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Should Education Be More Like Medicine? Ask Any Patient

Publication Date: 2002-09-19

Let's remind ourselves of how hospitals treat patients before we try to make schools restructure themselves into scientific institutions. out

Note: The following article appeared in USA Today 10/4/93. It has long been required reading for students in a Master's of Health Care Administration program at the Medical University of South Carolina. The article serves as a reminder of what we value as teachers.
Susan Ohanian

Anyone who has been forced to undergo a major medical overhaul in the past 10 years will recognize my story.

Upon hospital entry, I became 473277082 44FWM/B-C-S-F/7H201. I was sliced open, stapled back together, and put in a bed.

One night when I rang the call button, a nurse yelled down the hall, "It's the hysterectomy!" That was the only time I heard anyone refer to my condition. No medical personnel, including my doctor, offered comfort or advice. Not even any information.

While I was in the hospital, one technician stuck in a tube, another pulled it out. For one, I was an incision. For another, an IV. For one, lung capacity, for another, urine output.

Medical personnel keep to their appointed rounds; they don't even stop for tears. Because one specialist had discovered what my chart calls a "secondary diagnosis and complication," soon after my surgery I was wheeled to the middle of a busy intersection of corridors and told a technician would pick me up for state-of-the-art tests. Sore and scared and alone, I started crying. Medical personnel walked by--carefully looking elsewhere. Their studied avoidance turned me into an (IV) bag lady, pathetic, and helpless--and nobody's responsibility.

When I got back to my room, I started crying again. The technician who came to check the drug drawer looked only at the drawer, not at me. The technician who came to change the IV looked only at the IV, not at me. And so on. Finally, the woman pushing a cart with lunch trays noticed the tears and asked me what was wrong.

She took 10 minutes from her appointed rounds to find me some tissue and then took another few minutes to offer some words of comfort, the only such words I was to receive in my five-day hospital stay. I am still grateful to that one person in the hospital, known in the vernacular as a non-professional, able to step out of her assigned servicing long enough to care for me.

Care for me.

When I complained of severe back pain, a technician wrote on my chart, "complaining of slight backache," making me wonder what it would take to impress her.[Once I left the hospital I paid $35 for a printout of all the charts, so these observations are factual.] When the doctor made his 6:30 a.m. visit, he ordered a heating pad. At 8 p.m., I walked down the hall and asked the duty nurse when I might get it. She looked at my chart and exploded, complaining that the day shift was always dumping on her shift and so on.

There I stood, clutching a folded towel to my abdomen with one hand and an IV pole with the other, listening to her gripe. But my 15 years as a teacher kicked in; I tried to console this medical professional, agreeing that she was overworked and underappreciated.

Our troubles--mine and hers--weren't over when the heating pad arrived around mdnight. I heard her yelling again and hobbled back down the hall. The pad had leaked all over the floor of the chart room. The nurse yelled that she was going to make those jerks come clean her floor.

My back still hurt, and I was weary of hearing about her troubles. But I realized that because I'm a teacher, words of comfort and understanding are as familiar to me as pencil shavings. I wondered what has happened to medical professionals to make such words so rare to their job functions.

I watched a lot of late-night movies during my hospital stay. My favorite was a grade D film about a slasher stalking a nurse-turned-patient through a labyrinth of hospital corridors. As the victim ran up and down those interminable corridors without once encountering a hospital worker to help her, it occurred to me that finding a medical technician would probably do her no good. She'd better hope she ran into someone who stopped for tears--a food-cart pusher. Or a teacher.

I guess I understand that being admitted to a hospital means losing control of your life, but I can't understand why highly specialized and able technicians have made it a place where you feel alone and abandoned. I wonder why people exhort us teachers to emulate the medical professionals and set "standards." Medical professionals could learn something from us teachers.

We might remind them that the word "hospital" comes from the Latin for "guest." We could also bring up their patron saint, who advised medical workers, "Heal thyself." A good place for them to start is any elementary school, where no adult ignores tears.

NOTE: This was written nine years ago, in the early days of the the standards and accountability usurpation of our teacherly craft. Now I read that last sentence with bitter irony. These days Standardistos order teachers proctoring high stakes tests to ignore tears. A Tennessee first grade teacher received an official reprimand for comforting one of her crying students during a high stakes test.

I wonder when we are going to take our schools back from the sham science that has invaded them.

For more news on science flim-flam, see the Commentary "Blowing the Whistle on Science Shams--in Surgery and in Reading," July 10, 2002.

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