Haiku: a traditional form of poetry whose subject is nature, but may not be. I would love to write a farewell haiku to Cook county Hospital, but, alas, cannot.
Built in 1914, the ‘County’ provided care for the impoverished who otherwise were abandoned by society. “Replaced” in 2002 by a modern “institution,” it can never be replaced in my memory – and the memory of so many others. The memories of self-service elevators, operated nevertheless, by Mayor Daley’s political appointees; elevators that ran when the operator’s conversations ran out. The underground tunnels with huge belching steam pipes traversed by interns pushing wooden wheelchairs; these interns had no need for any additional exercise! The reusable intravenous bottles and needles; needles “sharpened” by political appointees in the bowels of the hospital, appointees who somehow negated to sharpen anything but their tongues.
The doctors, nurses, clerks – the selfless and the selfish – all populate my memory; those dedicated to patient care, teaching and research – those who saved patients and those who led to their demise. But most of all, yes above all, are the memories of patients, young and old, who flocked to the County’s doors, inhabited their clinics and wards – and were never turned away. They were our best teachers – they taught us, not only medicine, but the lessons of life.
Osler, the renowned physician and educator noted that “to study medicine without books is like sailing on an uncharted sea; but studying medicine without patients is like not going to sea at all.” The County was the ark on which we all sailed.