A story with a twist

Image of elevator button panel with no 13th floor "There are three kinds of people in this world: those who can count, and those who can't." Nowhere is this statement more profound than discovering, after you've entered a multi-storey building, that you've inadvertently become immersed into a game of "floor roulette".

Recently, my partner in crime was scheduled for day surgery at the Ottawa Hospital. Naturally, I accompanied her to the Civic Campus so she wouldn't be flying solo for the ordeal. As it turned out, I was not permitted to accompany her into the pre-operative waiting area so she remained alone, dressed in hospital garb, for four hours. The surgery, which she'd been waiting to be scheduled since October 2010, was inevitably cancelled with no indication of when it would be rescheduled. That, of course, is a topic worthy of addressing in another missive so no need to dwell on it any further here.

Leaving the third floor of the hospital, and my primary reason for being there alone in a pre-op waiting room, I opted to use the stairs to make my descent to the ground level and exit the hospital. I quickly discovered I had inadvertently been injected into a game of floor roulette. Or, put another way, thus began a storey with a twist:

The 1st Floor, as marked in the stairwell, wasn't actually the first floor. No wait... that's not quite right. The 1st floor was the 1st floor... it just wasn't the ground level floor. "Aw fer crissakes", I muttered under my breath as I dodged gurneys, IV poles and the sporadic abandoned wheelchair. "We have the ability to transplant a beating heart in a man's chest but we can't agree on a standard building floor number scheme?" The irony of it all baffled me as I navigated my way through the 1st floor labyrinth in search of an exit. Had I not been preoccupied with the time and making a bus connection on Carling Avenue, I might have envisioned myself a rubensesque version of Harrison Ford and began humming the Indiana Jones theme song.

Why, then, the confusion? What is the rationale behind a building's floor numbering scheme? The pundits, if one is to grant any credence to a Wikipedia source, suggest that "there are two major schemes in use across the world" today: the European model and the North American model. In most of Europe, including much of the Commonwealth, the 1st floor is the level above the ground floor. The ground floor, in essence, is assigned the number zero and is often given a special name to distinguish it as the ground level. In the North American model, which includes most of the English-speaking parts of Canada, the first floor is the floor at the ground level and the floor directly above it is the second floor.

While the Civic Campus appears to use the European floor numbering scheme it would be erroneous to conclude that this is the standard adopted by the Ottawa Hospital. The Riverside Campus, for example, uses the North American floor numbering scheme. Consequently, the words first floor have an entirely different meaning at the Civic Campus than they do at the Riverside Campus. Can you imagine if they used the same lackadaisical approach to identify body parts? Can you imagine the confusion if, for example, the word ear meant ear at the Riverside while at the Civic the word ear meant... er... um... urethra?

Doctor: "So Mr. Smith... what seems to be the problem with your ear?"

Mr. Smith: "I'm having trouble pissing through it!"

Submitted by Claude Hopper, 31 July 2012