By VICTOR E. SASSON
HACKENSACK, N.J. -- The night before cataract surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center, I dreaded having to wear one of those skimpy hospital gowns with an open back that bares all.
So, when I got a call from a nurse who wanted to go over when I had to get to the hospital and other details, I asked if I could wear my own pajama bottoms and robe.
"No. The operating room is a sterile environment," she said firmly, but added I would be allowed to keep on my briefs.
There was no need to worry, because HUMC long ago addressed the dressing down, so to speak, of patients.
"Nicole Miller, the posh designer, came up with new designs, sporting stethoscopes, syringes and other medical-related stuff, for Hackensack University Medical Center...," Joyce Hoffman wrote in a July 2012 post on NurseTalk.com.
"But in the 10 years she has been reinventing the hospital gown, HUMC is her only client," Hoffman said. "Maybe it's because the [two-piece] gowns are double the price of regular gowns."
High property taxes
Still, as much as I loved the gown and robe I wore on Tuesday, and appreciated the care I received from the medical staff, HUMC has been a thorn in my side since I bought a home in Hackensack's Fairmount section in August 2007.
My annual property tax bill has grown to more than $19,100 a year.
The enormously profitable hospital, which paid $3 million a year to CEO Robert C. Garrett in 2014, claims to be a non-profit, and pays only a small amount of its property tax obligation to the city of Hackensack, shifting the burden onto homeowners like me.
As it has grown over the years, the medical center has destroyed the residential character of its North Hackensack neighborhood, flooded the streets with traffic and the wail of ambulance sirens, and used more and more city services, including police and fire protection.
In a deal the City Council approved last June, the sprawling medical center agreed to pay $4 million a year for 6 years in lieu of property taxes or what officials are calling "community host fees."
If it wasn't tax exempt, the medical center would pay $19 million in property taxes annually.
And, City Councilman Leo Battaglia said today, the hospital also will pay property taxes on a major expansion:
- A 9-story, 500,000-square-foot tower on Second Street with 150 patient rooms, 24 operating rooms and 150 intensive-care beds that will begin construction at the end of the year.
- And a 430,500-square-foot central utility plant for the 2.5 million-square-foot medical center campus that broke ground this year.
Unfortunately for nearby residents and the environment, the plant won't use any green energy, such as solar or geothermal, according to initial reports in The Record of Woodland Park.
On Tuesday, my surgery had been scheduled for 2 p.m. and I was told to eat a light breakfast -- such as toast -- and no dairy or anything to drink, even water, after 7:30 a.m.
But when I had undressed and put on the two-piece gown and robe, a nurse asking for my medical history said my operation was scheduled for 3:15 in the afternoon.
That was a determination made by my own doctor, who, she said, was operating on someone else at 2.
I wasn't wheeled into the operating room until about 3:45. I was wheeled out at 4:33 p.m., and returned to my cubicle in the pre-op area, dubbed B Pod.
The hospital "lunch" my doctor promised after the surgery turned out to be little more than a ham-and-cheese sandwich (I don't eat ham), a buttered roll (I don't eat butter and I'm watching my carbs), or crackers.
So, after 9 hours without even a sip of water, I had apple juice, apple sauce, black coffee and salty crackers.
St. Joseph's Day
I've always been struck how some medical staffers talk about their personal lives, oblivious to nearby patients.
On Tuesday, for example, one nurse in the pre-op area announced during a telephone call that it was St. Joseph's Day, and did the person on the other end want her to stop at Rispoli's Bakery for pastries.
When I asked, the nurse said St. Joseph's Day is the Italian Father's Day, and then she and a doctor discussed the best places to buy Italian pastries, though no one mentioned Hackensack Pastry Shop on Hudson Street.
When another nurse learned a man who was awaiting surgery and his wife have a blended family, she launched into a tortured tale about her own blended family -- she sold her house and with her kids moved into the home of her fiance, a doctor, who I think has children of his own.
When the doctor asked what would it take to cement the relationship, she said a "3-carat diamond ring" -- and got it.
But now, he is having second thoughts about marrying her, so the ring is in a safety deposit box.