Text Illustrations
THE EMPTY ASSIGNMENT


I was assigned to retrieve box number 673 A.


I took my little pink piece of paper with my assignment for the afternoon - find box #673 A, Humana Hospital, February 1970. I had just started to working at this medical file warehouse and so I naively thought that the boss was starting me off slow, I thought he was breaking me in gradually--I mean, a whole afternoon to find one box of files, how hard could it be?


I arrived at Warehouse #5 and flipped on the breaker switches and illuminated what would soon be an afternoon of agony. Warehouse #5 was one of the larger warehouses, and it happened to be where the very old files were stored. The files were stored in thousands of cardboard file boxes stacked six high and forever deep.


The life of a medical file starts at the hospital. At about six months, the file is then moved off-site to a medical file warehouse and placed on a shelf for quick retrieval. A call would come in for a particular file from whatever hospital, then the file would be retrieved and delivered to the hospital in 45 minutes or less. After about seven years, the file would be boxed up with other files and moved to where the old files go: Warehouse #5.


673 A, Humana Hospital, February 1970.


There loomed in front of me thousands upon thousands of boxes of files. I walked quite a ways and found the section that contained Humana Hospital files, approximately 3,000 boxes. Now, in a normal medical file warehouse, the boxes of files would be first placed in numerical order: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. Second, the boxes of files would be placed in rows, so that one could walk up and down the rows and quickly locate the needed box. But in Warehouse #5, I had in front of me one huge stack of boxes of files--all out of order, all stacked together, no rows, no aisles, just one big solid block of boxes. They expected me to find this box in one afternoon! Holy Smokes!


So the idea quickly occurred to me that I might get lucky, and the box I needed might be on the outside of the stack--no such luck. So I grabbed my hand truck and started removing stacks of boxes.


You know how life is, the box I needed was nowhere in the first one thousand and nowhere in the second one thousand; it was in the last one thousand. Finally, I saw it--there it was, the long sought-after box, 673 A, Humana Hospital, February 1970. To this day, I can recite the box information with ease.


My arms were killing me, I could barely move another box, but there it was, and it took only four hours to find it. So I took hold of box 673 A, Humana Hospital, February 1970, and gave it a heave--the box was surprisingly light, so light that I almost lost my balance.


Curious, I lifted the lid off from the box, and to my surprise - THE BOX WAS COMPLETELY EMPTY! Not a single file lay in this box. I moved almost three thousand boxes for literally, nothing.


My boss was amazed that I showed up for work the next day.

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