Letter to the Editor

Fortunate to end up at Mercy

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Dear Mr. Stroemel:

This letter is to accompany a small gift I want to make to Mercy, and by extension to the people of Cassville, in appreciation for saving my life. I know you're very busy, but hopefully you'll find this a bit interesting.

My only previous visit to Cassville and that amazing river was in 1944. I was nine years old. My life wasn't too happy back then, but the brief vacation there stood out. I was amazed by how friendly and polite the people were. Of course, the scenery was awesome, as it is still. I've never gotten back until recently. When my wife and I decided that we would drive from southwest Michigan to Fort Worth, [Texas], for a conference, I insisted we return by way of Cassville, telling her, Miriam, all my reasons.

At 78, with emphysema, I'm accustomed to feeling "under the weather" at times. Fort Worth was hellishly hot, with very dry air, which my lungs don't tolerate well. I couldn't do my share of the driving to Cassville, and the day after we got there my condition worsened. Miriam took me for a drive along the river, a kind act even if I had not lived to remember it, then, over my protestations, drove me to your hospital. Actually, I don't remember much else from that day. There's a dream-like memory of what I guess was a CAT-scan, of wanting to stand up and someone telling me I couldn't, of Miriam being given a recliner in which to sleep in my room.

Reportedly, I didn't know which state I was in, and I didn't know my correct date of birth. For some time, I was "glassy eyed and unresponsive." Instead of a CVA, as one would expect, it turned out I had a bad case of pneumonia and septicemia. Several of the staff members acknowledged my survival had been very tenuous. Miriam called my children so they would be somewhat forewarned if she had to notify them later that I had expired. Ultimately, I spent five nights at Mercy. Speaking informally, but as a scientist, I believe I came within a half-hour, at most, of death.

"So what?" someone could ask. That's what hospitals are for. And 78-year-olds die at times.

Well, I wasn't planning on dying just yet, and there are things I plan to accomplish yet. But more to the point, I sincerely believe that, had I been anyplace else, my preferences wouldn't have mattered much and I'd be gone.

Sorry if this sounds pessimistic, but in most of the hospitals I've visited in any capacity, I doubt that I would have made it past the waiting room. That 30-minute margin would have been exceeded by forms and formalities, corporate rules and who-knows-what.

I'm one of those who believe that patients are typically discharged from the hospital too soon these days, but when I'm a patient, I find the experience sufficiently unpleasant and dehumanizing that I want out ASAP. A former cardiologist of mine, Dr. David Lieb, told me after having been hospitalized himself for a few days, that he was unpleasantly surprised to learn what it's like for patients psychologically.

Mercy was not at all like that for me. Of course, I would rather have been out vacationing, but while I still felt pretty sick, there was no psychological torture, no dehumanizing at all. By day four, I would have preferred to leave. Dr. Paul Andelin encouraged me to stay another 24 hours, explaining the advantages but leaving the decision to me. I'm grateful for that extra day because I'm sure it made my continuing recovery easier.

There were times during my stay that I was not fully conscious, and in my thoughts I questioned whether I really had survived the crisis or not. "I can't be alive," I thought. "In the real world people just aren't this kind."

In fact I was alive, I was just lucky enough to be in a special place, a great little hospital in a great little town. Drs. Cox and Andelin, the nurses and aides, the food service staff, respiratory therapists, all made it obvious that they weren't just doing a job for a paycheck. My comfort, my recovery, all seemed to matter to them. That's important medicine also. We extended our stay in Cassville so we could walk along that river and enjoy the scenery, and even have a hot fudge sundae at the drug store I visit in 1944. (I did notice the price had gone up a bit.)

About this small gift. It wouldn't go far toward purchasing bigger televisions for the patient rooms or anything of that sort, but I'd like to make a suggestion, if you don't mind. The walls of Mercy Hospital seemed a bit cold and bare, unlike everything else about the institution. Small as this check is, if invested in some Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond-chic wall decor, it could help break up that stark look. Perhaps some members of the staff would volunteer to do the shopping. Only a thought. If you'd rather use it to throw a picnic for the staff, or whatever else strikes your fancy, you're the boss. You apparently fill that role quite well.


Paul Karsten Fauteck

P.S. Please give my best regards to Rev. James Stewart as well.