My wife is one of the many people I know who have a mortal fear of hospitals. While I spent many hours happily at the hospitals I worked for, my wife would never venture near them. In fact, she would often wonder how could I spend so much time at the hospitals, particularly when I am not even a doctor. Many of my friends would also come out with similar barbs about my unlikely life in the hospitals. This made me wonder about this curious species that I will call the Hospitalphobe.
The Hospitalphobe is the one who is terrified by all things medical. Be it the doctors in their pristine aprons, the equipment, the sight of people hooked up to IV lines, the ICU, and the fear of fears the OR.
I believe the fear of hospitals in the hospitalphobe largely emanates from losing control. In hospitals, an individual loses his identity, is at the beck and command of doctors and nurses, has little choice but to comply with the instructions, subject oneself to what many would consider severe indignities and still be very grateful for it all.
Then there is the uncertainty of it all. There is nothing in a hospital, which can be called a ‘certain’ outcome. Even the most simple and minor procedure carry a risk. The hospitalphobes are acutely aware of these risks and worry endlessly about even a prick. My wife would certainly fall in this category.
Hospitals are also looked upon by the hospitalphobe as places full of infectious pathogens and they fear that by just breathing in the air they are exposing themselves to an unacceptably high risk of catching something. While, it is true that hospitals have a relatively higher concentration of microbes and what have you, I can easily vouch for them not bringing me to any grief ever. The hospitalphobe I know, would not agree.
Doctors also tend to strike a chord of fear in the hospitalphobe. From their perspective, the doctors look like demons who would poke and prod in all the wrong places, speak in an incomprehensible dialect and sometimes make them do unspeakable things. Many would not be very sure about what they are up to and appear like trying out various things in the hope that something will work!
The modern day hospitals try very hard to address these fears of the hospitalphobe. They do not look or smell like hospitals any more, the staff is trained to be as nice and polite as possible and the doctors try very hard to communicate in a language that a hospitalphobe can comprehend.
I believe, while the hospitals do all this and more, they fail to address the factors underlying the fears of a hospitalphobe, which is an inherent lack of trust in the hospital and its people, processes and systems. My theory is that a hospitalphobe basically fears the hospital because she does not trust it to always act in her best interest. For a hospital to win over a hospitalphobe, it must do its utmost to convince her that the hospital will spare no effort to set her problems right, will always put her interest above everything else and ensure that the possibility of a negative outcome is minimised.
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