The Kenner Local rumbles past Ochsner Hospital February 21, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: hospital, Mercy, New Orleans, NOLA, Ochsner, purgatory, Tenet
The hallways of the surgical ward of Ochsner Hospital are as bright and cheerless as the Kenner Local cross-town bus I passed on the way home. In the waiting area the last of the family groups each sits separately, choosing their places among the rows and rows of chairs like a strategically defensive position in some board game, each small knot of people as isolated in their own personal emergency as the lonely shift workers scattered throughout the seats of that passing bus.
It was appendicitis (my wife’s, not mine) that found me waiting on the hard chairs, the scant cushioning of each covered in variously stripped fabrics that loudly announced: wait here. Purgatory, if our sins are not too egregious, will have chairs as comfortable and comely as these. The surgery was arthroscopic and went quickly. Not 45 minutes passed from the time I left her in the tender care of the nurse anesthetist until the surgeon came out calling her last name. Mine is different and as he first spoke he remembered it and called mine as well even as I strode up. He asked if I was related to the restaurateur whose last name I share.
The rest of the day was like the room of many stripes, a long and uncomfortable wait. My wife arrived at the emergency room before eight on her own, in a cab; she would not wait for me to drop the children first, and was only taken up to surgery at around 6:45 pm. The ER nurse explained that the hospital was full, had been all week. Patients were routinely held in the ER until space could be found for them in an operating room or a bed. My wife might have to spend the night in the recovery room, I was warned, for the same reasons. No room at the inn. Not knowing where she might land, I followed up to the surgery ward toting the plastic bag of all she came in with, ready to pitch camp wherever fate might cast us up.
That is how Ochsner seems to run itself, like a large resort or an airline. Full bookings are good for the bottom line, if not always for the customer. On the way home I passed the vacant hulk of Mercy Hospital just blocks from my house, purchased with several other empty hospitals by Ochsner from Tenet in the days after The Federal Flood. The Mercy property was sold to a developer with a covenant that it may not be used as a hospital, even though the city has 60% of its population back but only 25% of its hospital beds. The new owners of Mercy are thinking perhaps a Target would fit there nicely. Ochsner apparently prefers not to have any competition. If that means that patients may not have an actual hospital room, well, it’s not Jakarta. People weren’t stacked on pallets in hallways buzzing with flies. Still, it was a less-than-ideal experience by conventional American standards. It was instead, a perfect postdiluvian New Orleans one.
And so to bed.