Gerry was a blind employee who walked the hospital halls where I worked. His daylight hours were spent in an x-ray darkroom where he developed images that were otherwise invisible to those with normal eyesight.
Whenever our paths crossed, I helped Gerry navigate the doorways.
One day, I held open a door that allowed me a glimpse into his sightless world. The door separated the parking deck from the hospital and was constructed from thick tempered glass. The positive air pressure of the hospital ventilation system, together with a taut spring-loaded hinge, returned the heavy door to the closed position with considerable force. A manual push-bar at waist level served as the opening device.
Gerry and I had shared many doors and my routine stayed the same. I would say hello to announce my presence, and Gerry would tap his way through the door. He always said “thank you” as he passed. This time however, Gerry stopped at the jam and felt for the opening device. Slowly, he slid both hands along the bar while he cautiously inched his way through the doorway. Once free of the door, Gerry looked back and thanked me.
Gerry carried on down the hall, but I stopped to consider the situation. Gerry knew my voice and on prior occasions he had trusted me to keep the door open. I wondered why he hadn’t on this occasion?
Usually I parked at the front of the hospital and came in through the main doors, but a recent policy change restricted the more proximal lot exclusively to patients. The bus had just dropped Gerry off and this was the first time we had shared the parking deck door.
As I watched a stream of hospital personnel navigate the door, I witnessed a spectrum of hold-the-door-open behaviors. There were those who understood someone was following, and held the door carefully until the individual had either passed through or safely secured the heavy door. There was also a group who were oblivious to those who followed. Between these extremes were individuals who held the door open for a variable period. Most were in a rush and tried to judge the minimal “safe” duration. Some displayed a paradoxical irritation with their politeness and used body language to expedite the arrival of those who followed. Only a few patient individuals achieved safe release. For the rest, the premature disengagement often made negotiation of the closing door more difficult, and sometimes potentially dangerous.
During the short time I watched, I saw several near accidents and realized Gerry must have had a bad experience with this door.
Then I understood.
For most doors I could be relied upon, but this door was different. Caution is a way of life for the blind, and from their perspective, the dangerous difference between trust and betrayal is a hurried human moment.