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Powerful medicine
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ANY OF YOU who’ve seen a loved one suffer a stroke are all-too-familiar with the emotional rollercoaster ride that comes with it, especially in the early stages: the minute-by-minute monitoring of conditions, the uncertainty of if or how they will recover, and the gloomy, overriding sense that nothing will ever be the same again.

I’ll leave the personal details out, but long story short: A family member was in Atlanta for a weekend vacation when it happened. Initially I cursed fate that the stroke happened away from the familiarity of home in Savannah, instead hitting in a large, impersonal city.

But everything happens for a reason.

We have some fine trauma centers in Savannah. But just about everyone I’ve talked to tells me that the place in Atlanta where my loved one is being treated, Grady Memorial Hospital, is probably the best trauma center in the U.S.

Grady has a certain notoriety. Situated in the heart of downtown Atlanta, it’s far and away the main charity and indigent care hospital in the city. Its Emergency Room is the stuff of nightmares. Indeed, U.S. Army medical personnel receive triage training at the Grady ER to prepare them for front-line service in Iraq.

Imagine all this happening simultaneously: Gunshot victims screaming, drug addicts having seizures, men handcuffed to gurneys and accompanied by probation officers, flu sufferers spilling germs and fluids everywhere, alcohol-poisoned teenagers puking into buckets, petty thieves looking for purses to steal, homeless people panhandling everyone in sight, and a platoon of armed security guards attempting to maintain a semblance of order, and you have a mental image of the Grady ER on a typical Saturday night — which as luck would have it is when my family member was admitted.

But all that being said, within a very short time of hitting the Grady ER they administered the so-called “clotbusting” drug — which is not at all a given for other ERs, I’m told — an act which may very well have saved that life.

Once past the ER, Grady is a different place entirely. The hospital is over 100 years old, but a renovation in 1994 has greatly improved the physical infrastructure.

The interns and residents — mostly young and many from other countries — are largely from the Emory School of Medicine right across the street. The doctors travel the floors in packs, consulting as teams. Sometimes you find yourself talking to six or seven at once, an incredible opportunity.

The Intensive Care nurses are a similar international potpourri, mostly from Nigeria. I’m told America’s nursing shortage — and Georgia’s in particular — is so severe that many skilled nurses must be imported. Apparently the problem is not so much a lack of nursing students, but a lack of qualified instructors to train them in nursing schools. Perhaps while our presidential candidates are bickering over who said what in which attack ad, they can address this, eh?

Grady’s been in the news lately for a different reason: Years of red ink, partially brought on by the fact that it has to treat the indigent patients that other hospitals aren’t obliged to take, brought about a dissolution of its board, to be replaced by a nonprofit model. Our own Memorial Health is dealing with similar issues.

I don’t pretend to understand the cutthroat world of hospital insider politics — the closest I get is reruns of Scrubs — but in my recent, very personal experience, if any institution is worth taking the extra effort to save, it’s Grady Memorial Hospital.

As of this writing, the doctors indicate that my family member is past the worst danger period for a stroke and may soon be able to get out of ICU and onto a different floor of Grady. From there, God/Allah/Buddha/Vishnu/Zeus/Odin willing, we’ll be rejoined in Savannah to begin the long process of therapy and recovery.

In the meantime, life goes on — but with each small moment savored perhaps a little bit more than it was before.

Jim Morekis is editor in chief of Connect Savannah. E-mail him at