Press "Enter" to skip to content

A night in hell at short-staffed, ready-to-close Beth Israel Hospital

BY BENNETT KREMEN | Early one morning a month ago, a sudden infection springs up on my toe, a severe danger to me long a diabetic. And I rush for treatment, have the wound abraded, get shot up with antibiotics, before hurrying to see a vascular surgeon. And, yes, an artery’s blocked.

“You’ll need an operation right away,” Dr. Grossi warns, handing me a prescription for presenting next day at noon at Beth Israel’s emergency room. Just entering that room, I know I’m in trouble. The place is insanely jammed! When presenting the prescription, the nurse looks at me kind of sadly.

“You’re Dr. Grossi’s patient?”


“He’s a good man. Sorry. It’s gonna be rough today.”

I’m nervous enough and hearing that, kind as it is, is like a hole in the head. Yeah, I’m starting to get the picture all right. Two hours drag before I’m even past registration, then some tedious steps toward entering a different waiting room simply to reach the emergency ward.

These steps are no picnic either. The room’s teeming, hardly any seats, people moaning, new heart attack patients arriving steadily, taking preference ahead of us. The bathrooms are jammed. I almost pee in my pants. Yet I’m nowhere near a comfortable bed on a regular ward, resting up for tomorrow’s operation. No, only more waiting! And no food. And I was too damn stupid to bring a book. Though managing some bare conversions with other miserables, I’m simply staring at the walls until, hallelujah, someone’s finally directing me onto the emergency ward.

Great! I’m getting somewhere. The ward’s busy as hell but organized. I can’t fault the nurses or doctors one bit. They’re busting their butts, I see that, and speaking to me kindly when hooking me to an IV after providing me an emergency room bed.

“I need that, thanks,” I say, “But when am I going up to a regular ward?”

Uh oh, the nurse just rolls her eyes.

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Why the hell’s this happening, miss?’’

“We’re short-staffed since the pandemic,” she says. “Every ER in the city’s like this, especially Beth Israel. They’re gonna close us down. Lots of us are looking for other jobs.”

What! Closing a hospital? I can barely keep from sputtering in fury. They’ve destroyed St. Vincent’s and closed Cabrini. Now this? That’s leaving one small hospital from 23rd Street all the way down to Battery Park.

“That’s crazy!” I blurt out.

“Yes, people are gonna die.”

I already feel like dying. And it’s only getting worse. Many hours later at dinner, I’m still right here, wolfing down some meager broccoli and even less fish and apple juice, which I don’t like. And I’m still really hungry, having only toast and coffee in the morning, and want to shout: More! There is no more. Kitchen’s closing.

“Please,” I’m urging a young intern checking my chart. “They’re operating tomorrow. Don’t I get some preference?”

“Life-threatening cases first. Sorry. I’ll do what I can.”

Sure enough, they’re soon rolling me to a quieter corner of the ward, though it remains a madhouse. Then I figure it out. This is it. Have you ever tried counting sheep or goats or naming the countries in Asia? None of it gets you a wink, not in here. It’s past midnight and the lights are full blast and will stay that way. Emergency crews saving gunshot victims or those with terrible burns or severed legs go rattling by all night.

Constantly beeping blood pressure machines and mysterious alarms blare on mercilessly. Someone in the next bed is moaning nonstop. Sleep? Forget about it! It’s 4 in the morning and not a hint of it is in any fiber in my body. The bedsheets are a tangled mess as I’m tossing left, right, on my belly, on my back. Only to remain wide-eyed, wired. And I’m growing cold, more from utter frustration than temperature.

I growl, “Nurse!” But no one comes and I leap from my bed in a stew of anger, sputtering, “Where the hell are you!”

“Sir,” a poised, agile young nurse says firmly, “we’re kinda busy here. Please, don’t act that way.” And I see at once without question what a total jerk I am.

“Forgive me. I can’t take this!”

She brings a blanket, which I take gratefully, still ashamed. But still no sleep, too. Desperate to get my mind off this unending hell, I start thinking grimly about everything. No way am I the only one in trouble. The whole freaking world’s in trouble. Didn’t they turn St. Vincent’s Hospital into a super-luxurious condo? What about Cabrini? Is that what they have in mind for Beth Israel — a luxury condo? Is this really how low we’ve gotten?

Though still squirming for sleep, suddenly I realize that’s over! And a wild thought just comes popping into my head, the Princess and the Pea. That’s me. A blanket folded the wrong way, my toes wriggling outside the bedsheets. Sleep’s over! And I just start laughing and laughing and can’t stop for 10 minutes. Somehow this keeps my sanity till 4 the next afternoon, when I’m still in bed without a wink, hungry, almost hallucinating, until a man comes and starts wheeling me up to the operating room. And can you believe it, I can’t wait to get in there. Hey, they’re gonna put me to sleep!

The surgical team’s looking good. I’m totally comfortable. They’re Dr. Grossi’s team. They lay me down on what looks like a crucifix, then strap me in.

“This an operation or a crucifixion?” I wisecrack.

“We’ve heard that before.”

“Oh, I thought I was an original.”

Everyone laughs, then the anesthetic hits. Ohhh, ahh, sweet dreams!

In the morning, after three days, I’m free. Great God almighty, free at last! Then I’m informed the very next day that Mt. Sinai Hospital, preparing to sell off Beth Israel, has a member of REBNY, the powerful, billionaire Real Estate Board Of New York, prominently on the hospital’s own board. Scientists will tell you, correlation does not imply causality. But they’d also warn you: Pay close attention.

Kremen is a journalist, novelist and former magazine editor who is currently working on a volume of short stories. He lives in Chelsea.


  1. Marze Marze March 3, 2024

    Such a History
    So well written with picaresque

  2. Ray Rogers Ray Rogers February 16, 2024

    This article by Ben Kremen is so down to earth and powerful that it should be reprinted in a leaflet and tens of thousands of copies distributed throughout NYC as a wakeup call to all residents concerned about promoting and protecting available, and affordable, medical care and healthcare. I’m glad he mentioned REBNY, acronym for the ruthless Real Estate Board of New York, which is at the heart of putting greed over need, obscene real estate profit-making over the needs of children, women and men.

  3. Jo Jo February 14, 2024

    This sounds much like my experiences with my elderly mother in the last year of her life (2008-09) both at Beth Israel but also in the Emergency Room at St. Vincent’s. She and I were made to wait endlessly in crowded conditions, poorly treated, she was misdiagnosed and sent home, only to need to be readmitted. She picked up C-Dif, probably in one of the dozen ER visits and it probably killed her.

    All I can say is Medicare for All or we’re all in this leaking boat.

    • Mark Mandell MD Mark Mandell MD February 15, 2024

      I’m a physician who trained in Montreal. Believe me when I tell you that it wasn’t any better in Montreal, maybe worse. We never had any beds and whenever we had a patient in the ER with chest pain, we’d spend hours on the phone calling around for a bed. The hospital hadn’t been renovated in 80 years and there was no air conditioning. Maybe Medicare for All would be better or maybe not. Right now, hospitals in NYC are supervised and controlled by NY State. I’m not sure why a federally controlled system would necessarily be better. The system you have in NYC is largely controlled and regulated by the politicians you voted for.

Leave a Reply

Mission News Theme by Compete Themes.