Scott Brinton

Hospitals, deeply connected to our lives


Around 1 p.m. on March 2, I stepped through the emergency room’s wide, sliding-glass doors into the cold, where a Nassau County police ambulance was parked, and the memories rushed back.

Fourteen and a half years ago, my son, Andrew, was born at this very spot, I thought.

My wife had gone into labor at home in the afternoon of a muggy mid-July day. Within the hour, she gave birth in the back parking lot of South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside — inside a police ambulance.

Last Thursday, I joined a small group of Herald staffers for a tour of South Nassau’s emergency and surgical departments. Wherever I turned, another memory of a visit to the hospital popped into my mind.

I have lived on the South Shore for nearly 25 years. Until the tour, I had never deeply considered how many points of contact I have with South Nassau — or what a profound impact it (or any hospital) — has on people’s lives.

On the day of Andrew’s birth, it was a wild ride from our Merrick split, which my wife and I had bought only weeks earlier, to South Nassau. I followed in my car as the ambulance that transported my wife maneuvered through heavy traffic. All the while, I wondered what the heck was happening inside that vehicle.

My heart was pounding, and my hands gripped the steering wheel tightly. I parked near the emergency-room entrance (legally, I think), ran to the ambulance, hopped in and, at that moment, Andrew arrived.

I have hazy memories of walking alongside my wife and our newborn, who were in a wheelchair, and riding an elevator to the maternity floor. I recall getting home late, exhausted. My mom had looked after our then 2½-year-old daughter, Alexandra, that evening.

Alexandra and I ate mint chocolate chip ice cream as I told her the story of how her brother was born. To this day, she swears she remembers the ice cream.

The next day, I brought Alexandra, who wore a red and white checkered dress, to South Nassau. She carried her favorite toys in her Clifford the Big Red Dog backpack. Andrew was curled up in my wife’s arms when we entered the room. Slowly, Alexandra approached and hugged her brother, and I snapped a photo of the two of them meeting for the very first time as my wife beamed. I framed an 8-by-10 of the moment, and it’s hung in our house ever since.

That fall or the next (I forget), I was insulating the crawl space of our new home. I wore a protective suit, gloves, safety glasses and respirator. I could barely see because my glasses had fogged up, but I persisted. I had nearly finished the project, and I just wanted to get it over with. So I kept working past the point I should have.

My left hand up was up against a crossbeam. As I went to shoot another extra-long staple into the wood, I missed — and sent one straight into my index finger. Pain radiated up my arm as if I’d been jolted by electricity.

I drove to South Nassau. The doctor was kind enough not to laugh as he removed the staple from my throbbing finger and gave me a tetanus shot.

In 2011 and 2012, I was experiencing terrible back pain. I went to three doctors. None could diagnose my condition. One night, the pain became so excruciating that I could stand it no more. My wife drove me to South Nassau. The triage nurse asked me to describe the pain. It radiated from front to back, I said wearily.

I likely had a kidney stone, she replied. I was taken aback by the confidence in her voice. Within an hour, tests revealed that it was, in fact, a stone. I was given a dose of pain medication, after which the pain never returned. I passed the stone two days later.

During last Thursday’s tour, I remarked to our guides what a beautiful new entrance South Nassau had. It was 10 years old, they said. Then I realized that I hadn’t come through the front of the hospital, only the emergency room out back.

Except once.

It was the late 1990s or early 2000s, and I was at a New York Press Association convention in upstate Saratoga Springs. My parents were living in Long Beach at the time. On the convention’s second night, my wife called, worried. My dad’s heart was palpitating erratically. I should come home immediately.

I grabbed my friend and fellow editor Jeff Lipton, with whom I had carpooled, and we headed back to Long Island. The Thruway was virtually empty as I drove through the night. I got lost at one point (which I never do) because I wasn’t entirely paying attention to my whereabouts.

My dad was at South Nassau. Doctors had stabilized his heart rhythm. He lived more than 15 years longer — long enough to see Alexandra and Andrew grow into teenagers.

Yes, I concluded last Thursday, hospitals are very special places.

Scott Brinton is the Herald Community Newspapers’ executive editor and an adjunct professor at the Hofstra University Herbert School of Communication. Comments about this column?