A "Good" Bad Day
by Dick Johnson
Anne had her adventure at an art center, I had mine visiting a friend at a hospital.
The day started routinely. My sister-in-law called in the morning and made arrangements to pick me up at 1:30 to do a chore. I got back home from that, did a few things around the house, and decided it was too nice to stay in, and that I was going for a ride. As I was getting things together to leave, I noticed I had a message on my answering machine.
It was from a close friend, calling me from a hospital. He'd been in hospital since the previous Sunday evening, having been admitted in an emergency. His health had been failing for the past few weeks, and his doctor (HMO) wasn't doing him any good. Sunday night, he had gone to emergency in a nearby city, a specialist was called in, and he was sent, in serious condition, to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) in Pittsburgh by ambulance. Turns out his doctor had actually done him harm!
My friend has suffered from psoriasis for a long time, but he was getting worse and worse. His doctor prescribed some medication that was actually harmful to his condition, and that was what was making him worse! He, in fact, ended up with a life-threatening case of psoriasis!
I drove to Pittsburgh--gaaaa! I'll digress a bit to explain that although I'm a small-town native, I'd lived in a city for 30 years before getting fed up with cities and moving back to my small, remote hometown. Anyway, I found the hospital after asking directions twice.
Good thing everyone in Pittsburgh is exceptionally friendly and helpful. My friend had told me the hospital is right in downtown Pittsburgh. I drove straight downtown (not hard to find once you get on the same side of the mountain as downtown—all the skyscrapers seemed to be clustered in a few blocks and I just headed towards them). In the heart of downtown I saw no signs for the hospital, so I stopped at a cab stand and knocked on the window of a cab driver. He got out of the car, and I said I was looking for the UPMC. He said, "which one, there are about 20 of them!" Fortunately my friend had mentioned Presbyterian. Driver said it wasn't in downtown, and gave me explicit directions how to get there, about three miles away. Even when I tried to leave, he patiently explained the directions again … and yet again!
I followed his directions, and got as far as his directions took me and did what he suggested, stopped and asked for further directions. I pulled into a gas station. One guy was pumping his own gas, and an attendant was standing talking to him. I walked up, excused myself, and explained what I was looking for. They both fell all over themselves giving me directions -- it was about three more blocks, and a left turn for a block or so.
I found the hospital, and that's where my adventure really began. I parked across the street from the emergency ambulance entrance, figuring it couldn't be too far to a visitors' entrance. Hah! I walked a block before I found any entrance, but that was locked and labeled as a student entrance. A guy was hanging around outside in the open arcade in front of the doors smoking, and asked what I was looking for. I told him, and he said this is it. He'd blocked one of the door locks so the door didn't lock went he'd come out for his smoke, and he let me in. He then gave me directions to a security guard by passing through several corridors and up an elevator to another floor.
The security guard gave me more directions, go back down in the same elevator, one floor down past the floor I came in on, go through a long cellar corridor, come to a reception area, which he'd said if no one was there that there was another one a little further on. There was no one at either of the reception areas! I wandered around and ended up at an entrance somewhere else, and found another guard and asked how I could locate a patient. He sent me to the two "windows" that were open where new patients were checking in. I got in line and asked my question, and they sent me back to one of the empty reception desks and told me to use the phone on the reception desk to call the operator who would tell me the room.
The operator told me my friend was in 10 South, room 1044. So, back I went to the guard for directions to get there. Go down this hall, turn right, find the elevators. Go up to the 3rd floor, get off, then find the elevators that go to the 10th floor. I did that, got to the 10th floor, told the nurse at the nurses' station who I was looking for, she told me they didn't have a patient by that name. I'd jotted my friend's room information down, pulled out the slip of paper and told them. Oh, this isn't 10S, this is 10N.
Go back down the elevator to the 3rd floor, cross the walkway to the Montefiore building, and take the elevator there to 10. I did that, I thought, got to 10, and ended up in an empty place. Nurses station, very small, was dark. Room 1044 was right next door, but it had a warning on the door; “Radiation, authorized personnel only!” And NO ONE was anywhere in the area, or even on that entire floor, which wasn't very big. Forgot to mention—the first elevator I got in, in that second building, when I pressed 10, the doors closed, the floor light went out but the elevator didn't move! I managed to open the doors, found another set of elevators, and did the trip to the empty floor.
Anyway, I went back down to the 3rd floor, started back across the walkway to the first building, saw a blue plaque on a wall with a large "?" and a telephone. I picked up the phone (no dial, just wait for someone to answer) and explained what I wanted. She gave me basically the same directions I'd gotten from the first operator. :-(
A little exploring, and I found that the Montefiore walkway went THROUGH the building I was in, and continued out the other side into another building! Got into that other building, wandered through corridors this way and that and finally came to a bank of elevators. Took that up to the 10th floor, and voila! I was finally in the right place.
This whole episode took over 45 minutes! In all that wandering around, I hardly ever saw or met anyone else; visitors or nurses or nursing aides. It was kind of like being in a dream, if not a nightmare, where I was in all these corridors and elevators and no one else was around. Hard to believe I was near the center of a city in the heart of a major hospital-medical/teaching complex and there was virtually no one there!
My friend was very glad to see me, but he looked terrible. He looked like he'd had a severe sunburn, he had big swaths of skin peeling off him, his feet and ankles were swollen terribly. And, he told me, he looked much better than he had looked earlier in the week. His whole body had been swollen like his feet! Anyway, we had a nice visit for at least an hour, and I know he felt better having me come there which made the adventure worth while.
I haven't even mentioned the trip down! I doubt that I'd been to Pittsburgh in more than 25 years. I took the most direct route, according to the map, which consisted of state highways 66, 68, 28 and 8. It was virtually a straight line on the map from Kane, where I live, to Pittsburgh, about 120 miles away. Route 66 is fairly straight, I was familiar with it, and no problem, but route 68 was anything but straight. The mountains in the southern part of PA are even higher and steeper than in the northern part of the state, and Route 68 twisted and turned in the very narrow, winding valleys. It was also poorly marked, and I really had to guess where the road went! It would come to T and V intersections, and not even tell you which direction route 68 went! Not only that, but I had to drive through downtown Butler, a fairly large city, where route 68 intersected with route 8. Oddly enough, it wasn't until I found myself on route 28 that I finally saw a sign for Pittsburgh, and it was 20 miles. That's a pretty big city, and it's hard to believe I had to get within 20 miles of it before I ever saw a sign for it!
Route 28 was another nightmare! It was a freeway, but I was in bumper to bumper traffic, and a lot of the bridges across the Allegheny River into Pittsburgh were closed. I finally got off that road by following a detour sign, and got out of the heavy traffic. Apparently there was a baseball game at the stadium and I had gotten into that traffic. Anyway, I made it downtown, and have already recited that episode, above. The experience on Routes 68, 28 and 8 are not typical of what is found on other Pennsylvania highways.
The return trip: I had decided before I ever got to the hospital that I was definitely not returning home by the same route. To get off my friend's floor, and find an exit near my car (so I didn't have to wander Pittsburgh's streets in the dark), I asked at the nurses' station where to go. One not only told me how to get out of the building, she actually offered to write the directions down for me. Here they are: “Go down to level 8, make a left off elevator, follow the bridges over to Presby. You will be on level 3. Take elevators to level 1. Follow the signs.”
I followed her directions, and didn't end up anywhere! I was standing, obviously looking lost, and a hospital employee asked what I was looking for. I told her, and she directed me to a down escalator, told me to turn this way and that. I did, and finally found an exit. I asked the guard at the exit how to find the street where my car was. He told me to go out the walk, cross the street to the street that runs away from the hospital, go straight, and it would turn into (whatever the name of the street was). I did, but I knew within a block that it wasn't right. :-(
I turned around and started back towards the exit when I saw a police car heading toward me. I flagged him down and told him what I was looking for. He started to give me directions, then said "get in, I'll take you there, and we can make sure your car hasn't been stolen." (Apparently everyone isn't as nice as the people I'd been meeting.)
Turns out as we ended up back at the entrance to the hospital that I'd just exited from that instead of proceeding straight, as the guard had directed, I should have turned right, and my car was just three-quarters of a block away. The policeman let me out, I thanked him profusely, and he started to drive away. But, he pulled up next to my driver's door, I put down my window, and he asked if I knew how to get out of Pittsburgh. In the earlier conversation, we'd established that I was from Kane (he comes up to Kane to hunt).
I said that I was glad he reminded me, that I'd intended to look at a map and determine the most direct route to an Interstate highway, and then how to get to I-79, where I'd know where I was and could return home with no trouble. So, there were the two of us leaning over the hood of my car with my city street map of Pittsburgh spread out and the policeman showing me the route to take to get to I-579, then to I-279, which led into I-79. Although the drive was probably 20-30 miles farther than the route down, it was MUCH easier, and I think I got back about one-half hour quicker than the trip down. On later trips, I learned a much more direct, and better route to use.
Got back home at 12:30 a.m.--left to go down at 3:30 p.m.
So, that was my “good” bad day.
Addendum: This is not critical to the events in my “good” bad day, but it might tie some loose ends up. First, I'd like to thank the many Pittsburgh residents who were extraordinarily kind to me in my wanderings through both the city and the UPMC. I don't know any of their names, but they were all eager to help, and went out of their way to be friendly and courteous. I did not meet one person during the whole episode who was unfriendly.
They talk about the hills of San Francisco. That's a flat city compared to Pittsburgh! Pittsburgh has, however, a beautiful downtown.
Next, I'd like to try to tie the mountains, complex of hospital buildings, and various levels of the hospital into a semi-coherent whole. There are many buildings that make up the UPMC complex, and most are built on the side of a mountain, a mountain so steep that a street running between the buildings climbs 10 stories in just two blocks! The street is called by the locals Heart Attack Hill (I don't recall the actual name of the street). Because the Montefiore is built on the street at the bottom of the hill, but the Presbyterian building is built on the second block up, their “levels” are numbered differently. That's why the walkway from Level 8 in the Montefiore building connects to Level 3 in Presbyterian.
On a later trip, I also learned that there was a parking garage behind the Montefiore building and that if I parked on the fifth level of the garage, that I was at the same level as the main entrance to that building—in other words, on the seventh floor at the back of the building!
© 2003 Richard A. Johnson