I am, by trade, a pediatric echocardiographer. The majority of my work is of service to an independent practice, Pediatric Cardiology of Long Island (PCLI) whose primary location is on the campus of a hospital with a national reputation in interventional cardiology. Most of what I do for them takes place at that address and so I travel the same roads most of my working days. In July I will have been there, in one way or another for twenty years, and so my drive has become as mundane a chore as one could imagine. Until last week, that is. As I was rolling through the last quarter of a mile before I turned into the parking lot, I found myself passing a series of signs expressing the gratitude of the local community for the work performed by the staff at the hospital. Frankly, I found the display more than a bit irritating.
I suppose a bit of background is in order here. The health care facility I alluded to in the previous paragraph is St. Francis Hospital, located in Nassau County, New York. Surrounded by neighborhoods with impressive per capita incomes, St. Francis is part of the Catholic Health Services system (CHS) and so it enjoys the support of the arch diocese. In short, the hospital provides a generally excellent standard of not just care, but comfort as well. In addition the institution, through a variety of outreach services, tries to extend help past it’s own immediate boundaries into outlying, and in many cases, underserved areas. Having gone to a number of the hospital’s holiday charity gala’s over the years I can state from personal experience that the sterling public image of the facility is a source of pride to local merchants and clergy alike. All that being said the thank you from the good folks of the village in which St. Francis is located (Flower Hill) rings more than a bit hollow as they have previously been nothing but a pain in the ass to the non-physician employees of the hospital, and of the private practices that can be found on its campus.
I first came to work for PCLI in July of 2000. Over the ensuing two decades many elements of my average workday have changed but there have been a few constants. The gift shop always opens up without sufficient change, making the purchase of a newspaper with any bill other than a single a source of anxiety for all involved. The climate control in the suite I work in has always kind of done whatever it pleased, seemingly without regard to season or temperature. And the available parking has never been adequate to the demands of the employees or visitors. From the day I started until the present, finding a place for my vehicle has always been something of a crapshoot. The staff parking fills up rapidly necessitating that the security staff double as an ad hoc valet team. They’re pretty good about it but it’s not as if my automobile hasn’t picked up a few battle scars from time to time. When there is no longer any room to jockey the cars around they open up visitor parking to the workers who are unfortunate enough to have to thread their way through the Darwinian rugby scrum that is the process of vying with people there to see friends or relatives for a spot. On occasion even those slim pickings disappear leaving whoever’s left with little to do but get creative with some of the non-parking parts of the hospital grounds and hope they get yelled at instead of towed. I may be oversimplifying this, but the above mentioned high jinks could probably have been avoided if denizens of Flower Hill had thought about thanking us in the years before a global pandemic facilitated a spasm of useless, and most likely self aggrandizing, appreciation.
The parking situation I just described was already an ongoing source of aggravation at the hospital when I began working there. The reason it continues to be so today is in no small part a function of the refusal of the locals to ease up a bit on zoning restrictions which prevent St. Francis from adding on additional tiering to already existing parking structures. I’m not insensitive to the homeowners, but their pursuit of their own interests has at times ventured from reasonable concern regarding property values to outright obnoxiousness and indifference to a group of workers they now profess to see as earthbound deities. When the hospital was approved to engage in limited construction, the concerned citizens of the village managed to take a break from their busy days and find the time to ask the local police to keep hospital staff from parking on the roadside, across the boulevard from their homes. Most of the residents could not actually see any of this, but just knowing it was going on seemed to have been the impetus for a protracted bout of pearl clutching. We were shuttled to a public parking lot two miles away on a tri-weekly rotating basis. Having a twenty to thirty minute delay tacked onto the end of the day was such an inviting prospect that I ended up renting a space on my off site weeks from a nearby mechanic that I’d used for small repairs, and service.
I understand that everything they did was within their legal rights. I also understand that there isn’t anything particularly risky or all that important in my work. I’m just taking a moment to cite this whole mess as an object lesson in the utter emptiness of saying thank you to someone when you can’t be bothered to show it in a meaningful way. The next time you thank a service member for their sacrifice, think about writing a check to one of the dozens of charities that are devoted to the welfare of our armed forces. If you’re expressing gratitude to a first responder, consider making a donation to the sort of local food banks that volunteer firefighters always seem to be organizing. And if you’re patting yourself on the back for bestowing the mantle of hero on someone, perhaps a moment’s reflection on what small part you could play in making their life a little less difficult would be a nice idea. Even if it involves the incalculable sacrifice of bearing up to looking at parked cars across a main road from where you live.