Rants & Essays

Clowning Around

By Mike Royko

Michael and Miriam Hedges were dazed, almost in shock, when they walked into Chicago's Cook County Hospital to be with their dying son, Brendan. The young musician had been shot in the eye the day before when he didn't turn over his bass guitar fast enough to suit a robber. Earlier, doctors had told them their 18-year-old was beyond help.

"We went to the front desk and asked for Brendan's room," Michael Hedges said. "He was on the third floor, and she gave us a pass to bring upstairs. Only one elevator was working; it was packed. The elevator operator was saying, 'Passes, passes.'

"I showed him our pass, and he looked at Miriam and said, 'What about her?'" Hedges told the operator she was his wife, and that they were visiting their dying son. But the elevator operator wouldn't budge. "He said my wife needed a pass," said Hedges. "I said we were going to see our son and we wouldn't get off the elevator.

"He said, 'So you're going to have an attitude with me. I'm getting security.'"

When a security cop showed up, Hedges tried to explain the situation. "Then I guess I did a belligerent thing," he explained. "I pressed the button for the third floor. But the door didn't close, and the security guard got angry and started yelling." Several more security cops showed up.

They threw Hedges' wife against the wall, put handcuffs on Hedges and took him to their office in another building. "They had me sit in a chair for a while, then some lieutenant came in and said, 'We have rules and regulations, and if we let you get away with it, we'd have to let everyone get away with it.'"

Hedges said he understood, but that all he and his wife were looking for was some common sense and compassion.

"Then," Hedges said, "[the lieutenant] said, 'You've been clowning around here since 11 a.m.'" Hedges didn't know what that meant. Trying to visit a dying son isn't his idea of clowning around. Finally he and his wife were released and got to see their son.

The next day, the Hedges' signed papers donating their son's organs, and the plug was pulled. Their son was dead.

A spokesperson for the hospital says they are going to take appropriate action to make sure what happened to the Hedges' doesn't happen again.

That sounds nice. Elevator operators and security cops should be discouraged from clowning around.