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The main reason, of course, is drugs; the patient is loaded with them, writes our columnist.

FILE PHOTO - Mikel KellyI've been in a lot of hospitals in my life, and now there's a new one on my list.

It's located in a big city north of here called Seattle, which you may have heard of. Personally, I've only been there a few times, usually to see concerts by entertainers who don't come to Portland that often.

In fact, you might have heard of the hospital, a humongous medical complex called the Virginia Mason Medical Center.

This place is huge — I mean, college campus huge. I had a "urinary procedure" there, which I am hoping will undo some of the damage done to me by radiation for my prostate cancer a decade ago.

I'll spare you the details; let's just say it caused me to walk funny for a while. But maybe it would help if I brought you up to date, since this medical drama of mine has been dragging on for some time.

In 2000, I was diagnosed with cancer and had surgery that year to remove the tainted organ. Five years later, I was told the cancer was back (which means, of course, that it never really left), so I underwent seven weeks of daily radiation in my nether regions.

Then several years later, I learned my PSA (prostate-specific antigen, which indicates the presence of this kind of cancer) had begun to rise again, making me a candidate for a new plan, in this case "hormone therapy." That means I take drugs to inhibit testosterone production, which apparently encourages tumors like mine.

Sorry, I didn't mean to get so technical. Let's get back to the hospital story.

At the risk of sounding braggy, I am becoming quite a veteran of local hospitals. As a teenager, I had a tonsillectomy at a tiny hospital on the Oregon coast. My gall bladder was removed back in my Kaiser Permanente days at their complex on North Interstate, and my prostatectomy was done by a Kaiser surgeon at St. Vincent Medical Center (before it had "Providence" in its name).

During my Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor, accident-prone period, I paid hasty visits to Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center when I fell off a ladder, and another time when I cut the end of my finger off with a table saw.

In the former incident, I was transferred to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center because it's a trauma hospital, and they needed their best and brightest to put my beautiful face (broken nose, teeth and cheekbones) back together, not to mention fixing my two broken arms (one at the wrist, the other at the elbow).

After surgery by a Casey Eye Institute doc for a nonfunctioning tearduct, I returned to Providence St. Vincent for a double hernia operation. And that's pretty much all the surgical work I've had done, other than this latest experience with my groin area. Still, I think it's safe to say I've been around the hospital block a couple of times.

In addition to all of that, I've been in and out of several other institutions as a caretaker, supporter and designated driver.

The other person who lives at our house had part of a lung removed at Adventist Medical Center on Portland's east side, had a section of her intestines taken out at Legacy Good Samaritan and then had both hips replaced at Kaiser's Westside Medical Center in Hillsboro.

I've also logged visits to facilities in Bend, Prineville, Milwaukie, Newport, Corvallis and Kaiser Sunnyside, imploring family members and friends to get better and get out of there.

I would like to go on record here and note that it's easier to be the one in the bed — no matter what gruesome thing they've done to you in the name of "medical science" (or simply saving your life) — than to be the one sitting beside the bed watching the recovery.

The main reason, of course, is drugs; the patient is loaded with them, and for all he knows, he's on a great Disneyland ride, while you're just stuck there, sober as a judge and probably hungry to boot.

Which brings me to the subject of food. In virtually every one of the cases cited above, it's been clear to me that hospitals have come a long way in the quality (and desirability) of the food they offer. Even the stuff available in your room is light-years beyond the bland fare that used to be served to patients.

At Virginia Mason, I enjoyed a sumptuous turkey dinner, a very good soup-and-sandwich combo and a couple of awesome three-egg omelets at breakfast. All were restaurant quality, deserving of consideration by civilians who just happen to be passing by. And you certainly can't beat the prices.

But wait — Virginia Mason Medical Center goes one step further. They have two hotels that are not only affiliated with the hospital but even linked to the rest of the facilities by hallways and elevators.

In fact, we stayed at the Inn At Virginia Mason twice and loved it. The Kellys give it two thumbs up.

The only trouble with this particular adventure is, we made two overnight trips to Seattle and didn't get to do any of the fun things I can only assume they have there.

OK, that isn't the only trouble; they have some serious traffic there, too — 10, 12, 14 lanes of freeway going really fast in all directions (until they all come to a screeching halt because of the numerous car crashes) — and you know what? They're almost all Washington drivers, who most Oregonians realize are some of the worst drivers in America.

Which only serves to remind me how great it is that I live in Portland.

See? There's always a silver lining.

Mikel Kelly is retired from the newspaper business and now devoted to his hobbies: going to the bathroom, yelling at kids to get off his lawn and sharing way too much information in these occasional columns he submits with surprising frequency.

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