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.
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.