Summary of “Seven Floors” by Dino Buzzati

Seven Floors Dino Buzzati Summary storeys
“Seven Floors” Summary

“Seven Floors”, also translated as “Seven Storeys”, is a short story by Dino Buzzati about a man with a mild illness that checks himself into a nursing home. It specializes in the treatment of his condition, featuring highly competent doctors and efficient equipment. Even with its lack of tension, as it becomes clear quite quickly there’s only one direction for him to move, the story held my interest impressively. It succeeds in being both serious and humorous at the same time. Here’s a summary of “Seven Floors”.

“Seven Floors” Summary

On a March morning, Giovanni Corte arrives in town and walks to the sanatorium that specializes in his particular illness, which is only a mild case. The institution is a seven-story white building that looks vaguely like a hotel. He’s taken up to the seventh and top floor to a bright, nicely-furnished room with a view of the grounds.

A nurse comes to his room and they talk about the facility. The patients are divided by floor based on the severity of their illness—very mild cases on the seventh floor down to hopeless cases on the first floor. A different doctor oversees each floor, and there’s a noticeable difference in the severity of sickness on each floor.

When the nurse leaves, Giovanni looks out the window, hoping to see someone from the first floor. He can’t, because most of the windows are covered with lowered venetian blinds. There’s another man at the window next to his and they start talking. He arrived two months ago with his brother, who’s now on the fourth floor. There aren’t a lot of people on the ground floor because many died this morning. The venetian blinds get closed when this happens. Giovanni looks at the first floor windows, imagining the ghastly cases inside and feeling relieved he’s so far away from it.

A doctor visits and Giovanni is relieved that he’s to stay on the seventh floor and he’ll probably be cured in three weeks. For about ten days, Giovanni follows the treatment protocol precisely, but his condition stays the same. The head nurse asks if he’d be willing to switch rooms to allow an arriving family to have adjoining rooms. Giovanni agrees and then finds out his new room will be on the sixth floor. He’s worried but is assured the move is not medically motivated and is only temporary.

The sixth floor feels more a part of the “real” hospital, and it’s openly acknowledged the patients are sick. Giovanni quickly realizes it will be hard to regain his spot on the seventh floor. He makes it known to his fellow patients and the staff that he’s only there on a technicality and he’ll be leaving in a few days. His new doctor agrees, but isn’t eager to send him back. He describes Giovanni’s illness in more aggressive terms than he’s heard before.

One day, the Director introduces a new policy. The bottom half of patients (with more serious symptoms) on each floor will be moved down one floor. With half the seventh floor being dropped to the sixth, Giovanni is hopeful he’ll get his spot back with the extra rooms available. When the nurse informs him he’s being moved to the fifth floor, he loses his temper.

The doctor agrees Giovanni could easily qualify for the seventh floor. It’s only that the illness is so widespread that kept him on the sixth. Getting moved to the fifth was likely an administrative error. He advises Giovanni to accept the move calmly and benefit from the new doctor’s greater experience. With his temperature rising and his strength lacking, Giovanni relents. He’s the healthiest person on the fifth floor, but is also aware that there are two barriers above between him and the outside world.

“Seven Floors” Summary, Cont’d

Spring progresses but Giovanni’s main illness stays the same. When a patch of eczema breaks out on his leg, the doctor can clear it up with digamma ray. Unfortunately, the apparatus is on the fourth floor and he doesn’t want Giovanni walking up and down the stairs that much. He’ll have to move down, just until the eczema clears up. Giovanni absolutely refuses.

The eczema spreads and makes him increasingly uncomfortable. After three days he volunteers to move down for the treatment. He’s easily in the best shape of anyone on the fourth floor. He reminds his new doctor that he would still be on the seventh floor if not for all the extenuating circumstances. The doctor disagrees; Giovanni is definitely sick. He tactfully allows that the sixth floor would be acceptable for him.

Giovanni is devastated by this unbiased opinion from his new, more experienced doctor. The others were deceiving him. His temperature rises in the evening.

Giovanni’s stay on the fourth floor is peaceful. The doctor spends lots of time with him talking. They discuss his previous work as a lawyer but, in the end, it always comes back around to his illness. The digamma rays haven’t cured the eczema, only prevented any further spread. The destruction in his cells is mild but obstinate.

The doctor speaks frankly. If he became a patient, he would immediately move to a lower floor, the second or third, where the doctors and equipment are better. The institutions founder, Professor Dati, works on the lower floors himself. Once his illness turns around with the superior treatment, he could be moved up again, possibly right to the seventh. He tells Giovanni this many times.

Finally, giving in to the eczema, Giovanni agrees to go down to the third floor. The doctors and nurses are unusually upbeat, despite the serious cases around them. He finds out they’re going on holiday in three days for two weeks. During that time, the third floor residents move down to the second. Giovanni is terrified by this news. He’s unable to prevent the situation, but he insists his new room has a sign identifying him as a third floor resident.

Giovanni counts the days until he can return to the third floor. His new room is more gloomy and he can sometimes hear sounds of suffering from below. His temperature rises and he gets weaker. After a week, nurses come to move him to the first floor. They have the order from Professor Dati himself.

Giovanni shrieks with terror and rage. The doctor comes and listens to Giovanni’s story. He’s angry at the nurse for the mistake. Unfortunately, Professor Dati is away briefly and his orders must be followed in the meantime. Giovanni is overcome with fear, trembling and crying. He gets moved to the first floor, even though he should really be on the sixth.

Giovanni lies on his bed staring at the trees through the window. Noticing the leaves never move, he thinks they’re not real. He wonders how many years it’s going to take him to move up all those floors and finally be released.

The room is going dark. Turning his head to look at his watch, he sees it’s three-thirty in the afternoon. Turning back, he sees the venetian blinds slowly dropping.

I hope this summary of “Seven Floors” by Dino Buzzati was helpful.