The Spattered White Coat

Prologue from The Spattered White Coat

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My wife, Jayne and I exited Chicago's Dan Ryan Expressway and headed east on 31st Street. Anyone familiar with the South Side of Chicago knows that this is not a great idea, even in daylight.

We were on a nostalgic quest to see something we loved that had died. It was a sad passing and it happened gradually. We needed to say our farewell.

As we crossed Martin Luther King Drive, we passed the Prairie Shores high-rise apartments where my wife used to live, and we made a left.

We were shocked at what we saw. It was almost all gone... the thing we had loved. Michael Reese Medical Center was no more! Its dozens of pavilions and tall buildings were almost all gone.

We drove along the construction fences that blocked off the ruins of what had once been a famous complex of buildings, some that had been designed by famous architects. In the distance, we saw a partly demolished building surrounded by rubble, its crumbling remainder bravely standing, waiting for the next day’s demolition. We couldn't drive any closer, so we pulled the car over next to the fence.

Because it was early on a Sunday morning, we figured that most of the hard-working felons were sleeping. The place was deserted, so we started walking toward the fence.

Suddenly, we both jumped as a Chicago Police car pulled up behind us and sadistically whooped its siren. I think the cop enjoyed our startled reaction. She pulled up next to us and looked us up and down.

"You people can't go in there. It's all closed up and it's dangerous. What're you doin' here?"

We tried to explain to her that we used to work at Michael Reese and we were here to pay our final respects. She didn't seem impressed.

Suddenly, her radio went off and she cursed and backed out, yelling to us over her shoulder, "Get out of there. There's nothing to see."

We watched her cruiser screech away onto 31st Street and disappear along with the diminishing sound of her siren.

My wife and I looked at each other and shrugged. The cop was wrong; there was indeed something to see. I bent back a loose part of the fence so Jayne could pass through.

As we walked carefully over bricks and rubble, vivid memories came back to me in a rush.

This crumbled street had once been a busy thoroughfare that went past the various pavilions, now crushed, and past the Baumgarten and Kaplan pavilions.

As I looked east, there was nothing but space, providing me with a view of Lake Michigan. The buildings were gone! Along this street once had walked an endless parade of people dressed in white... nurses, technicians, medical students, interns, and residents. On a nice day, they would all be walking outside. In bad Chicago weather, they walked through the intricate maze of tunnels that connected the many pavilions.

At one time, this was the premiere hospital in Chicago, which had always been bustling. Ambulances were constantly screaming into the emergency room and there was an almost endless bustle of cars dropping people off or picking them up at the main entrance in the Kaplan Pavilion.

In my mind, these white uniformed ghosts were walking, as they always will in my memory—medical students trying to keep up with fast walking interns, nurses coming off shifts and laughing—all of them will continue to live inside of me.

To our left was the demolished parking structure that had once been a grassy knoll. I remember how the green grass had once been dotted with couples in white uniforms sitting on borrowed hospital linens, eating picnic lunches for a few stolen moments at midday.

We walked along saying nothing, almost dazed, as we slowly made our way among the ruins. Straight ahead was the partially demolished Main Reese building, built in 1907.

When we got closer to it, my wife became tearful. I just stared as a thousand flashbacks streamed through my head.

The reason for this reverie at the beginning of this book is that this once-great hospital played a large role in the events that brought me to now. Much of my story and my evolution as a doctor started here, during the Golden Age of Michael Reese Hospital.

The following story will tell about the struggle of getting into medical school, getting my internship, and getting my first-choice medical school rotations that I had at Reese.

It had been my first choice from the beginning.

Now that you see how this fits in, the story will begin.


Copyright Edmund Messina MD 2014