I took a trip down Memory Lane the other day, only to discover this particular “lane” had turned into a super-highway.
All of my doctors are affiliated with Concord Hospital, so it’s rare that I set foot in any other hospital. But a couple weeks ago, my surrogate uncle was a patient at Catholic Medical Center (CMC) in Manchester, so I decided to go visit him.
I hadn’t been anywhere near that hospital in years, so I had no idea what to expect. As I headed over to Manchester’s West Side, my mind drifted back to the early 1970s, when I’d had surgery at CMC – back when it still was called Notre Dame Hospital and the majority of the nurses were nuns.
The hospital wasn’t very large back then – only one brick building – and there was no parking area to speak of. Visiting hours ended strictly at 8 p.m., preceded by warnings over an intercom telling visitors they had only five minutes to leave. Fortunately, when I had my surgery, my room was on the ground floor, so my visitors would leave at 8 p.m. and then go stand outside on the grass and continue talking to me through the open window.
And back then, all of the nurses – those who weren’t nuns, that is – wore caps. The different styles of the caps, I was told, indicated which nursing school the nurses had attended. I guess each school had its own distinct cap, kind of like a sports uniform. For some reason, most of my nurses wore strange little caps that looked like upside-down cupcake papers with a ruffle around the edge. I’m not certain which nursing school they hailed from, but they definitely stood out.
I hadn’t known it beforehand, but on Sunday mornings, the hospital played religious music over the intercom system. When I woke up that first Sunday morning after my surgery and heard what sounded like a choir of angels right above my head, it took me a few minutes to realize I hadn’t died and gone to heaven.
And later that same day, I’d awakened from my nap to see a nun sitting by my bed and praying.
“How are you feeling?” she asked, looking concerned.
“Pretty good,” I said, wondering if she knew something I didn’t.
“My sister recently had exactly the same thing you have,” she said.
“Really? Is she okay?”
“No, she died.”
Let’s just say the nun’s bedside manner didn’t exactly inspire a great deal of cheer or optimism. And if that weren’t bad enough, she asked me about my marital status.
“I’m engaged to be married,” I told her.
“Oh? Are you both Catholic?” she asked.
“No. I’m Russian Orthodox and he’s Irish Protestant.”
“Dear me,” she said, shaking her head, “that will never work. A Russian and an Irishman? And two different religions? You’re doomed to fail. You should break off the engagement now, before it’s too late.”
From that point on, I referred to her as Sister Pessimistic.
The most embarrassing moment after my surgery occurred when another nurse came into my room and announced, “I’m here to give you a suppository.”
I looked up to see a girl named Bette I’d gone to high school with. I didn’t know which was worse – having a girl I’d sat beside in English class give me a suppository, or requesting a different nurse and ending up with Sister Pessimistic, who’d probably tell me her brother had suffered a slow and painful death after getting a suppository.
I opted for Bette.
Anyway, two weeks ago, when I finally approached CMC to visit my uncle, my mouth fell open. The place had become a miniature city. There were new traffic lanes, traffic lights, parking areas, buildings. I felt overwhelmed just looking at it.
By the time I parked the car, hiked up the hill to the street and waited to cross it, then found the main building and the information desk, I felt as if I’d run a marathon. The fact it was about 110 degrees in the shade that day didn’t help.
“I’m here to see my uncle,” I gasped at the woman at the desk. “This place sure has changed! I haven’t been here since it was Notre Dame Hospital and filled with nuns.”
She chuckled, “That’s definitely a long time ago.” She looked up my uncle’s room number and told me how to get there. I found him without any problem.
While I was there, I noticed that none of the nurses were wearing anything on their heads. I was kind of disappointed because I’d been hoping to see one of those cupcake-wrapper caps again. I also didn’t see any nuns.
Still, all through the visit, I couldn’t help thinking that Sister Pessimistic, who’d probably be about 110 years old now, still was lurking somewhere in the hospital…and she’d leap out from behind a curtain and say to me, “You look hot and out of breath! My cousin looked exactly the same way you do just before he dropped dead!”
I’m pleased to say that my uncle received excellent care at the hospital and now is home and doing well.
And the last time I checked, I also still was breathing.
Knock on wood.