By Ken Bradbury
She told me, “If you come back to Passavant again, you might want to change your name.” Barb was the nurse at our local hospital and after I had spent a couple of nights there about twenty years ago I’d written what I thought was a humorous newspaper column about my stay. I had jokingly commented that the night nurse hid outside my hospital room waiting to hear me snore so she could run in to wake me and give me a sleeping pill. I was joking! Just joking, for gosh sakes! But Barb warned me that the above-mentioned nurse didn’t see anything funny about the account of my stay and advised that I check in using an assumed name from then on. Never anger a woman holding a needle.
People always complain about their hospitals then rush to them when they’re in trouble. Peoria citizens complain about their hospitals, Springfield patients grouse about their medical facilities and I’m sure that someone in Rochester, Minn., is grousing tonight about having a lousy place like the Mayo Clinic in town. I think it’s the atmosphere. No one gripes about Disney World because you’re there to have fun, but when you enter Passavant, chances are you’re not having your best day. It’s likely your disposition rather than your physician. Hospitals and churches have a lot in common in that you can get a bad burger at your favorite fast food joint and you’ll return, but if you think you’re ill treated by a pastor or nurse then you vow to never come back.
Until recently, entering the Out Patient entrance at Passavant was the best part of the trip in that you’d be met by the delightful laughter of Calvin Forman at the door. Calvin could make the Grinch giggle. I once had an actor fall off the Triopia stage and as we sat in the Emergency Room waiting our turn, he said, “That guy at the door made me feel better already. He must be an actor.” I told him that he was close. Forman was a minister.
And speaking of Happy Cal, one of Passavant’s greatest assets is its Department of Volunteers. In fact, I’ve never seen a place with so many volunteers. Everywhere you look there’s a welcoming local friend greeting you at the front desk, running the gift shop, delivering your mail and in fact, I have this secret fear of someday entering the operating room at Passavant for brain surgery and having the surgeon lean over my half anesthetized body and say, “Excuse me. This may take a bit longer. I’m a volunteer.” Of course few institutions have a department head as intimidating as Jan Fellhauer, head of the Volunteer Department. She’s one of the reasons I got caller ID for my phone, for when Jan calls you’d better say yes. Rumor has it that the town’s south cemetery is filled with those who didn’t. The good news: if you’re short on pallbearers Jan will gladly get volunteers.
In fact, nearly every irritation you might have with Passavant has been caused by forces that are out of the hospital’s control and are endemic to all hospitals … the reams of paperwork, personnel constantly asking your birth date to make sure they’re putting a kidney in the correct patient, the dietary requirements, the checking and double-checking and re-checking of everything under the sun and under your hospital gown … all regulations put upon our local facility by governmental agencies advised by teams of committees appointed by elected officials who can then say that they’ve done something to promote better hospital care in America.
Keeping a local hospital local is one tough business. Nearly every force in the civilized world of modern medicine screams “Consolidation!” and “Redistricting!” causing more and more needy folks to travel more and more miles to find good health care. It’s been the efforts of our local community leaders that have kept us from traveling a dangerously long way to help our baby when he has a bellyache or comfort Grandma after her fall. To those who complain about our local treasure I’m always tempted to say, “Cool … when you have your next heart attack, take off for St. Louis.”
If this comes off as a commercial for Passavant, too bad. I’ve been to other hospitals and since I’m alive to write this I guess they all did a good job, but I’ve yet to enter a medical facility where I’m treated with such kindness and respect by everyone from the CEO to the little gal who comes in to empty my wastebasket. And to that nurse who took offense twenty years ago, I was kidding! I was just kidding!