By Peter Fischetti
People on the beach are celebrating like never before after hearing that we’re getting our own hospital. It will rise on Route 79, across from Jimmy Buffet’s Latitude 55-and-older development, which someday will double or triple beach population and create permanent gridlock on Back Back Back Back Beach Road. But who cares? We’re getting a hospital!
One of the first phrases I heard after moving to Panama City Beach was, “Oh no, you mean I have to drive across the bridge?” There must be some stigma attached to crossing Hathaway Bridge, I thought. Do people have something against Dr. Fons Hathaway, the late director of the state Department of Transportation, for whom the bridge was named?
I don’t know, but I do recognize the dread on neighbors’ faces when they’re told by the guy at Lowe’s that the beach store is sold out of the toilet seat you just had to have and you’re forced to drive to the end of 23rd Street to get one.
But that’s nothing compared to feeling miserable during a gall bladder attack, and sitting in traffic as your spouse drives you to one of the hospitals in the “city” for emergency surgery. As you probably know, Paul Simon was experiencing a similar situation that inspired him to write “Bridge over Troubled Waters.”
Ironically, Panama City Beach residents are among the healthiest in the world, and scientists have learned why. To avoid going over the bridge for major medical care, beach people figured they’d better take good care of themselves. So they pack the fitness centers, join neighbors in power walks, eliminate fat from their diets and give up alcohol. It’s a small price to pay, they say, to remain on this side of the bridge.
That’s the way it’s been here. Construction of the new hospital, however, will change that lifestyle. Already, physicians on the beach tell me that their patients are asking for medications that will expire in two years. It’s no coincidence that the hospital should be finished sometime in 2023. That’s right. As one neighbor told me, “I’ve had it with broccoli ice cream and Richard Simmons videos. Can’t wait till that hospital place opens. I’m dying for some fried fish and a six pack.”
The hospital will also impact commercial activity on the beach. Most of the fitness centers that have been doing so well will likely close. In fact, I’ve heard that one has already been sold to famed Italian restauranteur Sal Manilla, who will be opening a BBQ joint specializing in Ribs Tartare.
What worries me is whether the behavior of drivers—and even swimmers—will be compromised, knowing they’’ll get quick medical care for their dumb antics. Sure, they figure, I can run a light or swim with a double red flag waving. There’s a doc right up the road waiting to treat me.
Another thing, There is a huge shortage of medical doctors in U.S., and it’s getting worse. My dad was a physician, so I know what it takes to be a good doctor. But how will our new hospital fill its medical staff with specialties in several fields? I mean, you can’t take a cardiologist and turn him into a podiatrist. Hmm, that would mean the staff has some heart and sole.
The hospital will figure it out. Meanwhile, seniors from all over the country are driving this way to check out model homes at the Latitude project. No doubt a major selling point in retiring there is its proximity to a new hospital. At the entrance, visitors will probably be greeted with a sign that says something like “Stay Healthy Now… Get Sick Later!”
Like everyone else on the beach, I’ll remain patient for the next two years, subsisting on spinach yogurt and raw kale until the doors open at Beachy Hospital or whatever they call it. The night before, I’ll be celebrating at Outback with some baby back ribs, a bloomin’ onion and cheese fries. Huh? Oh no, that’s right. The only Outback is over the bridge!
Peter Fischetti is a retired journalist from Southern California, which he hopes you won’t hold against him. He lives in Panama City Beach.
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