Remembering St. Elsewhere

Published 7:53 pm Friday, February 8, 2019

By Yolande Robbins

More than 30 years ago, a quirky series called “St. Elsewhere” graced our televisions. It was about an old Catholic hospital, St. Eligius, set in a decrepit Boston neighborhood where, rather than attempt to say the unfamiliar name, folks simply said “St. Elsewhere” — and took it as the dumping ground they knew it had become.

It was an undefined place, complicated and elusive, and real only, it turns out, in the mind of an autistic child whose sickness re-creates his father and grandfather into doctors at St. Elsewhere, with an unlikely cadre of flawed and heroic colleagues who were sometimes friends.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

In a near-end episode, the old run-down, financially-strapped hospital is barely saved by the intervention of a large healthcare corporation which takes it over, paints the walls, puts up new ar, and brings fresh flowers and gourmet dishes into the cafeteria.

Large offices, new technology, and sudden aspirations to be chief resident, chief surgeon, chief this-or-that all sprout in the gleaming new environment. And Dr. Westphall, father of Tommy, the autistic child, says to his friend, Dr. Auschlander, “I hope nobody thinks they care more because they painted the walls.”

All the new hospitals now are large and spacious, wonderfully designed; full of light, both literal and metaphoric, for those who work there and those who have to come there. Still, nothing that is there is equal to anyone who cares.

I would not feel less hurt or angry in this place than I did in another place to have a nurse say to me that with all that was wrong with her, I should be glad my sister was dying.

There are no new walls or bright lights that can make up for that.

Another time I visited an elderly friend, my former teacher, in the hospital. The door to her room had been closed long enough — and she was unattended long enough — to worm her way out of her bed restraints and onto a cold floor. And no one knew.

More recently, I visited a friend who was unable to feed himself with badly hurt hands. But no one noticed that he wasn’t eating. Someone was bringing him his plate and returning an hour later to retrieve it. But no one bothered to uncover it. No one knew or noticed it was still untouched when (they) came back for the “empty” plate.

But I would always remember the doctor who formally told me that my sister had died, and how uncomfortable he had become as he realized I was looking only at his mouth forming the words he had long since said to anyone who’d loved anyone who’d died.

So when he said that he was sorry, I think he meant for his behavior; not my loss.

The next thing I’d remember was the great kindness and skill of the doctors and nurses six years later when I came to their emergency room.

It was at “St. Elsewhere,” I think.

Yolande Robbins is a community correspondent for The Post. Email her at