In Wendell Berry’s “Health is Membership,” he describes how hospitals do not feel like a place of healing. Even though patients must be blindly trusting of the technology and healthcare workers’ expertise, the hospital does not give patients that sense of comfort and recovery that one desires. Instead, the workings of the hospital feel very mechanical, and the sterile and confusing setting is not conducive to producing a warm and safe environment. Moreover, Berry explains that it is difficult for him to wholeheartedly trust strangers and the mysterious procedures and machines that are used in the hospital. I realize that many patients might feel this way–the hospital is not where they think they get healed, but it is a dreaded waystation on the path to true recovery, which takes place at home with your loved ones. This dread comes from the fact that hospitals are often associated with death, and for many people, it may indicate a point of no return for one’s health.
From the patient’s perspective, I understand this frustration and wariness towards hospitals. However, I wonder what physicians and healthcare workers can do about it. The emotional labor that people in healthcare must put into their work is incredibly immense–these are people that regularly face death, and must come to terms with the fact that they cannot save everyone they work with. This will naturally take a toll on them, and it is natural to become more guarded over time. Of course, they should try to be kind and comforting with patients, but they are not always able to devote long amounts of time to each patient. However, we discussed this week how in pediatric offices, the rooms are always decorated playfully to help kids feel less scared there. I think similar things could be done for adult clinics- even if the doctors and nurses cannot always spend much time with their patients to help them acclimate, simply decorating rooms to feel less sterile can make the environment feel more healing.
As far as trust goes, that can be more difficult to tackle. It is the responsibility of doctors to go through years of training to apply their knowledge to healthcare, and it is simply impossible to try to educate each patient on all of the details concerning their treatment. There is a certain level of trust that patients must give in hospitals. However, perhaps hospitals and doctors can take steps towards developing this trust, such as by providing better food and sleeping arrangements, and checking in on a patient’s comfort and concern rather than just their vitals. Focusing on aspects of care like these along with the required medicine and procedures can likely help ease patients’ experiences when they are hospitalized and give them hope that they are being cared for.