until the room was complete.  Windows were inserted at their precise locations.  Room names and numbers recorded.  Toilets placed.  This would continue on at a good pace until an error was found.  These were obvious, because a wall would appear to be a foot thick when we knew it was only 4”.  This required a close review of the area we just drew.  Verifying each measurement until we found the error.  Sometimes we found these quickly.  Other times (far too often) we would spend an hour trying to find where the problem was.  It could be maddening. Lunch was always a welcome break.

Lunch at Woodhull started out as McDonalds from the corner.  We ran out of money, and started to brown bag after a few weeks.  We would sit in the Woodhull cafeteria on the first floor and eat our lunch.  Usually a sliced turkey sandwich with cheese on whole wheat bread.  Clementines became our favored dessert.  Chips of some kind provided carbs so we could keep working those long hours.   We would usually buy cold milk or iced tea from the cafeteria.  The cafeteria was not much different than the main lobby.  A lot of people were in there who had no hospital business.  There was always someone interesting to watch or listen to.  We greatly appreciated our lunch breaks.  It was always tough to get going again after lunch.

Back upstairs.  Back to measuring.  Back to drawing.  Neck bent down.  Typing numbers and twiddling a mouse.  Legs stiffening due to standing for too long.  Intense levels of frustration as the space simply wouldn’t cooperate.  Step away.  Stretch the back, the arms, the legs, the neck.  Drink an iced tea.  Draw.  Move down the hall.  Draw another section.  Troubleshoot.  Save the drawing.  Then the computer would sound a warning beep as the battery was running down because there was not an outlet nearby.  Save the drawing.  Frantically run to find an outlet before the work was lost.  Over and over again.    Answering the same question every day: “What are you all doing here?”  “Well Ma’am, we are drawing the floor plans for the hospital.  Creating as built blue prints”.  “The whole hospital???!!!”  “Yes Ma’am.”  And then some sincere expression of exasperation, unbelief, astonishment and pity from the enquirer. I have to admit, it was satisfying to bring a novel experience to this city that has seen everything, even if it was the novelty of a couple of white guys trying to accomplish an impossible feat in the most unlikely place, for the most inscrutable reasons.

At the end of the day, we were whipped.  We usually left at dusk or dark.  We had to walk a ¼ mile to our car with all of our equipment.  The night was still stifling hot, and the hospital still had people milling around outside of it.  This never changed.  24 hours a day.  The hospital that never sleeps.  We would get to the car, unlock the doors.  Throw the cart and equipment in the trunk of my Lumina and finally sit down on those blessed burgundy seats as the tension and pressure drained away.  I would crank the air conditioning, which thankfully worked very well, and navigate back to the Pan American.

Back at the hotel, we would call our wives and talk about the day.  I would also talk to people back at the office about other projects.  But Woodhull was my priority.  I would mentally check off the days progress: 14,646 square feet today.  Another day down.  20% of this trip is done.  I get to leave on Friday.  Thank you Jesus, for getting me through another day.  Bless my wife and kids.  Help us to get this done quickly.  Bless the guy I saw who is dying of cancer.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.

Lather, rinse, and repeat.

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