Excerpt from a New Book 19 (draft)

I got out of the car and approached it.  It was a cold morning.  Really cold.  The first time of the trip when I could feel what a Northeast winter was capable of really doing.  And it wasn’t fun.  I pulled up my hood and gripped my collar closed, leaned forward and marched ahead to the door.

       My first impression was that it looked nothing like the building I grew up with, and certainly no place you’d expect to have your appendix removed in.  This looked more like a Hyatt; and a good one too.  But here was the big question: was it Holistic too?  Would I hear New Age music tinkling in the air?

     It took me exactly three minutes for those inquiries to be answered.  Before I could reach the door, drifting and floating music emanated from somewhere. I don’t where it was coming from, but there was a lot of emanating going on.  It was soothing.  I walked in to see what was up.  Somehow I felt that, even though some may have advocated healthy external forces for curative purposes, most patients were not going to forgo the best modern technology could offer.

     Once inside, I was confronted with a kind of imposing reception desk, and there were two wings which jutted out to the left and right were roped off.  This turned me off, but I guess it was understandable.  Most hospitals tend to want to keep some control on who is entering, so there was nothing necessarily special about that.  Nothing too Grenwegian.  The last thing I wanted to do was engage in explaining why I was there, because my answer would have been, “Oh, I was just looking around.”  And that tends to make people feel tense.

     So I bypassed the desk and headed for the lounge where I spotted the gift store.  Now, there was a place to visit!  Gift stores can tell you a lot about a place and the one in Greenwich promised to supply the customer with only the most select products.  Godiva chocolates in the shape of a aorta?  Moet Chandon for your IV bottle?  Carolina Herrera operating hairnets?

     To my surprise and relief, the store featured a lot of down-to-earth basics from dreary night gowns and toiletries to baby items and mainstream books.  The kind of things you would expect to find there or anywhere.  The offer was fairly low-key and the prices reasonable from what I could tell.  I found this all quite heartening, which did not mean I did not run into a few oddities more suitable for a bazaar, like a full-fledged nativity scene the size of a couch.  Who on Earth would purchase such a thing there?  But if it was there, clearly there must have been some kind of market for it.  It being December 29th, the item was on sale and a good deal in fact, but I refrained.

      If pressed to make any suggestion it would probably be the removal of greeting cards with the “Farewell and Best of Luck” motif on it.  I mean, honestly, was that the kind of message you would want to convey at a hospital?  Just who would be the receiver of such a thing?  Can you imagine paying for one, signing it, stuffing it in an envelope and taking it up to your friend in the ICU?  Or taking one of those up to a room for someone in pre-op and saying “This is for you, we’ve all signed.  Good luck buddy!”  My favorite was the one with the cover bidding farewell in something like ten languages: “Goodbye, Adios, Adieu, Arrivederci, Sayonara, Saijan.”  Unbelievable.  Someone clearly should bring this to their attention.  That someone is me.

       It was comforting to find the candy-stripers though.  They were the classic volunteers of young and old, though at this time of year, the senior citizens took on the brunt of the load.  Some of my sisters were candy-stripers; that, I can remember.

         Oh well, I moved on and browsed around the place.  It was pretty, there was no doubt, and pleasant to walk around in.  We came upon a sign indicating where all the departments were, and to be honest, it was difficult to find out just what was what because all of them were named after people or different neighborhoods in Greenwich.  The Glenville this, the Byram That, The Myanus Watchamacallit and so on.  I did locate the oncology ward, that was true, but the rest was a pure mystery, and it gave me an eerie sensation that no one really wanted me to know that there were patients behind that magnificent lobby.  Something hidden behind all those niceties. Something straight out of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, if you get what I mean.   It was as if the last thing people wanted to know was the crude reality of medicine in practice going on beyond those limits.  But it’s there.  If the hospital’s website is to be trusted to any extent, medicine is what they do.  Here is a sampling of the kind of services you can find there.

     The Greenwich Hospital looked like a perfectly fine hospital.  It was certainly large and more grandiose than the version I recall, and perhaps pristine to an unsettling degree, like some modern funeral homes, but I guess it was alright.  I didn’t find more examples of holistic medicine other than the entrance melody, but if my mom says it’s there, I have no reason to doubt her.

     So, is it a good hospital?  I’d like to say it is, but I also like to look into these things.  I have heard great stories about GH and some not so hot ones.  I’ve read terrible reviews and some brilliant opinions, though the former tend to come from disgruntled patients who want to make their displeasure very clear and very public.

     A little more serious research on my part has come up with some fairly inconclusive conclusions.  In the very least, it’s a very solid middleweight general hospital, and a topnotch one in some areas, but it is not immune to screwups.  Ratings go all over the place.  The negative ones point out eyebrow-raising observations, such as the low survivability in certain categories like stroke victims.  These findings were worded with a discouraging “worse than expected”.  That might explain those farewell cards down in the gift shop.  And yet, others seem to indicate that the death rate across the board is generally lower than most state and national averages.  So go figure.

     I honestly find it hard to believe that an association with those means would be doing in so many people.  Plus almost all surveys show that the patient satisfaction rate is high, with over 81% recommending it.  And I doubt they are saying that because it’s the ideal place to kick the bucket before your time.  Or maybe they are.  Almost everyone raves about the beautiful facilities, the friendly staff and, here’s the universal point of praise, the excellent food.  Nothing less than outstanding.  Who wouldn’t want to bite the dust there?

         I also get the feeling that people from Greenwich go to their hospital for the more straightforward stuff and revert to nearbyNew Yorkhospitals for the really specialized stuff.   Speaking of out-of-staters, a string of reviews from patients who were not from the town had wonderful words for the center.  Many commended the staff for their efficiency and friendliness, and remarked how natural and normal the workers were with them despite not being fancy, wealthy patients.  There it is again.  That money thing.

      Does that make the hospital “just your ordinary hospital”?  Well, in many ways it might be, but think about this: Wednesday’s meal menu features “lobster night”, so on that note, I will let you draw your own conclusions.

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