Visits to Hospital


Sacred Heart Medical Center

What I’m about to share represents my memories and beliefs. Peggy’s memories and beliefs might differ.

Two weeks ago to the hour, I was at Eugene’s Sacred Heart Medical Center where a pretty Hong Kong surgeon was blowing me up with carbon dioxide, driving rods into my abdomen, and using a robot to repair three hernias.

Today, I drove Peggy to Sacred Heart for an endoscopy and colonoscopy. Two hours were allotted for the procedure, so I knew that if the phone rang in less than two hours, the news would be bad. I spent those hours strolling about the hospital’s 181-acre grounds and reflecting upon the long history that Peggy and I have had in—and around—hospitals. For her, this meant a 25-year career as a BSRN (a registered nurse with a four year degree). For me it meant working as a respiratory therapy technician, a phlebotomist, an ambulance driver, and a funeral director.

Peggy’s career took her to Mississippi, California, Minnesota, and Oregon, but she mostly worked here in Eugene at Sacred Heart Medical Center where the hospital’s greed, dishonesty, hypocrisy, and callousness, caused it to be deemed Sacred Dollar, and resulted in Peggy becoming so anguished, outraged, and disillusioned that she retired early. Today, my feelings toward Sacred Heart led me to mouth the word bullshit every time I came across a
wall-size rendering of the hospital’s mission statement: “We carry on the healing mission of Jesus Christ by promoting personal and community health, relieving pain and suffering, and treating each person in a loving and caring way.”

Despite its Catholic ownership, I doubt that there’s a higher percentage of Catholic employees at SHMC than in the local population (the habit-clad nuns left before Peggy’s arrival in ’86). The most common modern reminder of SHMC’s ownership is a bronze cross in every room (Peggy caught a man energetically ripping one from his wife’s wall), and there used to be a large outdoor statue of the Virgin Mary
from which the mother of one of Peggy’s L&D patients hung herselfbut I couldn’t find it today.

During our fifty-years together, Peggy has twice been hospitalized overnight, and I was in four times—for food poisoning, a knee replacement, and two shoulder surgeries. Prior to marriage, I was hospitalized three times. Is seven a lot? Perhaps, but with rising costs, laparoscopic advancements, and the growing threat of untreatable infections, people used to be hospitalized far more often. For example, in the old days, triple hernia repair would have necessitated cutting the patient open, so no one would be sent home the same day. This represents a change for the better, at least for those who have help at home. Without Peggy, I don’t know how I could manage right now. I take immense comfort in knowing that, no matter what is going on in her
life or mine, we will be there if the other needs us. 

During our long marriage, I’ve gone from believing that sex was the primary expression of emotional intimacy to realizing that a great many things outrank sex. For instance, adding someone’s name to your savings account; helping him or her bathe after surgery; holding hands while browsing old photos; sharing the anniversary of that first sacred night as “husband and wife”* ; or, if it should come to that, wiping a butt that you once considered too angelic to need wiping.

Peggy often came home from her first hospital
job—at the 105-bed King’s Daughters Hospital in rural Mississippiwith funny stories. For instance, one night at KDH, Peggy was working on second when the first floor nurse phoned to say that someone had fallen past room 108. Sure enough, Peggy looked out the window of 208 to find her patient lying on the ground. She called for an ambulance—the ambulance shed was just around the corner—and in no time at all, the ambulance came flying. Unfortunately, there was a heavy dew, so when the driver slammed on brakes, the huge vehicle kept right on going, barely missing the patient.

The patient later explained that he had wanted to go home without the usual formality—i.e. paying his bill
—so he did what you or I would have done, which was to pack-up his few clothes, urinal, bedpan, and water pitcher. After dropping his suitcase out the window, he mustered-up his optimism and took a flying leap in the direction of a limb on a loblolly pine. To his dismay, three unfortunate events then occurred: (1) the limb broke; (2) he hit the ground; (3) the limb hit him.

On another night at KDH, Peggy was working in the emergency room when an ambulance arrived with two shooting victims. The ER doctor decided to transfer them an hour’s drive north to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, so they were duly loaded—or rather re-loaded—into the ambulance, and Peggy was told to go with them. 

One man was unconscious, and although a bullet in his jaw made it impossible for the other to talk, he proved to be a voluble grunter, fist-shaker, and pantomimer, who was soon able to make Peggy understand that he and the other man had shot one another. She then became inordinately curious as to whether the doctor who had ordered her into the ambulance (where there was no place for her to sit except between the two men) had been privy to this information, but he later proved reticent on the topic.

Why did Peggy never come home with funny stories from SHMC? Maybe the fact that she worked in intensive care—that is until her back gave out from turning unconscious patients—followed by labor and delivery had something to do with it, as did the unhappy work environment, but I
’ve also wondered if small town informality might simply be a better vehicle for humor than city impersonality. Another relevant factor might be the grim, merciless, and spontaneity destroying political correctness that characterizes liberal institutions.

I only attended one “celebratory” get-together for the nurses who worked on Peggy
’s unit, and although I was well aware of what Peggy told me about her work situation, it was the first time that I got to see for myself how angry and miserable her fellow nurses were. As they wolfed their food, I reflected that I had seen more cheerful people at wakes, and that the absence of liquor appeared to be the only thing between them and a hair-yanking, eye-gouging brawl. 

Despite my contempt for Sacred Heart, I like knowing that the largest medical center between Portland and San Francisco (a distance of 650-miles) is just across town, and that there are thousands of people who have to drive for hours over icy mountain roads (all four grandparents of a newborn baby on Peggys unit died when their car slid from such a road) to reach a place that I can get to in fifteen minutes. If the surveys are right, SHMC’s patients feel as badly treated as its employees, yet SHMC still offers a variety of medical specialties, diagnostic tools, and advanced treatments, and the older I get, the more such things matter. Besides, the day might come when the Dollar trades its corporate indifference for a commitment to treat its patients and staff in a “...loving and caring way.” 


* Or, in the U.S. anyway, wife and wife or husband and husband,” at least until the Trumpian Supreme Court again allows conservative religious values to dominate marriage.