Do You Know How Did Our Health System Inspire Ernest Hemingway?

25 Feb

This description of what a patient saw from his hospital room comes from Hemingway’s 1933 short story “The Gambler, the Nun and the Radio.” What you may be surprised to learn, however, is that the story is reportedly based on his own, extended stay at St. Vincent Healthcare.

The literary great Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “Out of the window of the hospital you could see a field with tumbleweed coming out of the snow.”

St. Vincent’s encounter with Hemingway is detailed in the book “The Call to Care,” by Sue Hart, which outlines the hospital’s history.

On a warm fall day in 1930, two people discovered a wrecked car in a ditch about 30 miles west of Billings. They gave the injured driver, a stranger whose arm was fractured above the elbow, a ride to the then-named St. Vincent Hospital.

Nurses saw the man — a young, ordinary-but-rough-looking man — and figured he was a sheepherder or maybe a cowboy. But the doctor who operated on his arm recognized him.

Hemingway spent seven weeks at St. Vincent, which reportedly inspired the short story that came just three years later. He went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953 and a Nobel Prize in literature in 1954.

“Don’t you know who he is?” Dr. Louis Allard is quoted as asking a student nurse. “That’s Ernest Hemingway, the novelist. I think he’d better be moved to a private room.”

So, what did Ernest Hemingway think of his stay at St. Vincent? While we don’t have an account in his own words, the story’s fictional patient, Mr. Frazer, offers us some insight:

“If you stay long enough in a room, the view, whatever it is, acquires a great value and becomes very important and you would not change it, not even by a different angle.”

St. Vincent Hospital in 1923 (today, St. Vincent Healthcare).

St. Vincent Hospital in 1923 (today, St. Vincent Healthcare).