"Visit shows what’s right with modern medicine

The pain had gotten worse over the past few days, to the point where it was unbearable, so, with the greatest reluctance, I knew that I had to head to the emergency room.

I woke up Katie and asked her to drive me to St. Vincent Hospital on 86th Street. I really didn’t want to go, but it was 6:30 a.m. and I felt like an alien was growing inside my body. The ride over there was painful and interminable.

Anyone who’s ever been to a hospital emergency room can tell you that it’s not a fun experience. Usually, you have to sit in a waiting room for hours while the most critical cases are being handled.

I was lucky. I checked in and within 10 minutes I was being ushered into an examination room. If you have a choice as to when to visit the ER, I was told that 7 a.m. is the best time if you want to avoid waiting.

I knew before I even went what the problem was; it was a recurrence of a condition that had landed me in the hospital for five days in 2004. My surgeon at the time told me there was a 50-50 chance it would happen again within a few years, so I wasn’t exactly surprised. I knew that when it did, I was in for another, more painful, surgery. I was just glad I’d kept paying my medical insurance premiums.

Upon examining me, the doctors knew what it was as well, so they shot me up with morphine while the surgeon on call was being notified.

I wouldn’t want to take it every day, even if I could, but when you need it, morphine is your friend. My pain was a 10 on a scale of one to 10, but within seconds of the drug being injected into my veins, the pain went away and I suddenly wanted to listen to some Nine Inch Nails records.

When I closed my eyes, I could see a soccer match being played in my imagination. It was Manchester United versus Liverpool. Cristiano Ronaldo was passing the ball to Wayne Rooney, who was violently tackled by a Liverpool player. The fans were chanting. The field was a deep green.

Just as Louis Saha was about to score a goal for United, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Mr. Hammer? Mr. Hammer?”

I woke up and looked upward. It was the actor David Schwimmer from Friends.

He started asking me questions of a very personal nature and I soon realized that it wasn’t Schwimmer but instead a resident surgeon assessing my condition. He told me that they needed to operate and that they’d be with me shortly.

The pain returned with a vengeance, so I got more morphine. Another surgeon came in, examined me and said I was third in line behind two appendix surgeries and to just relax as much as I could.

When it came time for the surgery, I wasn’t scared, partly because I knew I had to have it, and partly because I was ripped to the gills on painkillers. I was cracking jokes with the young woman who was pushing my cart down the hall.

Before she left, she twice said, “God bless you on your procedure, sir,” which was very sweet and caring but reinforced the fact that I wasn’t there to have fun.

I wasn’t afraid at all until the anesthesiologist started talking to me about the risks of being put under. I signed a number of forms and was wheeled into the operating room.

“This is just like the room that the aliens take me to every night,” I said. I got a laugh from the operating team and I realized that if something went wrong, it would be my last laugh.

Within seconds of receiving the injection, I was out cold and the surgery started. Twenty minutes later, I was awake and being wheeled into a recovery room. Within five hours, I would be home again.

And while I still run a 50-50 chance of needing another surgery, and I’m not fully recovered, I’m grateful to the people at St. Vincent Hospital for being so compassionate and so attentive to me when I needed it most.

I arrived at St. Vincent in dire shape, in brutal pain and almost literally crying for help. While I was there, I was treated with nothing but respect and dignity. My situation was quickly and correctly addressed.

Hospitals and doctors are like cops. You never want to deal with them until you need them. And while there’s a lot that’s wrong with modern-day medicine, from the cost to the lack of accessibility for the poor, there’s a lot that’s right with it, too.

I’m living proof of that and I’m grateful to the staff of St. Vincent Hospital for their care.



Recommended for you