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Jewish World Review Jan. 8, 2002 / 24 Teves, 5762

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Hospitals make me sick -- FOR many, these past few weeks have been a time of food, family, fun and, by extension, hospitalization. For my dad, it was an irregular heartbeat that sent him to the emergency room the Thursday before New Year's. Who can say whether having four grandsons descend on his apartment, bouncing on his bed, crying for cartoons and practicing "chandelier soccer" might have brought on any of his symptoms?

Not I. But somehow, 24 hours into our reunion, dad was admitted to the hospital. This gave us all ample opportunity to marvel at modern medicine.

Like modern medical "pajamas" - Charmin-thin robes that tie in the back, when both ties are still attached. Which they aren't. One has always been torn off, leading otherwise pain-racked, doubled-over, postsurgical basket cases to jump-start their physical therapy by twisting backward (Yeow!) in a desperate attempt to cover their rears.

"And then the nurses ask you if you're cold," says Bruce Bobbins, a friend who's been hospitalized a lot.

Of course, the nurses know better than anyone what the patient's temperature is, since they took it at 5 a.m., and before that at midnight (between the pill deliveries, blood tests and the all-important, dead-of-night refill of the water jug). My colleague Nancy was actually once awakened at 4 a.m. by a nurse's aide cheerily wondering, "Are you ready for your oral hygiene?"

Gee, are you ready for a toothbrush up. ...

Ahem. Yes, yes, I know: Nurses and aides are harried, caring professionals, just trying to do their job. They are overworked, underpaid and forced to affix tiny stuffed animals to their pockets. Over they years they have honed many important skills, like how to ignore loud, incessant beeps. The nurses know it's just a battery running down. The patients, of course, think it's their kidneys.

"Anyway, why do the machines beep in my room?" asks Julie Kurnitz, a local comedienne who has written about her hospital stays. "I don't know how to change the battery. Why doesn't it beep at the desk, so I can get some sleep?"

Hey, if Julie really wanted some shuteye, all she had to do was hobble over to the elevators. Press the button and presto: Nothing happens. You are guaranteed 10 minutes of absolute stillness, until at last the door creaks opens with all the speed of a hip-replacement post-op crossing the pool.

If you ever do manage to catch a hospital elevator, just be sure you don't get off in the basement. There, between the lockers, janitor's closet and low-slung pipes (lobotomy patients, watch out!) you will find the admissions office. Oh, it's not called that. It's called the cafeteria. But since it's brimming with meat loaf, gravy and chocolate cream pie, we all know why it's there.

Same reason dentists give out candy.

Amazingly, my dad and the rest of us - even those who ate the meat loaf - managed to leave by New Year's. For this, I'd like to thank his doctors, nurses and aides. One way or another, they drove him out of there.

JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2002, New York Daily News