Fighting the good fight

When I was a kid, I remember great-grandma Christina screaming at great-grandpa Giovanni in Italian when he grilled me a sausage by piercing it with a fork and holding it over the open flame of the stove, grease splattering everywhere. He screamed back in Italian and gestured with his hand, looking to heaven, "State zit!" (Keep quiet!") In response, she bit the first finger on her right hand, a universal Italian grandmother expression.

I asked my mother, "Why don't they love each other?" She said, "They do love each other. So much. It's just how they get."

And now that I'm married to my own fiery Italian woman, I know exactly what my mother meant. I've got broken espresso cups to prove it.

I tend to think of great loving relationships as necessarily having disagreement - and compromise. But communicating the disagreement and working out a compromise is cultural. My lawyer friend, who often reads this column, turns everything into an argument, usually wins the argument, and then decides to argue the other side. And wins that.

A British couple we know told us they never argue. My wife and I marveled at that.

"How do they ever agree on anything if they don't argue?" we wondered. They are a truly loving, happy couple.

L + M Hospital is making news lately because its doctors and its administration are seemingly at odds. It makes great headlines with a kind of Jerry Springer appeal. Of course, it seems only natural to me that there are disagreements. Medicine is rapidly changing. Money is tight. Backus and Hartford Hospital and Yale-New Haven are all scrambling to entice the patients and their insurance dollars to leave their own communities and go to theirs.

But I love this community and this hospital. My colleagues are, to a person, superb physicians and nurses who never complain when they have to wake up in the middle of the night to do a C-section, cut out an infected appendix, treat a septic patient, or open a blocked artery. They get up and just do it whether or not they are going to get thanked, paid or sued. They are, like doctors and nurses everywhere, quirky with the occasional curmudgeon, prankster, egotist and comedian.

And they are feeling the pinch. Pay cuts. Rising college tuitions with falling financial aid. A loss of autonomy as practices are being forced to consolidate or shutter. Fears about job security. Frivolous lawsuits that are easier to settle than to fight.

The administrators are also tremendous people. They are deeply committed to steering L+M through the tempestuous financial cuts and the fierce competition by other hospitals near and far for patients, physicians and nurses - all for the health of our community. Of course, they are quirky too. A little stiff, perhaps, because they spend too much time in meetings, but they get stuff done and I couldn't do what they do.

But the quirkiest of all are our awesome patients, with their different languages and different diets and different illnesses and their jobs. We live in a community of Navy people and boaters and boat builders; scientists, house cleaners, manufacturers and engineers (with their terribly numerous questions); lawyers and crane operators; and seamstresses and mothers and retirees. They are New London and they come to L+M , and they, too, are feeling the pinch.

So isn't it natural that all these people, with their quirks and with all the stress, should be allowed to disagree and shout and throw espresso cups and just work it out? In the end, we are a big family, and we take care of our own - the people who live in this community. When they are sick, we will be here for them with all our quirks, but we will be here. And we may argue about the best way to do it, but the point is, we are here, working together, getting it done. So let's figure it out and get it done.

And if we break a few espresso cups in the process, just remember that the best part about arguing with a fiery Italian woman is the part when you make up.

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