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SPLIT RAIL INN 217 South Lamar Where Union Men Meet Since 1866 The Place in Austin GOOD FOOD GOOD BEER 1607 San Jacinto . GU? 7-4171 `The Hospital’ in Houston Austin Jan de Hartog is a good man in a time when good men are desperately needed. He is presently a writer in residence at the University of Houston and the center of the biggest controversy to fill the front pages of both Houston newspapers for many years. Source of the controversy is the poor level of care for many years prevalent in Houston’s hospital for indigents. Trigger for the publicity is a book by de Hartog, The Hospital, in which he describes what he has seen as a volunteer orderly in the hospital. What is really causing all the noise is the fact that he has candidly accused the people of Houston and has documented his accusation thoroughly. The Hospital is no longer available in Houston ; the first edition sold out almost instantly. The book has been praised by many national publications. \(A sampling: Newsweek, Christian Science Monitor, Month Club selection. The path which led this Dutch sailor to Houston was remarkable in its variety. At periods in his life he has been pursued by the German Nazis, he has .been captain of a hospital ship, he has sailed the inland waterways of the United States \(from for some years with the Seminoles. His list of literary successes is as long as your arm, including works like The Four Poster, The Spiral Road, and The Inspector. Looking in his face, you see wrinkles, but you sense that they came not from his fifty years but from squinting in the sun, and they leave his eyes in a perpetual smile. The present hue and cry \(and in certain injured circles in Houston, de Hartog is from the fact that when he came to Houston several years ago to accept a position at the University of Houston, he and his wife, Marjorie, began using their spare time working as volunteer orderlies in the local “charity” hospital, quietly, as any good Quaker might. It was nearly two years ago that he began making public charges in response to a city councilman’s suggestion that the hospital budget might be cut. His book describes the resultant campaign. FIRST, HE DESCRIBES the hospital, formerly Jefferson Davis General Hospital, now Ben Taub General Hospital. Robert E. Cogswell, a pre-law student at the University of Texas from Houston and a leader in the Texas Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment, worked as a volunteer in the male medicine wards of the old charity hospital and the emergency room in the new one in Houston most of 1963. He is one of the characters in The Hospital. Robert E. Cogswell The old place, standing thirty years on the banks of Buffalo Bayou, stank. When entering it for the first time, the smell, distinctly different from the antiseptic smell of private hospitals, struck you before anything else. The accumulated effluvium from three decades of short staffing made it clear that too many bed pans had stood too long unemptied. The second thing to make itself clear in J. D. was the abject misery of those people who sat, waiting. They had not come to J. D. by choice, for anyone who could pay for care would go elsewhere. Worse than that, they didn’t come until they were really sick, because no one liked J. D.’s dark, dank halls or dirty, hot rooms. How long did they sit, waiting? In the middle of the week, perhaps not so long. On weekends, when the knifings and shootings were occupying attention in the hours, or twelve, or twenty-four. I personally saw a sixty-year-old woman come in one Saturday night complaining of stomach pains. She was briefly examined by a doctor who found no significant symptoms. He told her she would have to wait there had been six gunshot victims in E.R. that night, and there was no time to care fcr non-critical patients. Three hours later, with the assistance of relatives who had come with her, she stood and approached the reception desk to ask attention once more. She didn’t live long enough to reach the desk. Sometimes three hours’ attention could save such a life. Other examples. Many times, and I emphasize many, I saw patients with open wounds, kept waiting beyond the time when those wounds could be closed with some hope of avoiding infection. It was too easy for it to become simply irritating happenstance for an old man, stooped with the load of more hard years than he had bargained for, to approach and say, “Doctor, couldn’t someone see my wife yet? We’ve been here since 3 yesterday, and she’s awful sick.” There was seldom time to explain that you were only a volunteer, or even that there were too many critical patients to be seen. The normal answer, spoken over your shoulder was, “Please wait in the waiting room, They’ll call you when they’re ready.” And you would continue your journey to find a chest tray while doctors and a screaming room. De Hartog describes the roaches in the night which would bore to reach the wounds under bandages on immobile patients. The Hospital is not a book to take to bed with you. He describes worse. “Yesterday morning, a patient died on Seven,” Mrs. Judd said with an odd calm. “He died of suffocation, because his trach tube was not cleaned on time. It was because there was one nurse for sixty patients. That man died of neglect.” “Mrs. Judd” is, like all other characters in the book, real. Names of hospital employees have been modified because of medical association requirements, but this is the only difference between The Hospital and what de Hartog really experienced. Obviously, “Mrs. Judd” in speaking of neglect was not speaking of nursing neglect. She was indicting the public of Houston. SOME SAID THINGS would change for the better when the move was made into Ben Taub General last year. It was cleaner, for a while. A new hospital starts that way. But the basic problem, understaffing, remains the same according to some inside Ben Taub. Public officials take tours of the hospital, some unannounced. City Councilman Bill Elliott \(not to be confused with the Harris County tour of the hospital dressed in hospital whites and came out charging that the hospital is dirty, understaffed, and not fulfilling its minimum responsibilities. Adding fuel to the blaze was a critical, inside report, intended to be confidential, but somehow leaked to the newspapers. January 22, 1965 13