Broken-Arm Notes, Part 3

Team spirit and acute medical care: Is there a difference?

"We're all Vol," goes a TV ad about a hospital. When I saw it, I wondered what it was like to be a patient there on Game Day, not guessing it wouldn't be long until I found out.

What does it mean, when a major institution of healing qualifies as "all Vol"? Should we take care with what sort of signifying apparel we wear to the ER? Do they ever hire personnel who attended enemy colleges? Does that status leave room for any other interests? I'll assume staffers reach at least some minimum percentage of "medical professional," and the "All Vol" part applies mainly to whatever might remain. But the ad didn't make that quite as clear as you'd like, if you were facing surgery on a Game Day weekend.

Who was the ad even for? Do Vol fans prefer to be treated by medical professionals who are also Vol fans? That could well be the case, I guess. But the message one might receive from the ads is that, if it's all the same to you, it might be better not to suffer your stroke on Bama weekend. Then again, maybe they could solve that problem with an ESPN monitor in the ER.

Just to be clear, I'm not coming at this question from the point of view of a befuddled outsider. I'm a University of Tennessee alum myself, and my family's been involved with UT for four generations. Most of them were, and are, big Vol fans. In my family, the only UT alum who wasn't a Vol fan was my great-grandfather. He attended UT in the 1880s, when football was still a Yankee sport resisted in the South.

Believe it or not, football was once considered pretentious in Knoxville, where the real sports were boxing and horse racing. Football arrived in Knoxville around 1888, just after opera, and apparently with the same motive. Opera festivals and football games both made Knoxville seem more like a big up-to-date Northeastern city, and that was good for business.

By the time other ancestors got involved with UT, they were rooting for the boys in orange. My grandfather, an engineer employed by UT, worked closely with Major Neyland on some of the first big athletic buildings, including the stadium. My parents, as well as some aunts and uncles and cousins, are such Vol fans that my missing a game is a matter of some concern, like neglecting to mow the grass or bathe regularly.

The 2011 Vols are a team of players and coaches, none of whom anyone in my family has ever met. Most Vols are neither from our region nor destined to stay here long. Still, in referring to the Vols, my family uses the first-person plural. The Vols are "We." That pronoun is not used nearly so often in reference to a shared ethnic group or nationality or religious denomination. "We" is mainly code for "the Tennessee Volunteers."

My own qualifications as a Vol fan would be impressive to anyone except maybe other Vol fans. Since I was a kid, I've attended well over 100 games at Neyland Stadium, and have made it a point of pride never to leave early. I've devoted more of my mortal life to the Vols than I have to many things I love. I've spent more of my fleeting hours cheering for the Vols than visiting art museums, riding trains, reading Cormac McCarthy, or eating cedar-planked salmon. Still, it's often suggested that it's not nearly enough. A Knoxvillian should be All Vol.

Anyway. I recently spent the better part of three days in that hospital touted as All Vol. One of the nurses mentioned it's tough to find staffers who will happily work on Game Day. From my window I could see the top deck of a hospital parking garage. And yes, it was maybe a little slow of me to be surprised, that Saturday morning, to see people sunning themselves over there, hoisting the orange and white, pitching big tents over tables laden with snacks and drinks. Vol fans tailgate anywhere, including at the hospital's parking garage. Where patients had parked the day before, there appeared to be several parties in progress.

I'm not sure what sort of deal they worked out with the hospital, which ordinarily charges per single-car space for use of the garage, but maybe there's nothing wrong with that. It's efficient use of the acreage, given the demand, and short of a riot, an earthquake, or a sudden outbreak of the Spanish flu, there probably wouldn't be medical-related demand for those spaces on a Saturday anyway.

While I was still in the hospital, my surgeon told me, in a tone suggesting an offer nobody could refuse, that they could do my cast in orange—or, now, both orange and white. I politely declined, said I was old-school about casts. Just white would be fine.

When the post-operative swelling receded, and it came time to swap my heavily bandaged splint for a proper cast, I went to the surgeon's office. The lobby was a gallery of framed Vol posters, among them the single handsomest portrait of Phil Fulmer I've ever seen.

The man who does the casting, a capable orthopedic technician built like a defensive lineman himself, repeated the orange-and-white offer with more emphasis. I declined again. He seemed crestfallen.

An artist in fiberglass and vivid color, he laid out several colors like you'd show wallpaper samples. He had other bright team colors, but he was obviously proudest of the orange and white. I'm neutral about a lot of things, indecisive, or at least open to persuasion. I was uncharacteristically certain that I wanted an ordinary plain cast in monochromatic medical white. That's not even a color, he said.

We'd just met, but the tech seemed disappointed in me, almost on a personal level. I wanted to take the guy out for a beer, to explain myself, and see if we could salvage our friendship.

I mean well, really I do. I just don't look good in orange.