Seven Stories, a short story by Dino Buzzati, here translated by Rebecca Heath, opens with some unnerving and ominous lines. It chronicles the tale of a man, who checks into hospital with only a slight fever and, begins a slow, almost imperceptible, descent into a medical and bureaucratic inferno inside a sanatorium. A sanatorium where the healthier patients reside on the seventh floor, and where the dead await to undertake their their final journey from the ground floor.
In many ways it is a psychological thriller, where the line between hypochondria and true illness becomes progressively less distinct, and a patient becomes Death's work in progress. Buzzati's imagination is rich in metaphors and allegories, while his writing is tight and, at times, almost clinical. These two elelments rub against each other to create a growing and tragic claustrophobic tension. What begins like a routine check becomes a fight for survival, that gathers pace and intensity, as the patient is moved forever down. To the ground.
Nobody writes like Buzzati.
After a lifetime as a succesful journalist, he is keenly aware that what we want to hear and truth take divergent paths, at the most critical of times in our lives.
And there is little we can do about it.
"One morning in March, after a day's train ride, Giuseppe Corte arrived in a city where there was a famous sanitarium. He had a slight fever, but even so he insisted on walking from the station to the hospital, carrying his small suitcase.
Although showing only the earliest signs of the disease, Giuseppe Corte had been advised to seek treatment at the renowned sanitarium where they specialized in treating just this one malady, guaranteeing a high level of medical competence and the most rational and effective use of the facilities.
When Giuseppe Corte caught sight of the hospital from a distance - and he recognized it from having seen its photograph in a brochure - the sanitarium made an excellent impression on him. The façade of the white seven-storied building was broken by a series of alcoves that gave it the appearance of a hotel. It was surrounded by a perimeter of tall trees.
After a brief medical examination, pending a more detailed one, Giuseppe Corte was put in a cheerful room on the seventh and last floor. The furniture and upholstery were light in color and in good condition, and the wooden armchairs had cushions covered in multicolored fabric. A window opened on to a view of one of the most beautiful districts of the city. Everything was serene, hospitable and reassuring.
Giuseppe Corte went to bed immediately and, once the bedside light was on, began reading a book he had brought with him. A short time later a nurse came into ask if he wanted anything.
Giuseppe Corte did not want anything, but gladly started talking to the young woman, asking for information about the sanitarium, and it was through her that he learned of the hospital's unusual features. The patients were distributed floor by floor according to the severity of their illness. The seventh, that is, the top floor, was for those who were only slightly sick. Patients who were only moderately ill but needed monitoring were assigned to the sixth floor. Onthe fifth they treated those who were more seriously ill and so on, floor by floor.Gravely ill patients were on the second floor and hopeless cases were on the first.
This odd system, besides greatly expediting the operation of the hospital,prevented a patient who was only slightly sick from being disturbed by another who was dying, and ensured the same atmosphere on every floor; it also facilitated the matching of treatment to the condition of the patients."