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How Hospitable Can It Be When You’re in a Hospital?

There are certain institutions I loathe. Somewhere near the top of my list--in between prisons and shopping malls, just above places that train whales to jump through hoops--are hospitals. Necessary but never sufficient.

On a recent all-expenses-paid stay (except for the first thousand bucks), I had a chance to reacquaint myself with why I loathe hospitals. You’re certainly predisposed to hate them by the fact that one either comes in and/or goes out of a hospital in pain. At least at Sea Land, the whale never bleeds.

I was there for minor surgery, although when it’s your precious bod, no surgery seems truly minor. My visit began in an attractive admitting area where a competent lady asked me questions. Once they know that you have insurance and that the hepatitis you had was not the kind you get from needles, people who work in hospitals can be very nice.

The questions seemed routine until she asked: “Do you have a religious preference?”

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“For burial purposes?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” she smiled. “When the priest and rabbi come by, they ask for a computer readout of our patients. They won’t speak to you unless you request it.”

Now, we can only imagine the conversation between Father O’Leary and Rabbi Levy. “Well, Father, I’ve got two Orthodox, one Reformed and three No Speaks.”

“OK, Rabbi Levy. I’ll see your six Jews and raise you three Catholics with two No Speaks and one Extreme Unction Only.”

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After I allowed the nice admitting lady to access my McGod on her Mac, I went on to the sacraments of X-ray, EKG and bloodletting. My reward for all this was the sight of Art, the handsome, hairy-chested nurse who started my IV. Art asked for my “dominant hand.” I slipped him my submissive.

Soon I went down to meet my connection--the anesthesiologist. In 20 minutes, this man would have me flying at four feet. He didn’t actually say “name your poison,” but he opened up his pharmacological menu to imply I had a choice.

“I’m leaning toward a general,” I said, referring to my desired form of anesthesia--not my wartime sexual preference.

“Well,” he said with all due respect, “I wouldn’t want anybody to take away my consciousness.”

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Gee, I had spent the greater part of my youth trying to knock out my consciousness by any means necessary. Why would I, who had once paid everyone from brain-damaged boys to Mr. Gallo’s White Port a few bucks to take away my consciousness, hesitate to pay $500 to a well-educated doctor for the same experience?

I woke up post-op in a recovery room to the tormented sound of Velcro being ripped apart as a nurse removed a blood-pressure cuff. I was wheeled to my room half-awake but totally nauseated.

Soon, an orderly placed a food tray next to me. I lifted the lid gingerly. Enough to determine that one bite of those fried-fish parts would mean certain death.

A thin curtain separated me from my roomie, an 88-year-old woman who cried all the time. “Can I do anything for you?” I called out. “I want to die,” she said. That was all we said to each other in the 20 hours we shared the same tiny bleak room. Well, OK, as conversations go, it was not light and glib but rang with a certain existential vigor.

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I turned on the TV only to discover that in today’s new cost-efficient hospital they have pay-as-you-go TV. I prayed that they had a different system for the bedpan.

The next morning, my husband came to take me home. As I tried to get into the wheelchair the nurse had brought in, a muscular woman shouted, “You can’t take that wheelchair; it belongs to Physical Therapy.”

As the fight continued between Nursing and Physical Therapy over possession of the chair, I found another one and burned rubber getting out of there.

I felt like a trained killer whale spotting an opening to the sea.

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