Tea room, common room, staff room, break room, whatever you call it most hospital wards have one.
Or do they?
Increasingly, in our overcrowded hospitals every square centimeter of architectural real-estate has become precious. And anecdotally at least, the ward tea room has become one of the first areas to feel the squeeze.
They are often tiny spartan furnished rooms with a single overstuffed fridge, perhaps sitting beside an equally overstuffed noticeboard, some tea and coffee making facilities and some old tables and chairs.
On the other hand, our own department is lucky enough to have a large tea room with a long central table and couches. We have over 130 nurses working in our unit, so it is usually messy and scruffy and contains several secret biological catastrophes encapsulated within its fridges.
But this room is as important to us as CPR.
I believe some newer wards have lost their tea rooms completely. Hospital administrators preferring the staff to use a hospital cafeteria area, imagining it will lead to a greater community cohesion amongst their staff.
Staff who, for the most part, remain impervious to this strategy and sit crowded around the tables grouped by ward teams anyways.
Architects and hospital administrators take note. The importance of this little space cannot be underestimated.
It is sanctuary.
It is hearth.
It is the hub of staff interactions, where communication mixes policy and practice discussions with personal debriefs, gossip, gobs of freely spilled dark humour, and wild, unprofessional celebration.
Over time and in unnoticed increments, amongst the old magazines and unwashed dishes, the individual ward identity develops and matures.
Staff gather to mourn their own, to mark birthdays and acknowledge professional development in their colleagues. It is dance hall, confessional and fortress of solitude.
The ward tea room can be the crucible that melts a strong team solder. It is a space to collectively rope-up and re-supply before setting out to navigate the Khumbu Icefall that is our hospital life.
It is a space that should not be taken.