Niagara Gazette

January 26, 2013

GLYNN: Hospital stay taught a valuable lesson

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — All of us probably have a story stuck in our minds over the years. Maybe it was that newspaper article that we intended to clip and save but somehow it vanished along the way.

I remember one such piece by Jim Bishop whose syndicated column graced the pages of the now-defunct Buffalo Courier-Express. Recent restrictions on hospital visitors — due to the fear of the flu — reminded me in a strange way about the long-lost clipping.

That particular column based on a true story struck me as a fine example of some people who often misjudge others. It also was a lesson that it's the little things in life that really matter, those random acts of kindness where someone helps another human being without expecting anything in return. 

As I recall ... a middle-aged man— known here only as Harry — had been in and out of the hospital for years due to a heart condition. This time around, he ended up in a double room with a guy named Ben who never stopped complaining. He found fault with all the nurses. The hospital food was lousy and always cold, Ben contended. The noise from the nurses' station down the hall was especially annoying. Whenever his room number flashed on the board, the nurses knew Ben had another list of gripes. 

To compound matters, Ben intensely disliked how the room was arranged. Harry's bed was flush with the window, offering the only view to the outside world. Meanwhile his roommate was confined to that bed against the wall, except when a nurse's aide might show up to help him into the bathroom. So one day Harry took it upon himself to be Ben's eyes and ears to those daily happenings on the street, four stories down from their room. It was a chance to brighten Ben's otherwise dismal days.

"That woman in the red coat is back with the baby in the stroller," Harry reported, "And that little Irish Terrier is walking right along side of them, like he's part of the family." A short time later, another update from Harry for his isolated roommate: "The blind man's ready to cross that intersection, And, guess what, Ben, there's that friendly cop stopping the traffic again so the guy can make it all the way across the street, safely."

Nothing escaped Harry's attention even if Ben didn't realize or appreciate it. There were full details on every accident, even the fender-benders, where those fire trucks were heading, and when the next ambulance pulled into the emergency room ramp.

Harry was sensitive too. He didn't want to overwhelm Ben with a lot of unpleasant news from the street and he was acutely aware when his roommate just wanted  

One night past 3 a.m., Harry was experiencing sharp chest pains. When he couldn't reach the cord behind his pillow to summon the nurse, he asked Ben to push his own button to call for help. Ben turned a deaf ear; he wanted no part of it. He waited until he was certain that Harry had stopped breathing. Then he summoned the nurse like he was a good Samaritan.

Within minutes, two doctors, three nurses and a couple of aides appeared on the scene, quickly enclosing Ben's bed with those curtains that run overhead. They worked feverishly to save his life.

The room gradually grew quiet. The medical team left. Ben overheard someone in the hall say that Harry had suffered a massive heart attack. The next of kin was to be notified immediately.

One of the nurses had hardly returned to her desk when Ben called, demanding that the room be re-arranged with his bed moved over to the window. "We'll take care of that, sir, in the morning," the nurse replied, struggling to contain her emotions about Ben's selfish request — less than 30 minutes after his roommate's body had been moved to the downstairs morgue.

Ben didn't care what anyone thought. A couple maintenance workers were then recruited and the room layout was quickly changed. For the next few hours, Ben just lay in the dark at his new location, unable to sleep. He couldn't wait for morning.

At the crack of dawn, as light started filtering into the room, Ben pulled himself up from the mattress and yanked open the binds for that long-awaited glimpse.

He was shocked. The only thing there was a wall.

Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2245.