Changing the Hospital Narrative

It happens this way …

I used to hate hospitals. When I was in sixth grade, I fractured an ankle while ice skating on Woodbridge pond on New Year’s Eve. I walked about a half mile on it before an aunt and uncle, who were on their way to pick me up on this bitter cold day, found me and got me to a hospital.

Image spending a week in a hospital bed waiting for swelling to go down before the ankle could be casted. I don’t think insurance companies would allow that today.

Anyway, after a week in the children’s ward where I learned how to master a bedpan, I went home. Because our elementary school didn’t have wheelchair access – it was the ‘50s – I stayed home for six weeks and developed a “nervous stomach” because I was missing school. (Over-achiever back then!) It took until sophomore year in high school not to get sick before taking tests.

And it took decades to get over my aversion to hospitals. So yesterday’s trip to Portland’s Adventist Medical Center for minor hand surgery was a delightful adventure. Between the time I arrived at 6:30 a.m. to register and left at 1:20 p.m., I met sixteen staffers and gathered a number of great stories. (Hey, writers find material wherever, right?)

One of my favorites was the young Seventh Day Adventist Chaplin –  2O’s, tall, slender, trimmed beard, cute – I met early on.  A near-by nurse shared he was pining over a beautiful ER doctor and didn’t know how to approach her. On the spot we concocted a fantasy scenario: I would go outside, feign a heart attack, go to the ER, and ask for a Chaplin.  Sounded good!

Since we had made this fun connection, when he arrived at my bedside before surgery and asked me if I wanted to pray with him, I didn’t hesitate. What did I want to pray for? he asked. How about my doctor and anesthisologist? How about all the nurses who work in the hospital? All the patients? The universe of this beautiful place?

We held hands while he said a touching prayer I could easily pray with him. When I asked him if being a Chaplin was his calling, he surprised me with “no.” He was a scientist and was using this experience to keep himself “holistic.” The division between science and religion didn’t exist for him. How refreshing and enlightening.

There were many more wonderful people with stories that touched my heart. I’m sure I’ll be processing them for weeks to come. What a long way from that sixth grade hospital stay – and I’m grateful!


This morning! Little pinkie surgery can’t keep a gardener down!

The East Coast Diaries, Part VIII

It happens this way …

July 5: We left Philly for a final visit with my mom and a delightful lunch with my Mount student Ampy Pikarsky (’72) and her incredible husband Jeff. We landed back at the Mount to rejuvenate and spend time with old friends.


The House of Prayer


Mt. St. Mary Motherhouse and Academy


Me and Sister Maria


Kathy and Sister Maria


Sister Mary Jo (left) drove us down the Garden State Parkway to Bradley Beach to visit with Sisters  Rosemary, Janice…


… Kathy with Sister Eileen


… Sister Linda with Molly

Tuesday, July 9: We woke to the cloudy, cool weather of Clackamas and the abundant colors of early July. More blooms to come! There’s no place like home –except in all those places where people make you feel at home. Thanks, New Jersey and Philadelphia!

The East Coast Diaries, Part VII

It happens this way …

The 4th of July in Philadelphia where it all started! My Mount student Rhonda Fabian (’75) and her husband Jerry met us for front row seats at the parade and a special lunch at the City Tavern. Paul Revere arrived at the Tavern in May 1774 to announce Parliament’s closing the port of Boston. The next day, two to three hundred prominent Philadelphians meet at City Tavern to select a committee of correspondence to draft a letter of sympathy for Revere to take back to Boston.


Leaving Rhonda and Jerry, Kathy and I stopped at another incredible museum: the National Museum of American Jewish History (

national-museum-of-american (1)


Shall we send Washington’s words to D.C.?

We took an evening stroll to see the Liberty Bell at night and meet another re-enactor. Then up on the roof of our hotel’s parking garage for the fireworks from Penn’s Landing.

What an unforgetable four days in the City of Brotherly Love! I learned so much about the fragility of our “American experiment.” What vision the Founders had and we’re still trying to figure out how to make it real. I have a fantasy that all elected officials should be required to spend a week in Philadelphia studying the intent of the people who died to create a new world order based on equality. I filled up with tears every time I read or saw: “We hold these truths ….” They were “self-evident” in 1776. May they become self-evident again in our time.

The East Coast Diaries, Part VI

It happens this way …

We continued July 3 with a visit to the magnificent National Constitution Center. Outside, re-enacters roamed the mall with their tents, costumes, and stories told in character. It was another brutally hot day, but they wore those colonial costumes with grace!


The only room that allowed photos was the Hall of Signers. We kept expecting these bronze statues to talk to us as we barged in on their conversations.


Almost at the end of a perfect day: a concert on the Independence Hall Mall with the Philadelphia Pops and Susan Egan. Great crowd, great sound system, perfect evening.


The real end of the day: a stroll down to Penn’s Landing. A ferris wheel and an outdoor roller skating rink. Hanging poles of lights with hammocks strung between trees. The Ben Franklin Bridge,


It almost feels as if July 4 will be anti-climatic. NOT!

The East Coast Diaries, Part V

It happens this way …

July 3rd started a block away from our hotel with a celebration with the Philadelphia Fire Department. Since Benjamin Franklin founded the first department, his bust stands proudly near the station.


Then on to the Fire Hall Museum.


Adjacent to this Museum is Elfreth’s Alley, an exceptional collection of early American structures built between the 1720s and 1830s. Diverse artisans first lived here.  Later, working class immigrations lived and worked nearby. Today, the houses are privately owned. One recently sold for $800K. One factoid: Because buildings were taxed based on the number of windows and outside steps and walls they had, the buildings are attached  with street-level entries.


Next: Betsy Ross’s House where we met “Elizabeth” herself. She corrected us on her name and allowed us to take a “portrait” not a “photo” of her!



The third of July will be continued!

The East Coast Diaries, Part IV

It happens this way …

Tuesday, July 2: My dear sister/friend, Bernadette Pape who works for the Jesuits in Merion, Pennsylvania, came into town for a stroll and breakfast at the Reading Terminal Market. Although we hadn’t seen each other in over 30 years, it seemed like yesterday. These kinds of history-sharers are so special.


Then, Kathy and I met at the African American Museum. The top two floors are art museums; the lower, interactive spaces for children to draw and learn history.



“Whole Hole,” 2015 made with plastic pocket combs


“Mother’s Wisdom or Cotton Candy,” 2011. Photograph.

This re-enactment actor was telling a room full of school children the story of a young slave girl who saved George Washington’s life. She had prepared his favorite sweetpea dish and saw a strange man sneak in and sprinkle something on it. She didn’t know the man or what he had done until she heard Washington’s aides discuss the possibility of spies in the area. Just as George was about to eat the dish, she put two and two together, grabbed the plate, and threw it out the window. Of course, the men in the room were astonished and were going to arrest her until they saw the chickens out in the yard eat the peas and drop dead. What would have happened to history without the young slave who paid attention?


The Second Bank Portrait Gallery houses this incredible statue of George Washington and portraits of many of the men who shaped the young republic. We heard two of many free lectures on the history of the time delivered by well-informed Park Service Rangers, the caretakers of sites like these.


Kathy got tickets for a 4:00 p.m. tour of Independence Hall. Another Park Ranger gave us more insight into the arguments and compromises the Founders battled through. The forgotten art: compromise! Although most of the pieces of furniture are replicas, the original chair Washington sat in was the real deal.



Take a moment to read this. It is revolutionary — and still a work-in-progress.



Washington’s chair sits in front of this room where delegates hammered out the details of the Constitution. The top features a half-sun. Benjamin Franklin is purported to have wondered if it was a sun-rise or a sun-set since the future of the new government was still so precarious. However, he concluded that, indeed, it was a sunrise, giving the “American experiment” a positive spin. We’re still experimenting, no?

A violent thunderstorm hit the city tonight, so we were happy to hunker down and regroup for the next day’s activities.

The East Coast Diaries, Part III

It happens this way …

If you thought we were finished on Monday, July 1, you would be so wrong! We discovered that the new Museum of the American Revolution was free, so we moseyed over there at 5 p.m. only to be informed that all free tickets were gone. Playing rebels ourselves, we were not daunted. We were invited to watch a 15-minute documentary about the Revolution as a consolation prize but, when it was over, we joined lines of people heading up the stairs to the exhibits. George Washington would have been very proud of our prowess! And four cheers for New Jersey and its role in the war.

As we stood at the exhibit in the bottom right photo, we met a beautiful young Haitian woman who teaches history here in Philadelphia. She enlightened us. “We are not responsible for the past, but we are for the present.” I needed to hear that. She also told us of the important role Haitians played in helping the colonists’ cause. Where is that in any history book?


And we weren’t finished yet! An evening stroll led us to the Chinese Lantern Festival a few blocks from our hotel. What a perfect way to end an extraordinary day!


Finally,  off to bed!