A Night in an Inner City Hospital

by Charlene Wexler

"You must be kidding! I said. You want us there at five in the morning for surgery? We are an hour from the hospital. My poor friend won't get any sleep. Why can't she be admitted the night before?"

          Actually, while I was blaming my friend Kasha, the patient, I was the suburban old lady who didn't want to drive through the inner city in the middle of the night.

          My friend Kasha and I once lived next to each other, raising our kids here when the neighborhood was greator at least much better than it is now. Why she was still here was beyond my understanding. All of our friends and families had moved on once the gangs had taken over. She was alone now except for me, so here I am back in my old territory ready to take care of her.

          I glanced at Kasha who was sitting on her old plastic covered floral sofa, shoulders slumped down, hands folded together in a prayer position. Her small brown suitcase, ready to go, was near her tiny feet. A piece of gray hair slipped through her kerchief. In this country over forty years and she still covers her head with a kerchief. I shook my head in disbelief. Quiet as a mouse, she never complains. I guess I do enough griping for the two of us.

          Her wonderful children keep calling from the West Coast. It would have been nice if they came back to Chicago to help their mother. Oh well, times have changed. Families are scattered across the world. Not like the old days when we all lived within a few blocks of each other, and busy-bodied in each other's lives.

          "Medicare won't pay," was the answer from the hospital coordinator. I turned my attentions back to the phone I held in my hand. So goes our wonderful health care system I said to myself. At least Kasha was on Medicare. Money was scarce in her world. I should know. I'm always buying her things, even though its not like I'm a millionaire.

          I wasn't giving up on getting Kasha admitted early, though. I could picture the gun shots piercing the car window as we drove through deserted streets at two in the morning. "Give me the doctor's number," I said with authority.

          I never got the doctor, but I did get his nurse. I told her, "I used to work in a doctor's office and I know if you put the right code in, like she may need an additional blood test or MRI, she can stay the night before surgery."

          It was really a dental office I had worked in, but the code game is the same everywhere.

          We hung up. Ten minutes later the nurse called me back. "Be at admitting at 9 p.m. tonight," she said.

          I raised my hand and did a little success jig. Turning to my friend I said,

"Now you will be able to get some rest before surgery."

          How wrong I was! We were going to an inner city hospital, not the quiet suburban ones I was used to.

          Admitting took forever, but that was expected. The people with the gunshot wounds had to be admitted first. In my day it was knife stabbings. Better recovery but more blood from the knife wounds. A room not far from the Emergency Wing with another patient wasn't particularly desirable, but we had bargained for the night, and would be gone early in the morning for surgery.

Our roommate, a shriveled-up white-haired lady in a pink flowered gown, was sound asleep in bed two. She looked like a quiet soul somewhere in her eighties, I guessed.

There was no place for me to sleep, but a straight-back black plastic torn chair, but the important person in this scene was my friend Kasha. The room was in the old wing of the hospital and had seen its share of patients. Layers and layers of white paint covered the walls, and the beds had the creaky old cranks on them. The halls had that old hospital smell, somewhere between bleach and vomit. The outside lights shimmered through the window shade. Occasionally there was a glowing blue dome, signifying a police car, or a staccato siren indicating an ambulance. For the few thousand a night it was costing it could have nicer furniture and cleaner floors, but the government was paying.

Oh well. Five hours to sleep. I curled up on the chair and Kasha laid back in the bed. I threw my coat over me to help keep from shivering. My hands were like the icicles hanging outside the window. I sat on them using my fattest and warmest part to keep them from turning blue. Why they keep hospitals so cold is beyond me.

Two minutes later a barrage of doctors proceeded to examine, question, and take blood from Kasha. As I watched the orderly poke the long sharp needle into her vein for the third time I started to feel nauseous. I am a chicken when needles come near me.

Finally they left, and the nurse came in with meds, a blood pressure machine, and was ready to weigh and measure Kasha and ask her questions. I was proud of my friend. Only two days into the New Year and Kasha actually gave the date 2015 as the answer to, "What year is it?" I would have failed that question.

"Shut those doors. Nobody leave the room." Blue uniforms, shiny badges, and gun holsters paced down the corridors, as police officers shouted orders. The outside city tumult suddenly came inside. A small group of policemen combed the hospital in search of a heroin addict who had gone crazy in the Emergency Room. Two doctors tried to hold him down, but he escaped through the building. Five policemen finally caught and subdued him. Powerful drug, that heroin.

Four hours left to rest.

The shouting from a patient down the hall became louder and louder: "Gail, Gail, Gail. Closing the door didn't help. Soon we had a chorus of shouting from patient's rooms. "God damn it shut up." another patient started yelling, and then someone visiting ran down the hall screaming, "Mother F........ I'll kill you if you don't shut the F up." Since the police were still around the nurses used them to calm down the shouters.

We totally ignored the Code Blue alarm over the intercom, as it referred to a room down the hall, not ours.

I felt a wave of sympathy for Kasha. She looked pale and tired, as she twisted and turned in the bed. At least she had a bed, as opposed to this totally uncomfortable chair.

Two hours left before surgery and finally all was quiet. Or was it? The sweet old lady next to us who had been sleeping through everything with only an occasional snore suddenly came alive.

"Please, please get me a priest," She kept repeating in a squeaky soft but pleading voice. I called the nurses for her, and for me.

The nurses tried hard to quiet her down with, "It's okay honey. You don't need a priest; you're not dying. In fact you are scheduled to go home tomorrow."

This did not help. The sweet old lady suddenly became very agitated. She popped straight up in bed and shouted, "I want a priest now!"

It took about a half an hour before a tall skinny black robed priest appeared. He looked about ten years old to me, but so did most of the doctors. He pulled the curtains between us, and in a gentle concerned tone of voice he told the woman, "The doctors have told me that you are in no danger of dying, but if you wish confession I will be happy to listen."

The poor priest had no idea what he was in for.

My sweet little old lady proceeded with, "I wronged my husband before he died. For years I cheated on him. I did unthinkable things with men like.

Just when the story was getting good, the priest stopped her. "You don't have to tell me anymore. You are absolved. God loves you."

"No Father, I must confess to you. I have been guilty for years. I loved sex, and my husband didn't."

Kasha was sleeping and I was sliding down in my chair feeling guilty. I always thought confession was done in the strictest of confidence.

The gurney came for my friend and we had to leave this interesting floor of the city hospital, and never found out if the priest received a sex education that early morning.

My friend got to sleep during her six hour surgery. I didn't get to rest until I knew she was okay. My head ached and my heart raced from lack of sleep and from worry. Out of surgery Kasha was put on a very special floor far from the Emergency Wing. Silence echoed through the halls except for the occasional tap of shoes or medical carts. There was actually a lounge chair in the room for me to lay on. As I settled in next to her bed I thought, Maybe we would be able to sleep thru the night.

Then again, we were still in a city hospital!

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