Monday, April 4, 2011

Great people I have met but not shaken hands with

Hospitals, I learned, are kind of like children. You don’t know as much about them until you’ve experienced more than one. I won’t name the hospital that Prajna stayed at after her car accident 19 years ago. It did have me convinced that airplane food was nectar of the gods compared to hospital food. When Naomi first got cancer she was admitted to the hospital for tests. When they discovered what would turn out to be a solid tumor by her adrenal gland we were sent to Kapiolani Women’s and Children’s Medical Center in Honolulu.
The first ting I noticed about Kapiolani was that it was a teaching hospital. As we were unpacking and settling in two young doctors came and we talked about Naomi’s symptoms and they asked lots of questions. Then we didn’t see them again. Instead more doctors came and the same thing happened. All day we met interns and residents from the University of Hawaii school of medicine all taking the pediatric hematology/oncology business very seriously.
The second thing that I noticed about Kapiolani was that the food was some of the best I had ever had prepared for me. There was lamb for dinner in the cafeteria the first night. Breakfasts shone with local flair. Anyone who appreciates Hawaiian style breakfasts will know what I mean.
The rooms on the hematology/oncology ward were private. We stayed in different ones when we visited the ward quite a few times in the second half of 1999. We learned who the main doctors were and saw them at least once a day. We became friends with all the nurses. Naomi had her favorite ones.
We mostly saw interns in the off hours. One night Naomi woke up and as was typical was disoriented and began crying. As was also typical she began crying loud. She had soiled her diaper (she was three but had to go back to wearing them) and was a mess. It was all over her and her bed so I got to cleaning her up. The noise and commotion had attracted the night nurse and I assured them that Naomi was okay. She had indeed stopped crying and was standing next to her bed sucking her thumb. The room was still dark and the night doctor came in. She was younger than me and spoke with a gentle Eastern European accent. We stood in the dark hospital room and she introduced herself and asked if there was anything she could do.
I had always respected nurses seeing all the work they put in. That night I realized that this girl may have been at school all day and then been woken up out of the residency break room because a young patient might have needed attention. And as we stood there I saw in my peripheral vision below that she was offering me her hand in greeting and I ignored it. My hand was filthy from cleaning up Naomi so I pretended not to notice. Looking back now I wish I had apologized and explained. But she later just dropped her hand. This one little incident is something I have regretted for over a decade. I hope I feel a little better now that it’s in the open. And I hope this girl grew up to be a great doctor.

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