Sunday, October 9, 2011


Once upon a time, hospitals were places people went to die, mostly. The word "hospital" referred to what went on inside, not to the buildings themselves. During the Civil War, DC was full of tent hospitals. Buildings with large spaces became hospitals. Even the rotunda at the U.S. Capitol was a hospital for awhile.

Early hospitals were filthy spaces, full of flies and bacteria. Many people died from infections in early hospitals which is why so many folks dug in their heels, refused to go, were fearful of these awful places. They were grisly, gnarly, awful.

Fast forward to 2011. Hospitals in developed countries have become like space ships straight out of science fiction movies. Many of them are huge and labyrinthine, and even though I'm sure the trend is to make them seem more accommodating to humans, they are cold, soulless, and buzzy from all the electronic equipment.

My belief is that hospitals are not that great for anyone including the people who work there. It's not just the shiny floors and harsh lighting, terrible food and weird smells that don't contribute to healing, nope. The way they're set up is so hierarchical, it's like entering a feudal fiefdom. Seriously hospitals are more hierarchical than the military, more than the government. Everyone knows her or his place and believe-you-me, everyone, from the front desk receptionist to the most esteemed surgeon, knows where they are in the pyramid, who is above them, who is below them. The power struggles among hospital staff are petty, monumental and ongoing at all times. The competition among those of the same rank is epic. It is so bizarre.

Burn-out is always a factor for the people who work at hospitals. Nurses are worked to death, as are doctors at every step of the ladder from intern to whatever the highest rank is. No one can remain compassionate, patient and open hearted through all that, though I will say that for the most part, the hospital staff I've worked with has tried, really hard, to avoid burn-out.

One way to avoid losing it is to become numb. I've seen that glazed look on the face of many a hospital worker, no matter their role or what's going on, though perhaps especially in emergency rooms. I don't blame them. Sometimes these people don't seem numb, but it's clear they're exhausted, bone tired. No wonder they lean towards sedating the patients, to keep them quiet. When people begin to recover, they tend to get mighty cranky. I understand the urge to press a button on their I.V., put 'em back to sleep.

There's also the geek factor these days. Hospitals are full of equipment and machines and surgical/medical techniques that allegedly save lives. (I always wonder what that means.) My guess is that people who know how to use these machines lean towards their use in most situations, just because they can. What's not neat, geeky cool about the gizmos, hey?

But meanwhile, the patients, oh god the patients. Most folks entering the hospital these days feel relief. They are in a setting with highly trained people and highly sophisticated machinery and modalities. The assumption that goes along with this is that they will be well cared for.

There's no way to measure the pros vs. the cons of hospitals. They are neither all bad nor all good. They are complicated places set up in a way that's bewildering even to those who work there. To the patients and the people who visit patients, they are very intimidating.

I visited clients in two different hospitals this week, hence the rant. Isn't the word hospital related to hospitality? Whoa.

Have a peaceful day. Shalom.

1 comment:

The Bug said...

What I really appreciated about my recent "incarceration" was that the building had two floors. Really. It was a private hospital owned by the doctors in the orthopedic practice. Totally NON intimidating. That was a nice change from the other hospitals I've visited.

AND I didn't have a button to push - I had to ask for my pain meds & they brought me pills. So, between me waiting until I just couldn't stand it, & them taking a little bit to get them to me, I was pretty darn alert for a good bit of the time I was there :)