Monday, November 2, 2009

Divinipotent About Hospitals

“A hospital bed is a parked taxi with the meter running.”
~ Groucho Marx

A sad fact of life: As you grow older your friends and relatives grow older, too. As a result, even if you are healthy, you spend more and more time in hospitals. And the more time you spend there, the more you realize what strange places they are.

“One of the most difficult things to contend with in a hospital is the assumption on the part of the staff that because you have lost your gall bladder you have also lost your mind.”
~ Jean Kerr

Hospitals house two simultaneous, conflicting realities. For patients and their loved ones, hospitals are places of crisis, with all the drama, heightened emotions and tunnel vision crises create. A normally kind and caring person may be a little less so in a hospital. A demanding, selfish or controlling person will be a nightmare. Meanwhile, to doctors and nurses and other trained staff, hospitals are like NASA on launch day: professionals are calmly going about the business of making life and death decisions.

"Hospitals, like airports and supermarkets, only pretend to be open nights and weekends."

~ Molly Haskell

A hospital at night is far eerier than any haunted house. The lights are dimmed and the soundtrack consists of muffled televisions, beeping and clicking machines, the moans of people in pain and the occasional clatter of carts and staff racing to an unlucky patient's room. And those are just the expected atmospherics. Some years ago, while staying overnight with a sick child in one of New York's best known hospitals, Divinipotent Daily was not at all pleased to see mice racing around the halls and across the countertops of the patient kitchen. This is when a hospital begins to resemble the frenetic and hilarious 1971 Paddy Chayefsky film, The Hospital, where a serial killer stalks the darkened corridors.

"A hospital is no place to be sick."
~ Samuel Goldwyn

Some hospitals are so understaffed, so filled with stressed out, angry people, that you fear to leave your loved one there. The worst of the worst in this visitor's experience was the geriatric unit of a major suburban hospital. Located out of the sight of the main hospital, the geriatric building was a warehouse for the elderly and helpless that might have been modeled on an inner ring of hell. Room after room contained patients who were totally unable to care for themselves. Many had dementia, most were incontinent, all were severely ill. And yet the hospital had allocated only one nurse and one aid for an entire floor. It was no surprise when a month or two later the hospital lost its formerly glowing rating.

“I recently went to a new doctor and noticed he was located in something called the Professional Building. I felt better right away.”
~ George Carlin

Almost all hospitals are better than that, and some are are truly wonderful places where staff are not only intelligent and well-trained, they make you feel safe. New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan and St. Francis Hospital on Long Island are two where, in Divinipotent Daily's experience, people work hard to live up to the ideal described by W.H. Auden:

"A doctor, like anyone else who has to deal with human beings, each of them unique, cannot be a scientist; he is either, like the surgeon, a craftsman, or, like the physician and the psychologist, an artist. This means that in order to be a good doctor a man must also have a good character, that is to say, whatever weaknesses and foibles he may have, he must love his fellow human beings in the concrete and desire their good before his own."
~ W. H. Auden

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