I knew a man once who said the only reason to go to a hospital was to die. I thought about what he said when my 86-year-old mother was admitted to the hospital this week due to shortness of breath and a rapid heart rate. After spending some time with my mother there, I thought this man was completely off the mark about hospitals. Hospitals are more like gas stations than eternal rest stops. People are mainly here for tune-ups and repairs. Then they go on their way. And this hospital, like any good vehicle shop, was full of young, smart technicians using complex, computerized equipment, to do their repairs. I was impressed, and more than a little intimidated.
Jack, a tall, slim nurse, probably close to thirty, tapped the veins in my mother’s arm looking for a good one to attach an IV. Though his hair needed a wash and cut, his hand movements were quick and efficient. He apologized when he had to stick another needle in mom’s arm to add an additional IV line. Mom sighed and I patted her feet where they lay at the end of the bed, gently reminding her, “A feint-hearted warrior never won the battle field.” Jack didn’t look up from his work, but I saw a smile cross his face.
When Jack left, another young nurse with blue streaks running through her hair came into our room, and placed what looked like water wings, flotation devices for beginning swimmers, around my mother’s forearms. Then she turned to a mounted computer and began rapidly typing. Occasionally she glanced at the monitor above mom’s head, filled with line graphs and blinking numbers in different colors. Mom’s “vitals” were all there: heart rate, oxygen level etc.
“Is my mother taking a swim?”
“Pardon?” the blue-haired girl turned to me. I pointed to the water wings.
“Oh?” she nodded understanding. “Those are blood pressure monitors.”
I watched these highly skilled professionals wistfully, with their youthful flair and swagger. I’d love to know what they knew, and be a part of the kind of energy that was everywhere apparent in the hospital. I looked over at mom lying in her bed. She once was a nurse. Did she have these same thoughts? But mom was quiet and seemed more relieved than anything else. She’d been sick for a week or so, and was glad to be in a place where people could take care of her. My brother and his wife came, and then the doctor, a petite woman with iron-grey hair and tiger-striped eye-glasses hanging from jesses around her neck. She was one of the few doctors on duty this Sunday afternoon. I saw her constantly checking on the status of her other patients using her cell phone.
“Mrs. Holland can you tell me a little bit about your shortness of breath,” she asked mom.
“Mom has terrible allergies . . .” I began to explain.
Without looking up from the old-school note pad she was scribbling on, the doctor waved her flat-palmed hand at me. “Thank you, but let’s let your mother speak for herself, shall we?”
I shrunk back in my seat becoming the observer I was meant to be in this tableau. Overall, my sojourn at the hospital with mom was a humbling experience. The man who told me the only reason to go to the hospital was to die—was wrong. Yet in another way, he had a point. Confronted by such a large complex institution, even one with a mission of compassion and healing, a patient (and their family) must in some sense, die to themselves. They must give over their will in order that the hospital staff might help them. It’s not really a devil’s bargain; it’s one of mercy—and that of course, makes all the difference.
Image Credit: modern hospital room