Ringing for the Nurse


When the phone rings, S.Q. Lapius was busy typing something and I was stretched out in front of the fireplace reading the Sunday papers.  Because he obviously didn’t want to be interrupted, I allowed it to ring.


“Harry,” Lapius barked impatiently, “Do something about that infernal noise.”


I struggled to my feet and picked up the receiver, listened for a moment and turned to Lapius.  “It’s for you.”


“Tell them I don’t want to be disturbed.”


“He doesn’t want to be disturbed,” I told the telephone.


The phone answered me.  I turned to Lapius again.  “It’s an emergency.”


Lapius organized his bulk into an upright position and having overcome its initial inertia was walking for the phone.


“Yes, this is Dr. Lapius.”  He listened for a while and then hung up muttering a few imprecations.  “Come on Harry.  We are going to the hospital.”


“Which one?”




He filled me in on the details of the emergency on the taxi ride over.  “You know Jersey Lord, the State Commissioner of Health?  He was visiting the shore this weekend and developed some indigestion.”


“That constitutes an emergency?”


“Not exactly.  There’s more to it.  When he got to the hospital they didn’t have any beds and so they put him in the hall.  He is very upset and wants me to get him a room.  That’s the emergency.”


“Why call you?  You are not his doctor.  After all, he knows members of the board of trustees at Point.”


“Yes but it’s a weekend.  They are on their yachts.”  By this time we had arrived.  I paid the taxi and followed Lapius into the hospital.


We found Lord sitting up in bed, his hands tied to the side-rails.


“Lapius,” he called.  “You don’t know how glad I am to see you.  Untie me immediately.”


Lapius was unruffled.  “Calm yourself, Jersey.  They must have tied you for a reason.  Harry, run to the nurses station and find out why Mr. Lord has been restrained.”


I ran and returned with the news that Lord had been running up and down the hall and the doctors ordered him to be restrained before he hurts himself and sues the hospital.


“You see, Jersey,” Lapius explained soothingly, ”They restrained you to protect you from yourself.  Why were you running up and down the halls when you were sick?  Surely not a rational act.”


“I wasn’t just running up and down the halls.  I was looking for a room.”


“But Jersey, you don’t believe that they would put you in the hall if there were a    room available, do you?”


“I know damn well there are rooms available,” Jersey said, straining against his bonds to gesticulate.  “After all, I am Commissioner of Health.  I have all the figures on hospital bed availability.  I supervise the Health Care Facilities Planning Act.  If there were a bed shortage I would know about it.”


“Well you know about it now,” Lapius murmured wryly.


“That’s just it.  They are doing this to spite me.  For revenge.  Now untie me.”


“Why would they do that?”


“Because I refused to allow them to open their new wing.  Now untie me.”


“Why did you refuse to allow them to open their new wing?”


“Because the community doesn’t need more hospital beds.  I have the population figures.  Now untie me.”


“Well, perhaps you are right, Jersey.  Let me make some inquiries.”  Lapius strode down the hall to the elevators.  He returned shortly.  “You are in luck, Jersey.  There are a number of discharges due tomorrow.  Providing too many emergency cases don’t come in tonight, you will have a room.”


“But if emergency cases come in --?”


“Then you will have company in the halls.”


“That’s unconscionable.  I can’t wait till tomorrow.  There are no facilities in the halls.  There is no oxygen.  Suppose I have an attack during the night?”  Jersey Lord wailed.


“Tut, tut,” Lapius sympathized, “Nothing like that will happen.  But it is ironic to think that there are sixty eight empty beds available in the annex here if only your office would grant permission for their utilization.  It’s a shame.  The community spent 6 million dollars to create those empty beds.”


“Lapius,” Lord implored, “Have me moved to one of those rooms.  No one will know.  Untie me.”


“I couldn’t do that, Jersey old friend.  That would be against the law.  Anyway you are not seriously ill.  They will probably let you go home in a day or two.”


“Untie me.”


“I’d like to Jersey, but I haven’t the authority to do that.  I am not on the staff here.  But I am sure if you promise to be good the resident doctor will have the restraints removed.”


On the ride back from the hospital I observed that Lapius seemed unduly harsh.


“Not at all, my dear boy. I didn’t create his predicament.  Anyway, the law is insipid.  Why shouldn’t any group be allowed to start a hospital as long as they follow the codes.  Let the market place decide if there are enough beds.  The efforts to assure adequate health care have created counterproductive statutes that actually create shortages that can only be rectified after months or perhaps years to litigation.”


“You could at least have untied his hands,” I said.


“Not at all, Harry.  Let him be.  It will give him time to think.”



Hard to believe, but in those days the government held the belief that a surplus of hospital beds encouraged an increase in hospital patient census and thus an increase in costs.  Did the bureaucrats really believe that reducing the number of hospital beds would reduce the incidence of disease?