Saturday Night Life
I took a friend to an urgent care on Saturday, and from there I ended up at Harborview Medical Center in downtown Seattle, the only place he could be seen by the specialist he needed on a weekend. It was long and involved, and late, and he ended up being admitted for a while (I have no idea for how long at this point).
I know I’m fortunate. I’ve never spent the night in a hospital (well, both of my kids were born at dawn, so I guess twice I technically did spend the night. Not as a patient). I’ve had two outpatient surgeries, both of them quick and easy, in and out. I’ve had my share of health challenges, but they haven’t been all that serious in comparison to most. So maybe not my share.
Even with years of wandering hospital and clinic hallways for work, it’s been eight years since I spent any time at all in a hospital. And that was with my wife’s surgeries, and that was a different animal. We were dealing with specialists, highly trained medical professionals with some years under their belts. It was unlike a Saturday night in a big-city emergency department.
That part was fun. The other patients mostly seemed to be drug-seeking, and I entertained myself at their expense, listening to their stories, listening to the kindness expressed by these providers even though they knew what was what. I shouldn’t snicker at addicts; I know why they lie. Addicts always lie. They protect their use, because they can’t imagine not using (and most of them would probably get very sick, so there’s that).
And I wasn’t snickering, but I was entertained. It lightened the mood.
Despite being a nationally recognized trauma center (and burn unit), Harborview actually seemed kind of quiet, at least in the ER. Maybe it was a slow Saturday, or maybe that’s just in comparison to hospitals I see on TV.
I remember watching St. Elsewhere in the 1980s, which got soapy quickly but at least featured some young actors who’d go on to other things (Denzel Washington, Mark Harmon, Howie Mandel, David Morse, Helen Hunt, and Alfre Woodard), as well as Norman Lloyd, who played the crusty but loveable Dr. Auschlander. Lloyd was one of Orson Welles’ players in the Mercury Theater in the 1930s, as well as the Group Theater, and a favorite of Alfred Hitchcock. He had a remarkable career, spanning decades, and he has a lot of decades, considering his last film was 4 years ago, when he was 100. He might be auditioning still.
And I watched ER, although I came to it late and it took me a while to catch up. Our Saturday night would have been a very slow one on that show.
It would also have been a dull episode of The Good Doctor, which I’ve been hate-watching for the past couple of seasons, but that show came to mind. I started watching because it featured a brilliant surgeon with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), like my son. Freddie Highmore, a very good actor, plays the part and had what I thought was a bizarre characterization, although compelling (my son disagrees with this, although he could only watch one episode and that sort of between his fingers). It just felt like a network show, slick and overproduced, but what are you gonna do? Sometimes you get hooked.
But I’ve been sort of fascinated at the high-tech face of modern medicine (it’s always been high-tech, but the tech has changed in the past 8 years). These make-believe physicians all use tablets and phones, integrated seamlessly with the other medical doodads. Like with the BBC’s Sherlock , an old story has just been brought into the 21st century.
It turns out this is realistic, at least from my experience. These docs were using their iPhones to take pictures of rashes and wounds, using the flashlight to illuminate, using apps for all sorts of things, taking consults on their phones instead of having to go to the front desk, etc. It made perfect sense. I just hadn’t been exposed before, except for the TV part.
Despite my friend being seriously ill (he is), it kind of cheered me up to see all the youth and knowledge and skill in one place. I began working in a hospital (having a parent and uncle working as hospital administrators helped) when I was a freshman in college, just covering medical records in a radiology department on weekends (I developed x-rays, too, because that was a thing you did back then; I mean literally developing with chemicals in a darkroom, barbaric).
I spent all of my 20s working around hospitals, very comfortable and familiar, but I never got cynical. I was always fascinated by medicine and those who practice it. I became aware of holes in the system, with some bad apples and idiots somehow slipping out of medical school, but these were rare. Looking around the ER, I didn’t see anyone who looked like they didn’t want to be at work. Even the EMTs, who looked to me like high school students, were obviously professional and passionate about their jobs.
And with the exception of the ER attending, who might have been my daughter’s age, these docs were all residents and younger than my son. I did the math. For most of them, the first presidential election they could vote in was in 2012. For perspective. These are pretty new human beings working in an old profession, and most of them were spectacular.
The world may be fucked up, burning up, boiling over with corruption and impending dystopia, but smart, capable people still want to work very hard to help other people. Not a surprise. Just nice to see, on a rough Saturday night.