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.

Excerpt from a New Book 18 (Draft)

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.