Speaking of medical centers, I pulled up to the Greenwich Hospital early that day, it wasn’t really a visit down Maternity Ward Memory Lane but rather a quest to see what had become of the old place over the years, and, if it had become the holistic temple that my mom suggested the evening before. Would there be Indian music and candy-stripers draped in healing beads and things like that.
Driving towards the hospital did not trigger any childhood traumas like being stuck with a ten-inch needle, or having my shin bone cracked back into place. I was a child of great fortune in this sense. I had never really had to go there to be treated for anything too serious. Never even spent the night. The worst was a visit to the emergency room to have a bleeding toe cared for after I had walked into a knife that had been stuck in the ground in our backyard. Allow me to explain.
There were a few summers when my brothers were shipped off to Indiana to a military summer camp called Culver. Now, doesn’t that sound like the kind of fun you look for as a 12-year-old! Reveille at dawn and Nazi-youth dressed counselors barking orders left and right. I have never been there, I escaped forced labor somehow, but from what I hear the camp must have been a kind of place the weeds out the strong from the weak under the guise that you are having fun. Those places unnerve me.
In all seriousness, their experience did not go without its benefits. One brother had become quite an expert in Indian dances, which is just the kind of formative skill that in no way serves a youth from the New York Metropolitan area, but does make for thrilling summer evenings when life would otherwise be slow and uneventful. For a time there, he was into building bonfires large enough to scorch the neighborhood and he would leap around them nimbly and even hop over one on occasion as long as the flames were high enough to snap at his gonads.
I have to hand it him, in that thick muggy August night air, and with the fire dancing around like feisty organ pipes, the whole effect was pretty impressive. Oftentimes, to get something set up, we needed to aid of a knife, and being a bunch of numbskulls we would usually choose the one that boasted the biggest and sharpest blade. Then we would stick it into the ground in John Wayne fashion, and forget about it as we raced around barefoot beneath the tricky dusk light. And that, my friends, was the cause of it all. It was my fault, mind you, and the scene, though not toe-threatening, did produce its fair share of bloodiness. One of sisters took me to the hospital and made it through all right with a first-rate band-aid and bandage. Not even a stitch.
And that was the beginning and end of my Greenwich Hospital experience as a child.
Though the hospital was in the same place as always, I could barely recognize it. Really. It had completely changed, resembling its former self only in that it shared the word “hospital” on the sign. A look at the history of this institution is a kind of century-long chronological analysis of dissatisfaction. You see, the Greenwich Hospital has been redone so many times over the past one hundred years, it’s hard to imagine a moment when someone wasn’t tearing down a wall or hammering in a nail. And one gets the feeling that when the board members weren’t actually renovating, they were drawing up the blueprints for the upcoming refurbishment.
The Hospital was founded in1903 ina building called the Octagon House (we can reasonably imagine its shape), but not long after, it moved to a larger location up on Milbank Avenue in 1906, where it acted as the town’s medical center until a new hospital large enough to accommodate the town’s increasing population was constructed. The new building was finished and functioning in 1916. The new site was on Perryridge Road, where the hospital stands till this day.
It was then later expanded in 1930, 1932, 1934 and one more time in 1940, before they decided that it just wasn’t big enough and, apparently never would. So, after a period of raising the necessary funds, a new building was completed in 1951. A south wing was added to that in 1963. Then a huge overhaul took place in 1978. This was theGreenwichHospitalas I basically remember it; a cross-shaped edifice, white on the outside, clean and broad on the inside. Just your standard, straightforward, classic 70s-looking-soap-opera-fashion hospital, if you know what I mean. It was really big, and looked plenty modern to me…but that just shows you how little I know about major clinics. It also proves how much I underestimated the board of directors’ will to outdo itself every five years.
In the early 90s it was determined yet again that the facilities were inadequate in both size and technology and that something had to be done about it. They did two things: one was to have the institution join the Yale-New Haven Health System. This boosted its category from just to solid municipal hospital to a first-class medical center which covered most specialties and even offered classes. We are talking about a whole different level altogether.
They also built. Naturally. It started in 1997. This time, there were no add-ons, no expanding, no sprucing up. They just pulled the whole thing down and basically started over. I also wanted to see the results, even though it was ten years later.