I remember the year: 1979. Shaare Tzedek Hospital, long a landmark on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem relocated. A building that was so much more than mere stone and stucco was empty and bereft. True, its new location near Mt. Herzl was everything a modern hospital should be. But, there was so much history in the old site that I imagined I heard the walls speak and tell their tales. And are there any tales more poignant than the tales in a hospital? Lives born. Lives lost. And everything in between. And then, abruptly, a lifeless shell with the wind rushing through the empty corridors.
There’s a hospital like that near my home in New Jersey. It’s in the city of Orange and I pass it all the time. I think it’s not so empty. The humans have left for a new facility but someone forgot to close the windows. Many many windows. I am sure there are animals and birds who’ve discovered this nice sheltered spot and can’t believe their luck. But I often pass by and ponder its human stories. Every hospital has stories, thousands of stories. Only some of them are good. Births. Cures. Some are not so good at all.
Yesterday I spent the day at a huge New York City hospital while a loved one had surgery. The stresses are enormous. The day is endless. And that’s just for those who wait.
For the patient it is a life altering event. No one ever forgets their hospital experiences, be they wonderful, like delivering a healthy baby, or be they otherwise.
I thought about all the hospitals I have known. Actually we all know many hospitals and the hospital experience is pretty much universal.
But the message that I bring out of my day yesterday and my other hospital visits, as patient or visitor, is the universality of hospitals. They are the true melting pots of the world. People are flung together and everything about their regular lives becomes irrelevant. Only what happens in the hospital counts.
So, artifice is abandoned. People engage with people they might never engage with under any other circumstance.
And this is especially true in Israel. My mother spent time in Meir Hospital. She was in a room with six beds. Arabs. Jews. Religious and not. The whole microcosm of Israel in one room. They got along. They listened to each other. They saw each other as human beings who were all experiencing the same emotions: fear and pain or relief and recovery. They cared for each other. One day, my father,who was a very old, but robust, man, got up to give his chair to an elderly Arab woman who was visiting the patient in the bed next to my mother. The Arab woman was surprised. She should not have been My father was a gentleman. She was a fellow human being. Such is the beauty of hospitals.
In New York yesterday it was a similar melting pot. People from very diverse backgrounds baring their souls to strangers. That’s what people do in hospitals. Become more thoughtful about the pain of others and less concerned about their being others.
I’m too old to be much of an idealist and plopping everyone down in a hospital is not going to be the solution to the hatred that permeates our world. But if people in hospitals who learn to see the others as people subject to the same ills and fears as they themselves, and if they remember, maybe there can be a little more love and tolerance in our universe. Just sayin’