In journalist Julie Salamon's Hospital: Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity, Plus Red Tape, Bad Behavior, Money, God, and Diversity on Steroids, you won't find interns and residents incessantly worrying over their love lives while treating patients suffering from horrific accidents and outrageously unbelievable situations. Instead, you'll find real-life, day-to-day drama, big and small, with a huge staff (6,210) of doctors, nurses, administrators and others playing their parts.
The hospital in question is Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park, Brooklyn, a major hospital that for many years served a neighborhood of Orthodox and Hasidic Jews. More recently, however, the area has become increasingly multicultural, with no less than 67 languages spoken by the hospital's staff and patients. This proved irresistible to Salamon (The Devil's Candy, The Christmas Tree), who spent a year at Maimonides, talking to everyone, seemingly, who passed through. Her thorough and thoughtful research pays off in the broad, yet detailed strokes she paints of the complex relationships, financial constraints, and medical mysteries and miracles inside.
Salamon guides us through a broad cast of characters in an organized way, beginning with a helpful list of them all. She paints well-rounded portraits of everyone, including, for example, Mr. Zen, an illegal immigrant with cancer who doesn't want to leave the hospital because he has nowhere else to go. We meet a first-year, surf-loving resident named David, a Nebraskan full of wonder, and, of course, exhaustion. And there is hospital president and CEO Pam Brier, who just before taking over the reins was in a car accident that almost killed her and her husband. Her recovery and drive alone would be enough material for a book.
Hospital starts with the top executives and extends out into Borough Park, showing how the Maimonides staff strives to reach out to the community. Salamon knows how to weave a story well, and here she weaves many stories with drama and grace.
Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts.