Friday, December 14, 2007

Going Out In Style at Fancypants Hospital

To some, this may seem a strange and possibly completely inappropriate post, but I write what moves me and I find the setting I've been in for the past week to be somewhat surreal. As most know, my 65-year-old uncle, Richard Goldman, is in the final stages of pancreatic cancer. It is heartbreaking especially because he is a lot of pain and still his heart seems far from quitting and also because he will leave behind my aunt, one of the neatest women I know who just lost her father six months ago, and my 18-year-old cousin. Rough stuff.

That said, this section of this hospital is NUTS. This half of the 9th floor of New York Presbyterian Hospital is known as the McKeen Pavilion, a relatively elegant section where, according to the rate card at the concierge desk, patients may enjoy the corner suite with a river view (that's the HUDSON River) for $1,150 a day. I shit you not. That comes, of course, with "daily New York Times delivery; complimentary spa robe and slippers, complimentary telephone and television, upgraded menu and afternoon tea service (room service style.)" Here below is the tea cart comin' round.

Here is what the view looks of the George Washington Bridge to the north and lower Manhattan and New Jersey to the south. (The NYC skyline is often much clearer, but weather has been overcast and gloomy all week.)

If the corner suites are a little steep, the same amenities apply to the junior suite ($990/day), delux river view room ($717/day) and private riverview room ($650/day). Each room allows one cot for visiting guests, but if you've got more fans in need of lodging, there are eight hotel rooms, each with two twin beds, private bath, TV, phone, fridge and coffee pot for $225/night. Frankly, THAT'S such a good deal in New York that I wonder if you can rent them even if you don't know anybody who's sick.

This is one of those hospitals that has a sense of fame surrounding it. While it's unclear what parts of the hospital or whether the McKeen Pavilion is involved, Richard Nixon, Joey Ramone and Malcolm X all died here or were pronounced dead here. Sunny Von Bulow, the wife of Klaus Von Bulow (a role that won an Oscar for Jeremy Irons in "Reversal of Fortune") has lain in a persistent vegitative state here since 1981. And most recently, Bill Clinton recovered from his heart surgery on this floor. There's a large atrium where a live pianist plays a few hours a day on weekends. The entire area is carpeted, which is one way you know you've left the ordinary, more hospital-like section of this floor and wandered into the Wynn of health care.

My uncle is neither rich or powerful and is not paying these rates. (For that reason, we actually don't get the tea, the robe or the daily newspaper. Fair's fair.) He ended up here because when he was brought into the ER, he needed a certain type of morphine drip that required him to be admitted immediately to a room, but there were no normal rooms available for another several hours. So the admitting ER doctor forced him into the posh section, and here we are.

One of the most intriguing parts of all this is the Windows on the Hudson restaurant, a white-cloth eatery with views of the river, a gourmet chef, a waitstaff in formal attire and calla lillies on each table. (The name is a little eerie as the World Trade Center had a famous top-floor restaurant called Windows on the World.) The menu changes regularly; tonight's offerings included tequila grilled shrimp ($7.50), kobe beef burgers ($14), grilled halibut ($18) and patti pan squash and baby carrots ($3.50). Below is an empty table with a view of the bridge that is unseen because of my flash and a group enjoying a night on the town.

We were going to eat in the restaurant tonight but when my aunt told my uncle she was leaving the room for a little while he surprised her by responding (he's been largely unresponsive) by grabbing her hand and rasping, "No." So we had the food delivered, and here's a shot of that.

We were having the grilled strip steak (with mushroom ragout and mashed potato), gemelli al pomodore and the orange tarragon chicken (with rice pilaf and haricot vert). Oh, and all the entrees come with popovers and strawberry butter.

Quite a place, huh? Oh, and I almost wi-fi, too. Like I said, NUTS. But in a good way.


Jeff Leatherock said...

Classy stuff. It sounds like the hospital Michael Corleone stayed at in the Godfather III. Do they have cable TV, or is it plain old over the air?

V.S. said...

As I suspected and as confirmed by Google, no one, 'til now, has ever used "orange tarragon chicken" and "morphine drip" in the same article.

As a New Yorker, I often visited family or friends at Columbia Presbyterian. Being so far uptown, it was by far the least convenient hospital for visiting. We always preferred people to get their operations at N.Y. Hospital or Mt. Sinai.

I never heard of the McKeen Pavillion. I always remember the rich and famous staying at The Harkness Pavillion when at Presbyterian. Is it no more? Are they imploding wings now even in Washington Heights to make way for cushier, grander "properties" à la Vegas?"

The rate of only 1K per day amazes me. I thought non-private rooms at non-prestigious hospitals in cities where health care is much less expensive than in N.Y. were substantially north of $500 now. I wouldn't have been surprised that the room you described rented for 2K or even more. With the total cost of hospital stays reaching staggering amounts of 50K, 100K, or more, what's a few thousand extra added to the bill for all that luxury and privacy? Although, if I were on my way out, I'm not sure I'd want my last views of the world to be Jersey.

This all sounds so disrespectful of your uncle, but I took my cues from you. I hope his pain becomes controllable, and his remaining days will be as comfortable as possible.


VS: First off, it's not actually about my uncle at all. He's lucky to have been placed in this section of the hospital but if he were healthy and came to visit this section of this hospital, he'd be just as bemused by it all.

Second, I'm finding this hospital to be extremely convenient -- steps from the A/C line. But I'm bunking in Brooklyn, so what do I know.

Third, I can ask about the Harkness, but I suspect the McKeens gave more money and got it renamed.

V.S. said...

I hope you didn't think my saying, "This all sounds so disrespectful of your uncle" referred to what you wrote, because it was about my feeling a little guilty of what *I* had just written.

Wow, you're "Taking the "A" Train" as in the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn song.

It may be faster to get to that hospital on the "A" train coming from Brooklyn than from the much nearer Upper East Side. Via subway, there's no way to get from the East Side of Manhattan to the Upper West Side without going downtown first, taking The Shuttle across 42nd St., and then going back uptown along the West Side. There's a bus that goes up to the Cloisters, past Presbyterian, from the East Side, but that takes more than an hour of excruciatingly slow travel. Like The Strip bus.

Funny that you said the McKeens must have given more money than the Harknesses. I almost wrote something along those lines. That's exactly the way social climbing arrivistes who have made a recent fortune but lack social clout attain membership in elite New York circles. The fastest route to acceptance by the old guard is to give huge sums to The Met, MOMA, or a hospital like Presbyterian.

Sociologically, that's what makes Vegas so interesting for an East Coaster. No one gives a shit where your money came from, how long you've had it, or who your family is. So different from NYC and other East Coast cities.