Several years ago, my Mom had a short stay at Mercy Hospital, the hospital in my hometown. From half a continent away, I called her in her hospital room daily to check in. Obviously, I could picture her room because I spent many hours at Mercy Hospital growing up. If you grew up in Independence, you can’t think about Mercy Hospital without thinking of the milestones of your life, the happy and the sad, that are connected to her.
I dialed the hospital number and asked the operator to connect me to my Mom’s room. From the other end came a groggy, “Hello?!”
“Mom it’s me.”
“How are you?”
“I’m fine, how are you?”
“I’m okay, feeling a little out of it.”
I can’t remember what else we talked about but after a few more exchanges, I sensed something was awry.
“You don’t sound like yourself.”
“I don’t feel like myself.”
“Are you Theresa Barnhart?”
She replied that she wasn’t, the woman gave me her name, and I was relieved to learn that the addled person I was talking to wasn’t my mother after all. We said our goodbyes, polite Kansas folk that we were, and not long after, I was connected, by telephone, with my Mom.
I guess the memory sticks in my memory because of the journey it took me on, worry to confusion, confusion to relief, and the relief with a hint of residual worry left behind.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Mercy Hospital. You might know that it closed its doors this week, yesterday, I believe. Months ago, when I heard about the imminent demise, I could not wrap my brain around it. It seemed like an impossibility.
What I have learned in the last few weeks, after reading article after article about Mercy Hospital’s last days is that small hospitals in small towns are closing all over the country. The New York Times ran an article about Mercy Hospital this week. I read it with a mixture of sadness and pride, if that makes sense. On the one hand, I’m worried about what will happen to my little town and on the other hand, hey, we made The New York Times!
I won’t get into the politics of this. I’m no expert in government or healthcare in America. I just want to say that from 1500 miles away, I will miss Mercy Hospital.
Like many others, I hope that something will happen that will turn the tide, that somehow, by some miracle, Mercy Hospital might reopen. The sooner the better.
Someone, a friend of a friend, made a comment on my Facebook page, a reference to my last blog, where I ruminated on my fear that all of Independence hated me because of another blog I wrote. This woman told me not to worry about my town, that my town was fine. And I know she was talking about something else, but in the proximity of what was occurring in Independence this week, I couldn’t help but wonder, without a hospital, will my town be fine?
How do we progress into the 21st century while still valuing and retaining what has worked in the past?
I worry about the high school friends I have who worked at Mercy Hospital, where will they go? I worry about the citizens of the town, what will happen when people fall at home or get into car accidents?
I worry about all of it. But if you know me even a little, you know what I’m most worried about.
And if you’re reading this and your parents still live in Independence or any of the other Independences out there, you understand my concern. I don’t have to tell you what you already know, that in an emergency, there can be a big difference between a 5 minute commute and 30 minute one.
If any good has come of this, I’ve been reminded how much I love Independence, how much I love this little hospital. Maybe someone else, someone with a lot more money than me, will be reminded of the same thing and find a way to save the day.
Also this week, also prompted by something I read on Facebook, I’ve pondered what it means to be Kansan. Is there a common thread that runs through all of us?
I think there is. We Kansans, we persevere, we endure. I see all of us, living and the ones who came and lived before us, like characters in an episode of Little House of the Prairie. Corny, I know. But whatever it is that life throws into our path, be it droughts or floods, snow or ice, pestilence or Nellie Olesons, we persevere. We endure.
And so, in regards to the death of Mercy, and our little town’s future, I must offer the same stoic optimism. If you think you hear a catch in my voice, you would not be mistaken. But I do believe, I must believe, our town will be fine.