Although many others have weighed in on the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, I feel I have to share my thoughts, too.
I was born at the old North Adams Hospital -- too many years ago. I spend many of my teen years as a candy striper, walking its halls and making up too many beds with hospital corners -- no fitted sheets back then! (I have to admit I still make a pretty mean "hospital corner" when changing my bed!)
I had dreams of becoming a nurse back then, but my stomach convinced me I would never make it, and I turned my aspirations toward physical therapy, which died when I realized I couldn’t pass all the college science classes it demanded.
Fortunately, many of my fellow candy stripers did go on and become nurses -- walking the very halls we had as teens. Their photos were in last week’s newspapers and newscasts, tears streaming down their cheeks as they left its halls for the last time.
In the past 25 years or so, the members of the Button family have been frequent fliers at NARH.
My first real encounter as a patient at NARH came with the arrival of our son. Throughout the whole process, labor, an emergency C-section and my stay, we were treated like royalty, right down to a candlight dinner one evening.
Three months later, our son was back as a patient, fighting bronchiolitis. Again, the nurses and doctors were there for my husband and me -- giving us reassurance and making sure we took care of ourselves. A nurse hugged me the first night I had to leave our baby and told me to call whenever I felt like it during the night. I did call -- probably too many times -- but no one was ever cross or irritated with me for calling.
Shortly after, I became the victim of numerous panic attacks -- each one more severe than the last, including chest pains that had me convinced I was having a heart attack. Whenever I walked into the emergency room, there were friends, former classmates and many other familiar faces, which made being there a little less stressful.
When David needed stitches for a cut in his forehead after running into a door frame at the age of 1, it was the same familar people who reached out to hug me and tell me I wasn’t a bad mother, that accidents would happen throughout his childhood.
And they did, more stitches after pulling a dining room chair down on himself a few weeks later, a broken foot from playing football at age 4, staples when he fell in an icy stream a few years later, a concussion after falling off his skateboard in junior high and a staph infection from a football injury his junior year in high school.
I had been there a few more times myself -- twice in one weekend for an allergic reaction to an antibiotic, a broken toe from falling down the basement stairs and a broken finger, acquired when our Lab lunged after a bird and the leash wrapped around my finger.
I will never forget the kindness and support everyone in the ICU gave me after my beloved aunt had a heart attack and was declared brain-dead. The doctors and nurses took the time to explain my options and give me advice -- and watched over me during the four-day vigil after I had the ventilator removed.
When my husband had a heart attack at 37, it began a relationship with NARH that lasted over 20 years. The doctors and nurses at NARH truly became our strength and family members. Guy considered one of the ER doctors a friend and believed in his medical ability to the nth degree. His frequent stays in the CCU included being taken care of by former classmates, friends and people we had met through our son’s sporting activities. He remembered the times he was transported to Baystate Medical Center via ambulance and the CCU nurses who held his hand all the way there. He also remembered being unable to sleep and a nurse keeping him company all night. When he died, it was unfortunately at Baystate, away from those he knew so well and loved.
My heart aches when I see the photos of our hospital family members leaving NARH for the last time. I want to hug them all and tell them how much they eased our physical and mental pain over the years. I want them to know that however scary a situation the Buttons were in -- and there were many -- they made it less so. I want them to know my thoughts and prayers are with them -- and that Guy is looking down on his "angels."
Being a food page column, I guess I should add a recipe, so here’s mine:
Take a large building and add 530 people, each skilled in their own special way, from delicate surgery to how to achieve a high-gloss sheen on the floor. Add a heaping cup each of compassion, patience (and patients) and empathy. Mix together and then reap the benefits.
My good friend and former co-worker, the Rev. Jerome Joseph Day, for years has told me when things have gone wrong in my life, "When a door closes, a window opens."
My hope is that for my friends at NARH there are 530 windows set to open.