Saturday, April 25, 2009

Swedish in Seattle

I spent half the morning wandering through secured doors, convoluted chutes and circular corridors, attempting to get the lay of the land. My compass star? The Starbucks in the main lobby, around which Swedish Hospital – Cherry Hill revolved. I stopped for a cup of yogurt and stepped into the walled garden bordering the cafeteria. Three weeping cherries stooped, skeletal and barren, awaiting the strong-arm of summer to pry its way between cement towers and force the spring that seemingly bathed Seattle, to their minuscule plot. Weeping cherry trees, Swedish – Cherry Hill... I get it. I was in Swedish for four full days, training nurses. I turned to miniature weeping Japanese maples, heads bowed and branches gracefully bent as if in prayer. Their new leaves like gnarled fists uncurling, released by winter’s grip. Squatting to read a small bronze plaque set between them, I was caught unawares: Sisters of Providence. Sisters of Providence? I had worked at the Sisters of Providence hospital in Anchorage – a full lifetime ago. “Was this hospital a Sisters of Providence Hospital?” I inquired. “Yes. Swedish bought it a few years back and has eradicated nearly every sign of the Sisters.” I mentioned Providence over dinner to a chorus of similar sentiment. I was saddened that new owners would obliterate versus honor the fruits of their labor and the Sister’s memory. Eradicate may not have been the intention, though clearly it was the impression of the community. On the hill chosen by Sisters long ago, I paused at a sixth floor window, taking in bruised skies and a sleeping city’s shadowy skyscrapers poking through a nocturnal blanket of fog. Why can’t I find Mt. Rainier? Perched over the city, Rainier is only visible, weather permitting. And like most populations that dwell in the shadow of a great mountain, word rippled through its denizens when the weather broke, the clouds parted and the mountain in all its glory, stood its ground. Get thee to a nunnery. There are many reasons to join a convent. A want and call to serve God is but one. A family’s hedge on life eternal and one less mouth to feed is another. It was the proper place of repose for the deeply contrite and indubitably pregnant. And until modern times, the cloister was the sole source for women’s education. Circumstance surrounding induction into the Order of the Sisters of Providence takes nothing from their contribution. A band of women in the yet untamed lands of the Pacific Northwest built a home to house and nurse the sick to health. And in the absence of health, offered prayer, comfort and care until death. I walked more erect; my gait gained bounce for the ground was suddenly familiar. I'd found my bearings in friendly territory, this was Providence. “Have you ever had a catheter that you could get medications into,” I pointed, gesturing forward, leading them through my seven-minute talk, “But couldn’t get blood out?” The small group of nurses nodded silently. Nurses are eager and apt students; teaching nurses, people who care and care to make a difference, is as easy as it is pleasurable. “That’s a problem. You should never have a catheter into which you can infuse but can’t get a blood return. We call that a partial occlusion, most likely caused by clot, and we want you to treat that sooner than later.” “Are you Swedish?” someone blurted. Do I look Swedish? Monkey volleyed sarcastically, fully expecting an answer though thankfully, he was unheard. I smiled a knowing smile. “We at Kaiser are very incestuous,” I have said more often than not. “We l-o-v-e being trained by one of our own.” A familiar family crest begets kinship and a willing attitude. “No,” I answered, “I am here with a team of people visiting from California, to train in all three of your hospitals.” I boarded my plane after days of traipsing down their halls, never once having glimpsed the mountain. Airborne, Mt. Rainer rose to meet my climbing jet. She gathered herself from the lowlands like a woman gathers full skirts and crinolines to rise. My eyes were drawn to the fall of her shoulders, her curves, her flanks and the aura of ice crystals that sparkled with magic and mystery. A domed cloud cupped her crown and reached with creeping tendrils to shoulders and breasts covered by a perpetual shawl of snow and ice. Substantial hips and flanks wore an apron of white that would soon give way to summer’s lush and fecund lands, the fertile valleys that skirted her feet. The breeze that whistled through concrete seracs perched on Cherry Hill carried the frigid fragrance of Madam Rainier. Mesmerized by the mountain, I stared unblinking as my mind wandered, hopscotching over previous days. United beneath one flag, Swedish-First Hill and Swedish-Cherry Hill are twin sons of different mothers. I suddenly understood her question, Are you Swedish? as a variant of: friend or foe. I had wrongly assumed Swedish, friend. Beneath blonde Swedish skin, behind shiny, new letters emblazoned at the circular entrance, beat the pulse of Providence. They did not eradicate the garden nor the telltale, small bronze plaque. On Cherry Hill, they had yet to still the heartbeat, vanquish the loyalty or banish the passionate champions for the mission of the Sisters of Providence.


  1. So beautifully written; so poetic. Definitely Pulitzer and Nobel quality.

  2. Loved it, Lorin. Poetic, thoughtful, honest . . . and all that with your much-appreciated wit.

    You're awesome. Even if you're not blonde. ;-)