What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility ... a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.
Late, as usual, I rushed from the Operating Room to the Cancer Center clinic, mentally going through the checklist of tasks needing attention. I pushed open a hallway door and ducked between the chairs in one of the Center’s waiting rooms, heading toward another door that would bring me to the work area.
Suddenly, I stopped short.
Instead of the usual groupings of patients reading, talking, or resting, I realized that everyone — patients, family members, nurses, clinic staff, and physicians — was looking upward, focusing on the waiting room televisions. Some of the people nodded or commented quietly to their companions, but they never took their eyes from the screens mounted high on the walls above them.
For there, on the televisions throughout the hospital and the rest of the world, a new President of the United States was being inaugurated.
As I stood with my hand on the door, I reflected on how rarely events in the outside world are able to bring things in a hospital to a near-standstill. A couple of previous moments have come close:
During my fellowship in Houston, I was working on an experiment in a research lab the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, the day the space shuttle Challenger was lost. I can vividly recall the anxiety and profound sadness felt throughout the institution. It was days before the pace of work recovered.
Years later, I was in the middle of performing a neck dissection the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 when the attacks occurred on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. As the events unfolded, I finally had to ask the helpful anesthesiologist who kept charging in every few minutes with updates to leave us alone so we could concentrate on our task at hand. When the case was finally completed, I was overwhelmed with the palpable sense of uncertainty that pervaded the building.
Last week, though, the mood in the hospital was quiet but optimistic. I sensed that we all slowed down for a while — maybe so we would be able to someday recall where we were at that moment in history.
Each of the clinics in our new Clinical Cancer Center
has a solid, uplifting name like “Courage,” “Life,” or “Faith.” It was with no small sense of satisfaction, therefore, that I pushed through the doorway to go see my waiting patients, on this day of Mr. Obama’s inauguration, in the clinic called “Hope.”
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I had an similarly profound morning during President Obama's inaguration. Or clinic was slow, as Tuesday mornings are. On a chance, I brought in my laptop, knowing that my doctor was not holding clinic. I was also hoping that my supervisor would allow me to set up my mac in his dictation area, allowing us girls a chance to catch some of the events while keeping atop of phones and patients. She took a little pursuading, but I knew whe really wanted the oppertunity also. I recieved a yes. I had a really unusual experience, getting quite caught up in the moment with a few coworkers that I do not usually see eye-to-eye with. They shared a couple "hallaujah's" with me that day, and even a few tears. I was allowed to"break the rules" and the resulting effect was somehow very satisfying. For me on that day, I had already experienced a little change and hope.