Welcome to the land of health care’s 1 percent. During the four years I spent interviewing and following nurses for my book, I was continually astonished by the red carpet some hospitals rolled out for certain classes of patients. A Virginia nurse explained that this is why Washington might not understand health care. He said, “Politicians have such a warped sense of how the health care system works because they never have to be part of the actual system.”
Politicians and other VIPs, it turns out, can get special access to critical care. Hospitals across the Washington area—and, indeed, across the country—have exclusive rooms and sometimes even separate floors for treating the rich and famous.
That surprise was hardly the only secret that transformed the way I understand the world of medicine while writing The Nurses: A Year of Secrets, Drama, and Miracles with the Heroes of the Hospital. If you want to know what’s really happening in a medical building, don’t ask a doctor. Instead, turn to the best-informed, hardest-working and savviest professionals in health care: Nurses.
Many nurses call their profession—3.5 million strong in the United States and more than 20 million worldwide—a “secret club.” In the years I spent going behind the scenes in hospitals, I learned why. Their experiences are so novel, their jobs so intimate and occasionally horrifying, their combination of compassion and desensitization so peculiar, that nobody else could possibly understand what it is like to work in their once-white shoes.
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