A personal ode to Grady Hospital
By Maria Saporta
After being loaded into the ambulance, the emergency medical technician asked: “Would you rather go to Grady or to Atlanta Medical?”
“Grady,” I said without hesitation.
Over my decades of being a journalist in Atlanta, I have followed the ups and downs of Grady Hospital.
Even when Grady was on the brink of bankruptcy more than a decade ago, I knew it was the best place to go for trauma injuries and a myriad of other medical emergencies.
Grady was saved by an amazing wave of corporate, philanthropy and civic support that led to one of the most inspirational comeback stories in our city’s history. Hundreds of millions of dollars by generous foundations and individuals were invested in Grady making it an even better place during a medical emergency or for general health care.
I knew all of that as an observer – as someone who had written about Grady, as someone who had brought people who needed care to the hospital or visited friends who were being treated.
But this was the first time I was a patient, the first time I was able to experience the phenomenal institution of Grady Hospital from the inside.
It was Saturday morning (June 12). I was on the final leg of my bicycle ride that had taken me along the Eastside BeltLine Trail from Midtown to DeKalb Avenue, and I was headed to do a loop around Piedmont Park before heading home. I was going down the 10th Street designated bicycle lane about to turn on the path into the park near Park Tavern. Another cyclist was headed toward me, so I swerved to give it more room – hitting the curb and falling over.
Immediately, I knew my ankle was broken, and my shoulder didn’t feel so good. I called my daughter, and we quickly realized there was no way I could get into the van she was driving. So, I called 911, and she took my bicycle home.
That’s how I ended up on a stretcher in an ambulance on my way to Grady. I was wheeled through the Marcus Trauma Center, remembering how I had covered the dedication of revamped Emergency facilities at the hospital in 2016.
I was wheeled into a big room in the Emergency area where teams of medical staff assessed my injuries by taking X-rays and checking my whole body to make sure nothing else was going on. The professionalism and immediacy of their response was incredible. While waiting for the doctor to review the results, I was wheeled to a station in the hall.
It became readily apparent that there were other patients who were in far worse shape than I was. A cat-scan revealed my ankle was broken in two spots and that I had broken my collar bone. When I was under the spell of hallucinogenic pain medication, the orthopedic doctor set my ankle. I ended being in the Emergency area 12 hours before being taken to a room on the orthopedic floor.
Since I was already at Grady, the doctors and I decided to go ahead and perform surgery on the ankle. That was on Monday morning, and I was released Thursday afternoon.
During those five days as a patient, several realities hit me in the face.
First of all, I realized more than ever I am one of the lucky ones. I have insurance. I have family. I have friends. I have a place I call home. I have financial resources.
That is not true for so many of the other patients on the floor. I was in a double room, and a woman who was admitted Tuesday night had been hit by a car when she was crossing the street (the driver did not stop to help). She had no address and no one to contact. She was full of bruises and a sprained neck. She was angry and rude to the staff trying to help her.
The second fact I realized was the floor was filled with angels – the doctors, the nurses, the technicians, the custodians, the people who deliver meals, physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers as well as a myriad of other medical professionals.
I couldn’t believe the amount of abuse they experienced day after day treating people who are in pain, people who have little to nothing, people who are yelling at them or worse.
Immediately, I felt compelled to let every one of those angels know how special they are. One night the floor was down a nurse so everyone had more patients than they should have had. One of those patients was yelling at the top of his lungs disturbing the whole floor and causing the limited staff to gather around him. Even then, I was impressed by the care and attention we all received.
One night, a nurse came in my room, and I could see she was close to tears. The loud patient had been rude to her. We questioned why some patients had such a hard time understanding health care workers were only trying to make them feel better. In every case, all I heard were medical folks calmly reassuring patients, seeking ways to make them more comfortable.
Back to my first point. There are so many people who are hurting – physically, mentally, emotionally – just trying to deal with the basics of life, much less an injury or an illness.
Grady is their safety net. Grady is our safety net. No one is turned away. And whether you have broken bones, burns, gunshot wounds, been in a car accident or any other medical emergency, Grady is the place to go.
So as I’m now recuperating at home, I felt compelled to share my story.
I also wanted to thank the Atlanta leaders who stepped up to save Grady – most notably the Woodruff Foundation, Tom Bell, the late Pete Correll, Bernie Marcus, the Grady Health Foundation among others. Their efforts were propelled by the civic journalism provided by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time.
Strong civic leadership made a difference for Grady.
And today, thousands of medical professionals and health care workers are making a difference – breathing life into Grady and healing the sick no matter their means.
We can never take Grady Hospital for granted.