The Strange Case of the Barts Halloween Party

The Strange Case of the Barts Halloween Party

By Shai Porter

I haven’t yet discerned why it is that people regularly assume I would dislike children. I don’t dislike children. Children are fascinating creatures. They tend to ask very good questions, although, in one of life’s great tragedies, adults tend to give exceedingly poor answers. If a child were, for example, to ask me why the sky is blue, many would find such a query annoying. That’s because they are idiots. It would be a pleasant experience to discuss the reality of light refraction, as opposed to brushing an inquisitive mind aside with an idle comment about God having lots of blue crayons. Children have such an unfortunate lot in life. True, they are no longer roaming the streets of London in droves or off labouring in coal mines, but they are routinely lied to. Though one could make a case for adults being lied to just as routinely.

John had said I wouldn’t like most children, only the ones who remind me of myself. I suppose that is a fair enough assessment. Deducing which type of candy the children worthy of commendation most prefer as a reward for, say, dressing like a pirate (a fine choice of costume) does imply a certain degree of narcissism on my part. Still, someone has to get the chocolate miniatures and someone the candy corn, tootsie rolls, and pencils with the hospital logo upon them. Perhaps I should mention I am currently at Barts. The children’s wing is having its annual celebration for young patients too ill to go trick-or-treating. Not that trick-or-treating was ever all that popular, but it is becoming more so, and no one would deprive these children of their own version.

A vaguely mad-scientist-themed hospital banquet hall. An anatomical skeleton model dragged out of one of the teaching rooms. Black rubber bats dangling from ceiling tiles. Frozen-carbon-dioxide-imbued punch with two hands and a head floating in it (not actual hands and disappointing...simply gloves and a mask which had been filled with water and frozen and the mold discarded, leaving icy hands and a ghostly head in said punch). Perhaps they used latex gloves instead of nitrile? Close to 10% of healthcare workers are allergic due to repeated exposure before adequate precautions were taken. Anaphylactic shock would certainly liven things up. Thinking of such a scenario is inappropriate, I am well aware, but it is hardly my fault I find an event such as this one boring beyond endurance.

I recall, during our younger years, how Mycroft had especially despised Halloween—an American invader, rapidly supplanting Guy Fawkes Night which he deemed truly worthy of retention. His disapproval had not prevented him from happily gorging himself on Halloween candy, however. I never quite understood how an attempt to blow up Parliament could be turned into cause for celebration, being blissfully unaware of politics. Plus Mycroft wouldn’t frequent the building until many years later.

After the children finish parading around collecting sweets, there is to be a costume contest. At least there are children present, so attendees would avoid costumes more appropriate for one of those dreadful adult soirées where everyone was a naughty nurse, or a naughty witch or a naughty centurion or a naughty caveman or a naughty... oh, air traffic controller or something. Geoff has threatened to make an appearance dressed as a werewolf. He said he intends to chase some of the older children around a bit before the costume contest, but he needs to arrive quickly if he— oh. Well, they seem to be enjoying being chased around, if the screeching is any indication. I take cover behind the punch table, to safely survey the mayhem. A young girl with an abundance of freckles deftly manoeuvres her wheelchair around the table, but Geoff is far less skilled and clips the corner. No matter, I’ll just change so as not to spend the rest of the afternoon in damp trousers. I know Barts like the back of my hand; storage closet with extra scrubs, down the hall to the left.

I return just in time to witness the costume contest. John, ever the horror movie aficionado, has decided to dress as a zombie. He tried to persuade me to dress as a vampire, something about my cheekbones. I don’t know why he is so obsessed with them, nor do I understand what is so vampyric about that particular facial structure. “Costumes optional,” I reminded him. John does, however, make an excellent zombie, and I move closer to look at the line of contestants. One of the children is tasked with standing in front of each one to measure the level of applause and determine a winner; he seems to enjoy this role very much. Seeing me standing to the side, he approaches me as well. Being dressed as a doctor in a hospital barely qualifies as a costume, in my opinion, but I would never turn the child away. I do enjoy children. Not just the ones sufficiently like myself.

To my great surprise, the room erupts in applause as he gestures towards me. I instinctively look towards John, as I so often do when a social situation bemuses me, only to find him with his jaw dropped, muttering that he cannot believe he hadn’t noticed before now.

Apparently, I resemble some doctor-turned-mystic from a recent film and comic book. How strange.