Lack of space beats superstition on hospital’s 13th floor

Without black cats and broken mirrors, superstition gave way to necessity on the 13th floor of the UCSF Medical Center in Cole Valley.

The 15-floor, 600-bed hospital has put 32 patient beds on the 13th level, and construction is under way to place 16 intensive care beds on the floor, which was formerly off-limits to patients, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

“Due to superstitions, previous building designers didn’t use the 13th floor for patient care, but nowutility trumps that,” hospital spokeswoman Lauren Hamitt said. “We desperately need room for beds.”

Hamitt said there is a citywide shortage of hospital beds, and space for beds was scarce enough that hospital management moved patients on the 13th floor. The beds join the Cardiovascular Research Institute, which also calls the 13th floor home.

With patients now being treated on the 13th floor, building officials discussed whether to rename it to appease those who might be concerned by the unlucky number, but they decided to stick with 13 because of a lack of “compelling evidence” to support the superstition, Hamitt said.

Traditionally, the number 13 was seen as lucky in pagan cultures, and it still is in certain areas of the world, according to Jack Fertig, an astrologer in The City since 1977. He called the number a “powerful and dynamic” number for a variety of reasons, including the fact that there are 13 lunar months in a year.

But with the rise of the Roman Catholic Church, the formerly lucky 13 was caricatured as an unlucky number with correlations to Jesus Christ and his 12 apostles, one of whom, Judas, turned on him,Fertig said.

San Franciscans do not have to look further than a road map to find other evidence of superstitions around the number 13, Fertig said. If you count the avenues toward Ocean Beach, there is no 13th Avenue. In its place is Funston Avenue.

dsmith@examiner.com

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