My Old Kentucky Homesite

No, I’m Not Going Soft on Religion

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 07/04/2010

So in the wee hours of the morning on July 1, I was whisked away from home by ambulance. Although I was half out of it when the emergency medical people arrived, they did ask me which hospital I wanted to go to. I had enough presence of mind to say, “any one that isn’t religious,” but that narrowed my choices down quite a bit—and would have left my wife with a longer drive to and from my temporary accommodations than if I’d just blurted out the name of the Catholic hospital closest to my house.

After giving the matter about 15 seconds of thought, I reneged, and told the EMTs to take me to the most convenient facility.

Later, when I thought about it, I realized that many – maybe most – hospitals have some religious reference in their name. Why is that? (I’m in no mood to do research today, but I’m guessing that it goes back to the Middle Ages. Doesn’t everything?)

After spending a few hours being poked and prodded by the emergency staff, I was told that I’d need to stay at least overnight. So at about 4:30 in the morning, I was wheeled into a private room. All the while, I was telling myself that I’d be as negative as I could when the in-house chaplain arrived to bring me some Jesus.

It never happened. I was in that Catholic hospital for nearly 48 hours, and there were only two allusions to religion. One was a small crucifix that looked like a fancy letter-opener, tucked into an unobtrusive corner of the room. Frankly, as something to look at, I found it much more interesting than say, a picture of a cute kitty, or a flower-bedecked landscape. I was shocked at myself for not being offended by it, but I just didn’t care – it was no skin off my nose as long as none of the medical staff prayed to it or crossed themselves. Hell, they didn’t even look at it.

The other religious allusion came from a maid who entered my room to do some minor cleaning touch-ups about an hour after I’d been brought there. (A few drawers, apparently, were not sparkly enough.) When she was done, at about 5:45, she said, on her way out, “Have a blessed night.” I wasn’t in any shape to engage her in a theological debate – nor, I suspect, would it have mattered if I did – so I simply answered, “Thanks.”

That was it for Christ. None of the doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, or techies who attended me did any advertising whatsoever for their employer. I may have been a bit disappointed, because I was prepared with any number of devastatingly sarcastic comments to make when they did. But I never had the chance. They all acted professionally and seemed extremely knowledgeable; quite a few were able to banter with me snottily, which was encouraging. One N.A. with a funny voice characterized herself as sounding like Minnie Mouse on crack, which struck me – under the circumstances – as hilarious. A nurse, after asking me to let my leg go limp for a reflex test, said, “ummm … you’re not a guy who’s into relaxing much, are you?” A techie, who was administering a test for which she wasn’t “supposed to” give me the results said, “If I turn pale and run screaming into the hall, you can assume you’re in trouble.” Nobody said, “we’ll pray for you.”

So I’ve had occasion to reexamine my own prejudices about hospitals. Yes, it’s annoying that so many of them have a titular affiliation with a specific religious sect. And it’s also extremely grating to imagine that my insurance payment – and the no-doubt exorbitant percentage of costs I’ll be billed directly – will, perhaps, go to the furtherance of the Catholic message. But, really, I doubt it. There was nothing overtly papal about that hospital other than a dumb piece of wall art and a veiledly Christian offhand remark by a low-level employee (who, I suspect, was not actually a Catholic). In retrospect, my own bias against anything even mildly smacking of religion might have gotten in the way of what was, essentially, a positive – and definitely necessary – experience. And my poor wife had to drive only a short distance to smuggle in my Chocolate Cheerios.

Oh, and I got to take home a lovely quart-sized sippy cup, with a plastic bendy straw. That souvenir will probably show up on my bill as a $700 item, but that’s only a little more than I would have paid for, say, mouse ears at Disney World. Anyway, it’s an attractive purple-topped container, emblazoned with the name of the hospital and the words “The Science of Medicine, The Heart of Compassion.” The second phrase is probably secret Vatican code, but it’s stated in a fairly neutral way. And, seriously, I can’t argue with the first phrase at all.

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17 Responses to “No, I’m Not Going Soft on Religion”

  1. So were you floored by Brazil losing to the Dutch, or did the Mrs. finally land a good shot?

    Lots of non-believers get hired by religious organizations. Hell, I’ve yet to meet a music director at a church that wasn’t gay. I’m assuming medical staffs don’t have to pass a Catholic test.

  2. Philly:
    Lots of non-believers get hired by religious organizations.
    What surprised me most was that the organization, itself, seemed for the most part invisible. If I didn’t know where I was, and if the crucifix logo weren’t there, I wouldn’t have had the least inkling that the place wasn’t completely secular.

    So were you floored by Brazil losing to the Dutch, or did the Mrs. finally land a good shot?
    No, I went into an apoplectic fit when I found out that the Continental Congress deleted Jefferson’s snide reference (in the Declaration of Independence) to George III as “the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain.”

  3. John Evo said

    Now, now… don’t let one anecdotal experience get in the way of a wonderful prejudice. I’m pretty sure that most major hospitals in America are all into that “sciencey thing” at this point in history. Some of the religious ones are worse than others when it comes to “offering religious comforts”. Your buddy Sarge has a few stories, and I know others who literally had to chase the chaplain. It shouldn’t be there at all, unless requested. Lucky for you – it wasn’t but, again, that’s one experience. While it could be argued that the reverse is true (that the other things I’ve heard are simply “anecdotal”) the point again is that it should NEVER be an issue that folks are forced to deal with, so even a handful of examples is too much.

    Well, just glad that you seem to be well at this point.

  4. Evo:
    As I said in the post, I must confess (no, not THAT way) that I felt deprived at not being invited to play “chase the chaplain.”

  5. TinaFCD said

    Hope you’re feeling better and I’m glad you are still around to post this. :)

  6. Tina:
    Thanks for being glad that I’m not dead yet. That makes two of us.

  7. BrentH said

    You probably weren’t pestered or evangelized because there aren’t enough priests and nuns to fill positions like hospital chaplains. That vow of celibacy is such an effective recruiting tool. But then again maybe the nurse or maid baptized you while you were sleeping.

    Anyway, I’m glad to hear your well.

    More importantly, how was the jello?

  8. Brent:
    But then again maybe the nurse or maid baptized you while you were sleeping.
    So that’s what the wet spot on the bed was.

    More importantly, how was the jello?
    Funny you should ask, because that’s the one area in which I’d rate the hospital as poor. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve enjoyed the occasional bowl of “gelatin” (their word, because they probably use some el-cheapo, Vatican-approved brand), particularly if the flavor is “red.” However, even though I boldly circled “red gelatin” on my alleged “menu” — ha! — I was never brought any. Actually, it didn’t matter, because my wife was acting as my “mule,” sneaking in scones from Starbucks and other contraband desserts.

  9. In my area you wouldn’t be bothered by hospital chaplains unless you entered a religious preference on your admission papers.

    My father swears that the best medical care is given at Catholic hospitals because they require compassion from their employees, in addition to the other job qualifications. From what I have seen so far, he’s right.

  10. Catch:
    In my area you wouldn’t be bothered by hospital chaplains unless you entered a religious preference on your admission papers.
    That may be the case in Lexington, but I doubt it. I have a relative who’s under long-term care here, and the first thing we were asked when he entered the facility was what religion he was and whether he’d like to see the chaplain. We told the administrator that he was “not religious,” but the chaplain showed up anyway.

    Since that was my only prior experience with hospitals in Kentucky, I felt I should be prepared to say something snide, should the occasion arise. However — as you’ve read — it didn’t.

    Compassion is nice, but what I really want from others when I’m not feeling well is a sense of humor. The local hospital supplied that in abundance, in addition to the staff’s obvious knowledge, communication ability, and required job skills. So it gets top marks from me.

  11. Postman said

    I was going to bring by a bunch of grapes, Larry, but a) you’re in some backwoods place that the subway doesn’t run to and b) they were so juicy and delicious and I assumed you would offer some to me out of politeness… so I ate them. I felt guilty for a minute, but then I remembered that, without a Gawd-given list of rules, I couldn’t possibly know right from wrong and thus couldn’t feel guilty.

  12. You must not have any friends in the medical profession or you would know that humor is a given attribute for them. Some of the best jokes I’ve ever heard have come from doctors, nurses, and staff, and they are always the life of the party at social events. If they didn’t find humor in life, they’d go insane after seeing what they do on a daily basis.

    An anecdote for you: A non-practicing Catholic friend of mine was in the hospital after the birth of a child. While she was hooked up to a breast pump, fully exposed from the waist up, a priest just walked into the room, unrequested and without knocking, to bless the baby. A game of chase the chaplain ensued and he lost. She now has elongated breasts but it was worth the pain to tackle him.

  13. Postie:
    I assumed you would offer some to me out of politeness …
    Anything to distract you from my Chocolate Cheerios.
    Since you’re a postman, you probably know the answer to this: What kind of card does one send to thank someone for almost-grapes?

    Catch:
    You’re right; I don’t have any friends in the medical profession. (I guess I eat too many apples.) But next time I give a party, maybe I’ll just go through the phonebook and invite some random doctors and nurses.

    Thanks for the anecdote. If your friend’s baby was a boy, she probably saved him from being molested. By the way: What was the priest’s reaction? Did he get Bill Donohue to accuse her of committing an anti-Catholic hate crime?

  14. the chaplain said

    Mickey Mouse ears are available at half-price to anyone who learns the official Disney World Hymn by heart.

  15. Chappy:
    Hey, this isn’t an earworm post.

    I’ve been on just about every ride at Disney World, because I used to be invited to go on their journalist junkets whenever a new attraction opened. Having sampled all of those rides over the years, I can say with some authority that “It’s a Small World” was the scariest one, bar none — and the fear lingered for weeks. I’d wake up screaming in the middle of the night, trying to drown out the sound of those chipper children in my brain.

  16. Postman said

    Larry,
    Something with a photo of communion wine that says, “I didn’t want your bloody grapes, anyway.”

  17. Postie:
    Yeah, and your bread had a little too much body, too.

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