Fred Hechinger’s “They Tortured My Mother”

Like many systems in the United States of America, the health care system is far from perfect. Through Fred Hechinger’s “They Tortured My Mother,” Suzanne Gordon’s “What Nurses Stand For,” and George Simpson’s “The War Room at Bellevue,” it is clear that the quality of health care varies from hospital to hospital. The system, while in dire need of reconstruction, has some satisfying aspects that often times go unnoticed by the American public. Caring, respectful, and good-natured nurses are the unmentioned backbone of the health care system.

Downfalls in the health care system begin with its continuous replacement of trained and experienced nurses with unlicensed assistive personnel, compensation of hospital administrators and chief executive officers of health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and doctors’ apathy towards the quality of the care they administer. The health care system should not be filled with disconcerting aspects because, after all, the care given in hospitals indirectly represents society’s values for caring for its sick and dying and its respect for one’s quality of life.

Nurses are the health care system’s symbol of strength that exudes “care, knowledge, and trust that is critical to patients’ survival” (Gordon 279). Nurses must quickly switch their focus from caring for the patients’ needs, to assisting in crises, to tending to the needs of the patients’ relatives and friends. In times of emergencies in hospitals, nurses are the first responders; they then call a physician and an emergency-response team. When “the patient is stable, [the physician] and the emergency-response team walk out of the treatment area, but the nurses continue to comfort the shaken [patients]” (Gordon 276).

Nurses are the first to come and last to leave. This role as the patient’s lifesaver and source of comfort comes from the fact that tending to the body and the soul is a nurse’s major job description. The nursing career is: A matter of life and death…. Nurses monitor a patient’s condition before, during, and after high-tech medical procedures. They adjust medications, manage pain and the side effects of treatment, and instantly intervene if a life-threatening change occurs in a patient’s condition.

(Gordon 283) Nurses are there for the patient’s medical and emotional ups and downs and recognize that the patient is more than just a sick body; the patient’s soul, life, and family needs the help of a nurse to heal. This is not to say that a hospital visit would be successful with only the treatment administered by nurses; physicians are sometimes the main attractions to a specific hospital. However, because they spend more time with the patient, it is the physician’s nursing staff that makes the patient’s hospital experience more comfortable and personalized.

The health care system has its fair share of disturbing aspects, in turn leaving some people with a lack of faith in the American government and its value of proper health care. There are 2. 2 million nurses that are slowly but surely being replaced with lower-paid, less-skilled workers—unlicensed assistive personnel (UAPs). Some hospital reconstruction plans “have called for a reduction of 20 to 50 percent in registered nursing staff” (Gordon 279). This replacement of exceptional nurses is a replacement of the tender love and care that this society has taken for granted for so long.

Janitors, housekeepers, security guards, and aides have, in some hospitals, been assigned to nursing duties. Untrained, unlicensed people performing any kind of job, especially those with as many responsibilities as a nurse, is dangerous! “Reducing the number of expert nurses in the hospital, the community, and homes endangers patients’ lives and wastes scarce resources” (Gordon 281). This process of “job elimination, deskilling, and downgrading” and shift from outstanding expertise to a few hours of training is simply because of “the for-profit, market driven health care that is sweeping the nation” (Gordon 279).

In 1994 the CEOs of the seven largest for-profit HMOs earned an average of $7 million salaries per year. Even CEOs of not-for-profit HMOs earn seven digit salaries. Depending on their specialization and level of expertise, nurses receive thirty-three to forty thousand dollars a year. There is more than a $6. 9 million difference between the salaries of those that give orders and those that stand face to face with: The wounded and bleeding lining the halls, screaming for help while harried doctors in blood-stained smocks rush from stretcher to stretcher, fighting a losing battle against exhaustion and the crushing number of injured.

(Simpson 245) The salaries of nurses that are on their feet all day battling the sweat, tears, and physical and mental exhaustion only take up 16% of total hospital costs, while hospital administrators and HMO executives “are doing so well that even doctors look underpaid by comparison” (Gordon 280). Despite this astronomical difference in salaries, nurses are the unwarranted target of hospital restructuring plans. These plans focus around what can be done to reduce their salaries.

Unfortunately, the quality of care some patients receive varies from hospital to hospital. Some doctors are apathetic toward the needs of their patients and their families. Some physicians are only in the medical field for the money and do not care about making a hospital stay more personal and comfortable. For Hechinger, “the hospital was a torture chamber [and] the doctors were the torturers” (241). The horrendous experience began with the insulting and patronizing explanation of the operation Hechinger’s 94-year-old mother had to undergo.

The doctor was so apathetic about the quality of his work that “he had confused [Hechinger] with another patient’s relative and had never seen [his] mother’s chart” (241). It is certain experiences like this that make people “angry at a system that makes torture legal” (Hechinger 242). The appalling attitudes of some doctors belittle the magnitude of America’s health care system. A society’s program for caring for its sick and dying represents its value of citizens and its respect for the quality of life. Through the superior care administered by caring nurses and physicians, society can regain faith in human kind.

However, through the higher rate of unemployment for nurses, the salaries of those that do not work one on one with patients, and certain attitudes of physicians, it is difficult to regain faith in the government. This type of treatment shows an apathetic view towards the American people and the quality of health care they receive. Nurses are unappreciated and the public deserves the quality of care that only a licensed professional can give. When looking to downsize the costs of hospitals, the salaries of hospital administrators and CEOs of HMOs deserve a second look.

Physicians need reevaluate their priorities and realize that people are their top priority. Human kind deserves the utmost care and respect, especially when their health is in question. Works Cited Hechinger, Fred. “They Tortured My Mother. ” The American Values Reader. Comp. Harvey S. Weiner and Nora Eisenberg. New York: Longman, 1999. 241-242. Gordon, Suzanne. “What Nurses Stand For. ” The American Values Reader. Comp. Harvey S. Weiner and Nora Eisenberg. New York: Longman, 1999. 275-284. Simpson, George. “The War Room At Bellevue. ” The American Values Reader. Comp. Harvey S. Weiner and Nora Eisenberg. New York: Longman, 1999. 245-250.

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