Letters To The Editor

A medical center is not a hospital

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To the Editor: As a grateful patient of Dr. Lansdale, and as a fortunate, rather healthy soul without medical knowledge and without, up to now, much experience as a hospital inmate, I fully acknowledge that you may well deem me a dubious, uninformed, and even biased commentator on “ A medical center is not a hospital .” However, I deeply appreciated Dr. Lansdale’s important essay, and I commend you for publishing it. The conditions he describes contrast dramatically with those of yore.

Dr. Lansdale’s essay took me back many years to the time of my mother’s illness, when medicine was practiced differently, and, as she suffered bravely and eventually died of cancer, I recalled myself watching warily with the keen eyes of a child.

Our experience with Mother’s nurses and doctors was unforgettable, for, in nearly every case, we knew we were dealing with men and women of the profoundest dedication. Mother’s nurses at the Harkness Pavilion of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center treated her (she died the day JFK was elected president) with unbounded tenderness, compassion, and patience.

They moved gracefully, walked quietly in her room, spoke softly but clearly to her, and to me, a girl, they seemed like angels. Nothing was too much; they fluffed her pillows, propped the window to give her fresh air, refrained from rattling or jarring the equipment, and seemed to sense what she was feeling and to provide accordingly. Her care was a kind of devotion, I felt, and there was no sense of rush or artificial curtailment of their responses to her. They always had a kind word for me as well.

And where has this sense of vocation gone? I have no doubt there are still many who enter the health professions with a deep desire to alleviate the suffering of others, but, as Dr. Lansdale’s essay shows, these people are now constrained, limited, and held back. Their care is degraded and seen as a job, a workload. What has happened to the sense of joy in alleviating even a moment of pain by administering a cold washcloth, finding a warm blanket, or holding a hand? This I saw years ago.

As for Dr. Lansdale himself, when I had the first and only major operation of my life, he appeared unexpectedly in my hospital room on a Sunday morning a couple of days later. In his arms were a container of soup he had made himself and a tiny vase of flowers grown by his wife. Tears filled my eyes after he left because he made me realize that he saw me not just as a broken body but as a human being who loved loveliness and who was on the way back to health.

The ancient Greeks understood that medicine and nursing are arts. They still are. And artists must be given the freedom, time, and chance to follow their best instincts. They deserve our honor and trust.

Next Article:

The hospital guy redux

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