Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Hospitality of the SMSKCC

JH visiting Gail at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
by Gail Karr

In the almost two years I’ve been working for NYSD,
I’ve been to many wonderful events and met many dedicated people on various committees for a multitude of charities and philanthropic organizations in New York.

The Society for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center was one group that always stood out. I was first made aware of them because they are the beneficiary of the opening night preview of the annual International Fine Arts and Antique Dealers Show every autumn (this year's takes place tomorrow, October 18th).

I’ve since noticed that many of these women’s names and faces have become synonymous not only with MSKCC but with myriad leading charities in New York.
However, I never suspected that I would be experiencing first-hand the dedication of these SMSKCC members.

For the past five years I have been under the care Dr. David H Abramson, Chief, Ophthalmic Oncology at MSK. He had been keeping close watch on a freckle inside my left eye. This past June during a routine exam, they had discovered that it had grown in size considerably and was diagnosed as a melanoma.

I was immediately booked for surgery, thus beginning my inside-look as a patient of Sloan Kettering.

Numb and scared at sound of the word ... cancer ... I tried to force it out of my head. I kept repeating as a mantra “... best doctors and hospital in the world … just do what they say.”
On June 13th, I had my final visit with Dr. Abramson before the surgery.  He gave me a folder with my name on it, made me fill out some papers, and with one last eye exam, I was off to MSK with my son Justin and husband Dennis.

I arrived at MSK with a 2-page list of my scheduled day for my pre-op, with every half
hour accounted for. It reminded me of my son’s college orientation -- except, this time I couldn’t duck out.

I had never been inside MSK on York Avenue even though I was living 2 blocks from it. The first reaction actually came was from my son, "Look at all the beautiful orchids." The second reaction was mine: This place looks like a  Park Avenue office, the sterile feeling that hospitals project did not exist here ... Soft and soothing colors, wall paper, lovely photos, vibrant art on the walls, fully carpeted.

From 2-3 p.m., I met with the radiologist. He was right on time, never giving me the chance to confront the anxiety of waiting for hours in a doctor's office or being shuffled from one room to another.

Some of the menu items at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center:

• Create your own omelette
• Original or Multigrain pancakes
• Vegetable Spring Rolls and Duck Sauce
• Tomato Brochette with Garlic Toast Points
• Steamed Vegetable Dumplings with Soy Sauce
• Copper Pot Soup
• Chicken Noodle or Consommé
• Chicken Françoise
• Maryland Crab Cakes
• Boneless Short Ribs with Vegetable Stir Fries
• Mandarin Chicken Salad, Bok-choy, Snap Peas, Mandarin Orange Slices, dressed with Sesame Vinaigrette
• Cheese Pizza topped with your choice of pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, roasted vegetables, extra cheese, black olives
• Create your own sandwich-- bread fillers cheese condiments
• Lemon Ices
• Milkshakes -- Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry
My eye was custom fit for the (radiation) plate that was to be inserted surgically on Monday and removed that same Friday. I had to sign a disclaimer that the hospital would work with my insurance company to get me the maximum coverage. And so, I comfortably signed a waiver that the hospital would work on my behalf.

In the changing room, I was given a navy cotton robe with white trim. This room too, was filled with lovely white orchids; and the waiting room had large flat screen TVs.

When they finished with the chest x-ray and drawing blood, I was handed my orientation with a list of phone numbers in case I had any questions over the course of the week leading up to the surgery. Otherwise, they told me I would receive a phone call on Sunday confirming the time when I was to report to the concierge desk.

When I returned on Monday mentally ready for the surgery, I was told I would have to spend 5 days in a private room, restricted due to the radiation plate that was to be inserted in my left eye.

The clothing I was wearing was put in a hanging bag very similar to those at  Bergdorf Goodman's, but with the Sloan Kettering logo. The clothing would be delivered to my room and I’d later find it in my closet.

The pre-op room was large, windowed, and the bathroom was lined with beige marble and gold fixtures. It reminded me of the ladies room at Michael's. I felt like I was going in for a fixer-upper at a private spa rather than surgery.

The walls of the hallway with its vaulted ceilings and floor mosaics, leading to the operating room were hung with beautiful photography. It wasn’t until going into surgery to remove the plate that my friend Roger Webster, who was at my side, touched the floor to discover it was vinyl.

After the surgery -- which went very smoothly -- I was back in the comfort of my private room with a beautiful white orchid waiting for me. From then on, the week breezed by. The nurses that cared for me were all young and sweet, constantly coming in to chat (without me ringing for them) to see if I needed any personal treatment or private care. Fresh slippers and a toothbrush and toothpaste were brought to my room daily. And they never woke me up for tests.

Gail at the Fete de Swifty two weeks ago.
On Day 2, at 3 a.m., one of the nurses brought in an extra chair and helped me rearrange the furniture in the room.

And I forgot to mention the food  -- the food was like room service in a four-star hotel.  I could chose from an elaborate menu served from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Then, after dinner, the  nurses would bring in an assortment of cookies and tea.

When my son would visit in the evening, I’d order a selection of appetizers such as dumplings and  mozzarella sticks. It was like entertaining at cocktail hour at home except I was in my PJ’s.

On Day 5, I was released from my room and the hospital. Although glad to be going home, and despite the seriousness of my stay, my visit to Memorial Sloan-Kettering was a pleasure in so many ways, including the experience that the Society for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center committee had provided for me, from the flowers, the art, the incredible service, the menu, to plain old-fashioned caring.

This is what those dollars do that they raise every year at the autumn International Art and Antiques Fair preview – they make life a little bit easier and a lot more comfortable and comforting for those of us dealing with serious cancer treatment.