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!