Each hospital feels like a family

When I was fresh out of puberty, I met the woman of my dreams, got married and started a family.

In medical school, I had three small children with big, beautiful, and hungry brown eyes. Fair to say that, financially, my timing wasn’t optimal.

So, all through residency and fellowship, in addition to my day job, I went moonlighting in any and every hospital where I could get work. North Central Bronx Hospital, The Colorado State Psychiatric Institute, the health clinic at Rikers Island Corrections Center, Fort Meade Veteran’s Hospital in Sturgis, South Dakota (during the annual motorcycle rally), are just a tiny fraction.

Each hospital or clinic feels somewhat like a family. And just like with families, some are warm and welcoming and others are dysfunctional and belong on "The Jerry Springer Show."

Families are funny things. I come from an Italian family and remember when my friend Pete Gibson, who grew up in a very quiet New England family, accompanied me to Uncle Ralph’s house for a typical Sunday afternoon dinner. We all sat in Uncle Ralph’s dining room, tiled floor and tiled walls ricocheting sound in every cacophonous direction.

As usual, there were five different conversations going on. Heated, passionate conversations about politics, building projects, religion, medicine and every other thing you would expect from loud, opinionated Italians eating Sunday dinner. There was shouting and laughing and hand expressions or points made in Italian for emphasis. It was difficult to keep eye contact with the person you were talking to because cousins and friends engaged in different conversations were shouting and gesticulating and in the way. Loud, but always respectful. And all the while, we downed plate after glorious plate of spaghetti al pomodoro fresco, followed by eggplant parmesan, peas with carmellized onions and Italian sausage, and broccoli rabe that my Auntie Sis cooked up for us.

When we were back in the car, Pete said, “I thought, at first, that you were all mad at each other, but then I realized that you were just passionate and loud. Your family is really so warm and kind.” To me, it was a memorable compliment. 

The hospital family I work in now, to me, feels also warm and kind, passionate and loud. I have been a part of the Lawrence + Memorial family since 2002. The first week I was here, I rode my bicycle and was refused entry. I stood there half naked in my skinny bare legs and tight bike shorts, trying to explain that I was actually a doctor in this hospital and kept my ID and change of clothes in my office.

I catch the usual grief from Harry and Anthony, both of whom are Yankee fans (I’m a Sox fan), both of whom are my friends from October to April, but become my bitter enemies from April till October as the Red Sox and Yankees vie for superiority. (Not looking too good for me this year.)

After an article I wrote last month talking about how I used to swear under my breath whenever the ER called (something I did during training, but which I no longer do), I got a call from Kim, the ER secretary who is normally always so kind, friendly and professional; this time, however, she gave me holy hell: “How dare you say that about us!” She seemed genuinely upset, but then laughed when she heard me stammer and try to explain.

A few weeks ago, I read in the paper about a meeting where the union leadership voiced grievances in a public forum. Now, you always want to think your family is running smoothly, but for a family to remain healthy, people have to be able to voice grievances. And the reason I love my L + M family is because everyone, whether president, ER secretary, maintenance worker, valet parking attendant, phlebotomist, or housekeeping staff, everyone works hard (sometimes too hard) and everyone does so because they each put the mission of patient care first.

It's a good thing to be passionate about, and if passion means getting loud, as long as it's respectful, well, that's the way we do it in my family.

 

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