The Blog

"It Gets Hard When They Cheer"

In an Israeli hospital, signs of hardship, hope, and horror. (And a shameful look at the L.A. Lakers' civic mindedness.)

7:00 AM, Aug 19, 2002 • By LARRY MILLER
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NO ONE likes hospitals. Of course, when we need them, we thank God they're there, and we hope we, or our loved ones, are in a good one. My mother-in-law, God bless her, is in a hospital now down in Orange County, and it's as beautiful a facility as you're ever going to run into, I guess. But I noticed several things there, and I think these are universal. First, as you walk from the parking lot into the hospital you see people who've just checked out, heading home with their families. Obviously, they are very happy. But look closer, next time. The happiness they have, especially the ex-patients, is deep, glowing, radiating. As we all know, when it comes to the hospital, many check in, but not so many check out, and the ones that do are left, even temporarily, with a reflective mien. Grateful. Thoughtful. "Didn't get me this time. Let's get out of here. Quickly. Guy in the next room won't make it. I did. Why? I don't know. Come on. Faster. I need to start forgetting."

Lucky people. Another observation is how quickly we learn our way around the hospital. Going out for coffee, or to make a call, we all know, very soon, where we're going, don't we? Down here, turn left, past the oncology lab, not those elevators, they're too slow, the back ones, around the corner, are faster. We learn the paths easily, and the place begins to feel familiar. We can even spot newcomers, and we smirk a little, inwardly, as they pass us, tentatively looking around. Go on, we silently urge, a little further, check at the nurses' station. They'll tell you where Uncle Pete is. I'm going to the commissary. Easy to find. You'll know soon.

After even only a couple of hours, I find myself, weirdly, so familiar with the surroundings I almost feel like strolling into one of the other rooms on "my" floor and checking the clipboard at the end of the bed. I don't know why, I couldn't possibly help anyone, and unless that clipboard has a crossword puzzle on it, I wouldn't even know what the hell I was looking at anyway.

The third thought I had was how, for all of us, it is not possible to empathize, really, with the person in the bed if that person isn't you. I think we all have a natural defense mechanism. And even if the patient is someone we care about, at the moment of standing somberly around the room, whether the loved one is out cold, or tremendously uncomfortable, or even close to passing on, it's hard not to think, "Soon I'll be back in the hotel room. I wonder if they serve late? Something other than trail mix would be nice. Hit that mini-bar, too." No, the only time we, each of us, will understand is when we're the ones in the bed. Soon enough, God knows. Soon enough. Then we'll get it. As we labor with each breath through the plastic nosepiece, we'll look around, focus with effort, and see, through their concern, everyone thinking, "Soon I'll be back in the hotel room." My mother had a long illness. My father went in a flash, and was sitting next to God before he even hit the floor. God willing, we'll all have the grace to take whatever we're supposed to take.

I was in two other hospitals recently, just a week ago, in Israel. It was part of my trip, to meet some victims of the terror bombings and their families. As an aside to this, you might like to hear something good and something not so good.

First, something good. Since I knew I was going to be seeing a lot of kids, I thought maybe they would like some videos. A couple of the recent Disney movies I've been in struck me as possible, "The Princess Diaries," and "Max Keeble's Big Move." I called my publicist, Michael Hansen, and he called Adam Jordon, Director of National Publicity, Buena Vista Pictures Marketing. (That's a heckuva title, isn't it? One more promotion, and he's going to need double-doors on his office to hold all the words.) Anyway, Adam stepped right up and said, essentially, "Whatever you want." They're sending so much stuff, we decided to ship it after I got back: Shirts, hats, posters, movies, photos. Good for you, Disney.