Tuesday 21 November 2017

Louise McSharry: 'A stint in hospital will give you perspective'

Need some fresh perspective? A stint in hospital will give you all that you require and more...

You never expected to have to turn your house into a hospital wing, did you?
You never expected to have to turn your house into a hospital wing, did you?

Louise McSharry

I'm writing this from my hospital bed. Sorry, I couldn't possibly resist such a dramatic start.

Also, it's true. I was admitted last week after a long series of appointments with various doctors and countless blood tests failed to figure out what was going on with a mysterious and lingering ailment. They can get more tests done more quickly with me in here, so here I am. 

Hospital is not a nice place to be. As a child, I always thought it might be fun, just as I misguidedly wanted glasses and a broken leg. I was wrong. I know that now. However, I have found my stint somewhat of an education. Of course, if you've spent time in hospital you know this stuff already, but for the benefit of anyone who hasn't, here goes.

For starters, visitors are really important. Prior to my time in hospital, I didn't really know how to handle a hospital visit. I felt a little uncomfortable about it, and was never really sure if it was appropriate for me to pop in to see someone. 'They might not want to see people,' I'd mutter to myself, 'And sure I don't even know them that well.' Excuses, really, to avoid my fear of the place. Now, I know that hospital visits are a literal lifeline for many patients. The days are very long (I managed to sleep until 7am yesterday and considered that a triumph), and it doesn't take long for a person to feel detached from the outside world. Seeing a familiar or friendly face with news of the outside world can help you feel like yourself, if only for an hour or two.

Obviously, it's worth checking if someone wants visitors (hey, some people might prefer to be left alone) but if they say yes, go. I'll never forget the people who have made the effort to come and see me while I'm in here.

When you go, bring food. People joke about how bad hospital food is, but it's actually not a laughing matter. Even in the full of your health you would struggle to eat some of what's on offer in our medical institutions, when you're off your food anyway it's really difficult to stomach. Ridiculous, really, when you consider what a crucial role nutrition plays in health, but hey, I'm no expert.

Sadly, some people don't get any visitors. That's one of the bleakest things I've learned from my time here. Some people are genuinely alone. It might seem naïve to be only observing that at this point in my life, but there is a starkness about seeing someone sit, alone, while others are surrounded by family and friends. Of course, some people choose to live a life in isolation, but you can't help but wonder if in this scenario they might feel some regret about that choice.

What I've learned from those who do get visitors is just how lovely people can be. The tenderness with which people care for their loved ones is beautiful, and even the most awkward visitor does their best to create a distraction or a laugh to help the patient break out of hospital mode, if only for a moment. As for the staff, well, it's a cliché to praise the nurses and other staff who keep hospital wards going day to day, but it's a cliché I can't ignore. They deal with people at their most vulnerable, and manage to maintain an air of respect and dignity at all times.

Speaking of dignity, it's endangered in hospital. From catheters, to colostomy bags and discussing your body's every movement in front of a room full of people, one must place one's pride to one side for the most part. Privacy is something I take for granted in my daily life, but in here I find myself craving it desperately, not just for me but for my fellow patients too. You don't necessarily want to be privy to other people's private medical conversations, or the sound of someone using a commode in a crowded ward, but unfortunately you frequently have no choice. You do your best not to listen, to allow the person some of the aforementioned dignity, but it's not always possible.

My final lesson? Your health really is your wealth. It kills to me admit it, because I've spent years rolling my eyes at the corny expression, but it's true. What use is a fancy job, a fat bank account or a gorgeous house if you're stuck in a hospital bed? None at all.

Irish Independent

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