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The Kenner Local rumbles past Ochsner Hospital February 21, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: , , , , , ,

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.


1. liprap - February 22, 2008

Oh, honey!

Best wishes and a r’fuah shleimah going out to your spouse from me. Y’all be well.


2. Jennifer - February 22, 2008

I came across your blog by chance,… lovely writing. Your description of the hospital standards were reminiscent of my labor experiences in Jerusalem but without the glum looking women in labor, pacing around the lobby sucking down their last cigarettes before getting strapped down to gurnies and hooked up to monitors in the hallways…okay, I exaggerate…but the business aspect of healing in New Orleans, that has seen so much suffering already is simply infuriating.


3. Holly - February 22, 2008

I was in your situation in mid-November. My husband had appendicitis, and the operation was at Ochsner. It was a wild experience — I had to drop him off and find parking on the dark side of the moon, then go hopping through the hospital at 11pm to find the ER (I had a broken foot at the time). The nursing staff assumed that he had a kidney stone and were poking fun at him, refusing to register him until he had ID. When I got to the ER, other waiting patients told me where he was and that THEY had insisted he be seen immediately (he was really, really ill). One nurse *literally* winked at me and whispered that it was a kidney stone. When I protested and said that I wasn’t so sure, she laughed.

It took less than 5 minutes after his scan for them to come in and report that surgery had been paged.

He ended up in the hospital for 2 days, but the surgeon was great and did a fantastic job. He started big time renovations on our house about three weeks later, to give you an idea on his recovery. (He’s in great shape and perfect health — had never been in the hospital before for anything.)

I asked around to other health folks I know professionally and have since found out that there is a huge surge in appendicitis right now in New Orleans. Don’t know if it’s a regional or national trend, but one surgeon at East Jeff said that he’d done more of those surgeries in the past year than in the past 10. Interesting!

Hope your wife is feeling better soon!!!


4. LIsaPal - February 25, 2008

Hope she’s recovering well. A friend who works at Ochsner told me weeks ago that they hadn’t had an empty bed in the hospital for weeks. I thought that may have been a passing situation, but apparently not.


5. John W. Collette, M D - September 16, 2008

Please, Please, Please

I was a patient at Oschsner, New orleans in Feb. 1981 under surgical care of Dr. John Gathright. I did communicte with him in time past, but now I do not know how to cantact him or if he is still “around”.

I need, very badly, my Post Op records. Can you get me copies or any information from them.

John W. Collette, M D
2638 S Hiway 17
Crescent City, Florida 32112
386-698-1073 Fax 386-698-2734


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