News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 11, 2012

FLASHPOINT: Wonderful place to be during a very hard time

Reggie McConnell
Special to the Tribune-Star

---- — University Hospital (Indianapolis), part of IU Health Group, is a wonderful place to be if you are seriously ill. It’s early on a Monday morning and the energy in this place is palpable. Perhaps that’s because it’s a teaching hospital. There’s an abundance of bright, young, energetic doctors eager to investigate your particular ailment(s). The place is tailor-made for hypochondriacs.

Of course there’s more to this hospital than interns. Placards proudly proclaim that “Over 80 percent of Indiana’s Top Doctors Practice at IU  Health.” We are here in order for my wife to undergo lung surgery. We’ve utilized this facility for years. It’s only 70 minutes from our driveway to the main entrance, at which point I hand my car keys to a valet who parks our vehicle.

At one end of the hospital is the Simon Cancer Center (a wonderful place within a wonderful place). This will be our first stop today. University Hospital is where bicycling legend Lance Armstrong elected to have his cancer successfully treated. Even though Armstrong resides in Houston he opted for this facility because of its groundbreaking work in cancer research and treatment.

Yes, every city has good doctors. But not every city has great hospitals. Whether you live near a great hospital has more to do with geography than anything else. Let’s face it: large cities tend to attract the best of the best for all the obvious reasons. Small towns simply lack the money and resources needed to compete.

Should people “up shop” for medical care as they do for consumer goods? It depends. If the physicians in your city are utilizing the local hospital for their own needs, and the needs of their families, when it comes to complicated medical procedures, then you can probably stay home. However, if they are opting to go elsewhere then you should, too. 

Richard Brookhiser says every hospital has its saints. “You know them when you meet them. They can appear in any guise, from surgeons to sweepers. They are the people who take interest and pleasure in you as they take care of you, and who (you are certain) take everyone they meet in the same spirit. When you see them you think of sunlight and gold.”

University Hospital has an abundance of such staff. Like the RN who noticed I was lost and accompanied me from one wing of the facility to another and down two sets of elevators to get me to my destination (while on her lunch break with her fiancé).

My wife’s operation will be performed by Dr. Karen Rieger, a cardiothoracic vascular surgeon who is a member of the hospital’s thoracic oncology program. After her initial briefing, Dr. Rieger patiently answers all of our questions. When our questions are exhausted she takes us through her analysis (again). Then she moves the discussion to other areas, some of which we had not considered. Thirty minutes later we are still discussing my wife’s case. Cordial and calm, Dr. Rieger’s approach is such that there’s no sense one is being rushed away so she can race to her next patient. How refreshing.

Yes, there’s a comforting thoroughness to this place, tempered with copious amounts of compassion that, I suspect, is not duplicated at most hospitals. My wife has been seriously ill for years. But she has always borne her illness with dignity and grace. Disease may have ravaged her body but not her spirit. Faced with Pam’s reality I would succumb to self-pity and bitter resentment. Not her. There is nobility in her cheerful approach and unique way of looking at things. I guess it boils down to acceptance. Pam is especially deserving of this place and it of her.

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m standing outside the hospital’s main entrance, waiting for the valet to ease our car up to the curb. The week has gone by so fast. You’d think it would be just the opposite. My wife is coming home! Glancing to my right, I notice a lone, lovely Easter Lilly sticking up out of the snow. I kneel down to brush the snow away, allowing the sunlight to warm it. “I’ve been here eight years and that’s always the first one up,” says one of the valets. “She’s a brave little flower, ain’t she?”

“Yes,” I smile, “she certainly is.”



Reggie McConnell is a resident of Terre Haute.