Nosocomephobia

I have an on-going, occasional project where from time to time I explore drawing, and fear, and particularly the way drawing something that’s troubling or scary can affect the way I feel about it. This is part five; these are the previous posts – part one, part two, part three, part four.

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There’s a word for the fear of hospitals. I looked it up, since there’s a word for most fears – it’s
nosocomephobia, a word I don’t know how to pronounce, which is a good thing because since I can’t hear it in my head I can detach myself from it quite easily and reassure myself that my anxiety around hospitals is not really a phobia, just a learned response.

This shouldn’t surprise me as I’ve had a history of hospital experiences that started with an admission when I was was two and a half, and another when I was six, both of which I remember as difficult times despite kindly nurses and frequent family visits. They must have contributed to the sinking feeling I get when faced with a hospital appointment, and they’ve been reinforced over the years with a considerable number of nasty moments supporting my husband through emergencies, admissions and treatments.

So now, whatever I actually see or hear or experience makes no difference – the older memories are hard-wired in me.
Or so I thought.

Last weekend I was admitted as a day-patient for minor surgery to a hospital I hadn’t attended before (which was a bonus – no specific memories attached -) and all my preconceived anxieties were dissolved away, as one by one each thing on my list of nasty possibilities not only failed to happen but was replaced by something reassuring and wonderful. The sun shone all morning. I sat waiting in the sunlit ward after being seen by the warmly sympathetic consultant (whose attitude was so exceptional, as consultants go, that it made me feel dizzy), and as I lay on my back in the operating theatre gazing at the stainless steel ceiling and chatting to the sweetly smiling theatre nurses, I wondered if all this was simply a miracle, (which I’m quite prepared to believe) or if I had, just perhaps, assisted the miraculous by arriving that morning in a different state of mind……

Just two weeks earlier I’d been in a different hospital for a different reason and in a different state of mind, this time as driver-and-carer and not patient, and I was distinctly nervous and wobbly. All the buttons that get pushed when I’m in a hospital situation were fully activated, and needing some focus and a chance to re-balance I took refuge in the coffee shop, found a corner table and whipped out a sketchbook. I sat and sketched whoever I could watch without drawing attention, and without thinking – simply observing. Patients, relatives, friends and carers, and surgeons on their coffee break. People, doing ordinary things. It calmed me instantly, as I knew it would.

I didn’t think much about it at the time, but looking back I realise that drawing there that morning did more than just give me a reassuring focus; it gave me a different viewpoint – an imperceptible shift of angle so that I was soaking up the ordinariness of the place, the way this is a normal place of work that happens to be a busy city hospital. I watched two surgeons in blue surgical gowns queuing for their coffee orders and chatting as they waited, and saw them as people. As customers waiting in line, having to be patient and wait their turn, talking to each other. Only later did I get to wondering what they’d be doing to once their coffee break was over….

Once again, drawing comes to the rescue, educates me into seeing what’s really there instead of what my mind imagines. Like putting on a pair of reality spectacles, opening me to learn about what’s actually going on. Reminding me to expect – nothing; to be open to everything, as it happens – and just to be there.

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18 thoughts on “Nosocomephobia

    1. Well now I do know how to pronounce it! Thanks – but somehow I think it’s not a word I’m going to repeat in my head – doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, does it? As you said, such a very strange word.

  1. What a wonderfully positive outcome! The distraction of doing something familiar, but distracting such as sketching has to be a useful tool. I think it would be much harder being in a hospital worrying about someone else, than on your own behalf, so a distraction has to be a good thing, and that change of viewpoint. I have also just had a minor operation, but I have very little experience of hospitals, only having been in to give birth. Nevertheless I was nervous, never having had a general anaesthetic before, and knowing my father had a bad reaction to one. But my experience was like yours, wonderful, calm, caring staff and everything smooth and easy. Such a relief!

  2. So glad everything changed in a positive way. I like the idea of observing instead of letting everything overwhelm, very good lesson for me as well. Great sketches too.

  3. Thank you for this post. Perhaps I can keep that in mind because I find myself half way to panic each time I’m near a hospital, even as a visitor. I know this is absurd but I can’t help it:-)

    1. I’m interested you also suffer this way and sorry to hear it – but don’t think it’s absurd because it’s not, it’s very real and you can’t help it. Drawing things that disturb me is really helping me to see them differently; it’s not just a distraction, it does somehow make it possible for me to see them afresh without all the old baggage – if this makes sense! Thanks for joining in tbe conversation.

  4. I share your fear, and am in the hospital right now…this is the beginning of the fifth day as they search for the reason why I collapsed at home last Thursday night. Today I am having an upper endoscopy. I feel too ill to be bored, and long for home. Your post was lovely, as always.

    1. Oh how sorry I am to hear this – my thoughts are with you and I hope these tests will soon identify the cause. Not knowing what the problem might be compounds the anxiety doesn’t it? I love reading your blog and was so glad to have found you inly recently. Will be thinking of you. Very best wishes.

    1. I don’t think being able to draw or not really matters (though it may to you!) it’s what happens when you do it, so all you need is the desire to pick up a pencil. But interestingly I heard a writer yesterday on Meet The Author say after writing her book in which one of the main characters is a beetle, she is no longer afraid of insects. She used to have to garden in long gloves and wellington boots. Her explanation is that fear comes from ignorance and researching as a writer requires you to pay minute attention to your subject and learn, and this dispels fear. Which is a large part of what I’m finding. So maybe it’s possible to do it this way too – though I think for me the wordlessness of drawing is an important part of it; mindfulness again!

  5. Thank you so much for this post, I do think that many of us can learn from you here! I have been lucky not to need hospital care in my life, but over the past 5 years, my husband has been dealing with health issues, and every time he was in hospital I had mixed feelings. Feeling misplaced and uncomfortable, like “I wish this was not ‘me’ being here”, feeling grateful that there is so much knowledge in medicine, feeling a mix of worry and hope, feeling in good company, because most people in a hospital would feel similar things (I think), and worst of all, feeling sad that our daughter must experience to visit her father in hospital. The positive thing is what you describe, the medical staff are just people and this is their job. There is something comforting when a doctor in front of you talk about the body as if it was an engine, and you realise they know ways to fix things. It takes the edge off the emotional vibes, and the “reality spectacles” get on. And yes, you know they have to queue for their coffee too, like anyone else!
    Again, thanks for this post, we do need help to deal with these situations, many of us!

    1. I’m sorry that you’ve had these difficult experiences – I’m sure we’re in good company because I think a lot of people feel like this and don’t talk about it. Talking helps! I think it’s important to recognise how you feel and then you can begin to accept it, which is a start. For me drawing has helped me enormously but it’s the awareness that counts. Thanks so much for sharing all this. XXX

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