In Marathon , you're a cyborg. You have some kind of shield - force field, super-hard liquid shell, anti-matter battery, whatever - which you replenish by plugging yourself into a fuel unit on the wall, which is like charging your car battery by driving it since it doesn't run out. You only physically get hurt when your shield is broken.
How do the medical things on the wall in half-life work, then? You bleed, this is somehow healing you. Is it dispensing band-aids? Is it full of bloodbags from blood donors? What is that stuff?
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Are you referring to the health chargers or the HEV charger units, cause there were two in the original Half-Life. More detailed/animated versions of both can be found in the PS2 version of HL1. They should give a pretty clear idea on how they are supposed to work.