Sitting at the hospital the other day, I wondered how normal and routine the experience of being at the hospital had become. In a strange way, over the course of several years, I had become desensitized by the power of the building with a capital H. Until I got sick, I had minimal experience of being in a hospital. It’s a strange thing that the place that so many of us are born in quickly becomes the one place we try our best to avoid the rest of our lives.
As I sat getting my treatment, I asked the on-duty nurse if she enjoyed her job. She replied that she loved the interaction with the patients who became her family at the hospital. The work itself while rewarding could be tough and at times more than she bargained for but overall, she was very satisfied. I asked her if she spent much time in the hospital prior to starting work there. She said she had not but always wanted to because of all the action, “saving lives” and all. It made me wonder — even though our goal was to never reach the hospital, my parents did offer a golden exclusion to that — telling me that the hospital IS the best place to be — for work.
As I began to mentally have flashbacks of all the buildings I saw and heard my Dad comment on, I realized that so many of the places I recalled were also the places I related buildings to the kind of work it housed. The firehouse was for firemen, the police station for policemen, the post office for postmen, the army base for army men, the airplane for pilots, and of course, the hospital for doctors and nurses.
As a child, many of our perceptions are based on the inanimate. We often are scared of things that aren’t real. I remember a few years ago, my niece refused to enter Macy’s in Herald Square because the window display had large mechanical animals as part of the holiday setup. Her young self became instantly terrified by the image of the giant bear and despite the bear being confined to the in-store window display, her fear stopped her from entering the entire store. While her fear may be more directed at the bear rather than the department store — for her, the two were inseparable.
When I was two years old, I was apparently incredibly mischievous. I decided one night to pick at my baby blanket. I took the little balls of fabric that came out and thought it would be fun to stick them up my nose. Not amused by pushing it up one nostril, I decided to put them up both. Within minutes, I was bleeding, had trouble breathing and my Mom came running in and I was rushed to the hospital.
It’s a strange thing what we remember. My oldest memory is that of actually being at the hospital. I remember the white light — a fluorescent bulb above my head as I could hear my mother crying to my side. I could hear a doctor and a nurse speaking over me. I remember feeling something cold in my nose and my eyes closing shut. I don’t remember anything else about the experience yet I vividly remember my time that night at the hospital. For the many years that followed, I was reminded of my foolish prank and the hospital became a place that I actually feared.
Looking back perhaps subconsciously that may have been a reason for my lack of wanting to go to medical school despite my father’s very apparent desire. He would always tell me I’d make a good doctor but for some reason, I still connected the job with image I had of the building I was rushed to during that emergency situation.
I began to wonder what if I had spent more time in the hospital as a child. Would I have been more comfortable with the idea of becoming a doctor? It’s interesting — so many children of doctors become doctors themselves. Perhaps they develop a better understanding of the work and both the good and bad through their parents making it easier. Nothing seems unusual, as that life is their norm.
Coming back to today, my time at the hospital as a patient has certainly made my understanding of the premise much more clear. I have no doubt, hesitation or apprehension about being at a hospital for care. It’s a funny thing — the more comfortable I’ve become, the more interested I’ve also become in going back to school to study medicine.
Call it fear of the unknown but there is truth somewhere along the way. Our exposure very much determines what we will and what we won’t explore. Perhaps had I gotten sick as a child longer or seen more health scares myself or within my family and world, maybe my life would have led me to medical school. Of course, while there is no guarantee that said exposure would have led me there — it could have also turned me off completely from anything health-related. Having become such an avid health consumer the past few years, it clearly opened up the gate for me as far as what makes the hospital a home.
Doctors, nurses, and so many more call the hospital their home — it’s not just their place of work but their family. For me, the time I’ve spent has evolved into true emotions. Before my Mom died, we spoke about the ‘what if’ situation — if she were in a hospital — would she be okay with hospice, etc. What was interesting, she very much felt comfortable at the hospital. It was a familiar place with familiar people and a routine was already in place for our time there.
While the hospital is the place most of us are born, it sadly seems to also be the place where many of us go right before we close our eyes. My Mom told me that if we were unable to stay at home, she’d like to die at this hospital. There is something we tell ourselves. We often fear things we don’t understand — but once we understand them — we value them.
When the time comes, we fight our battles and we adapt. For me, the past few years have helped me to feel closer to the medical world. It has taken out of the fear of not only hospitals but also of death. For that reason, I know that the hospital while not my home, is like my home. I know it, I appreciate it and I am fully aware of what is possible and also hopeful for what may be possible but I never knew.