She was already there when I occupied my allocated hospital bed. She had already been there for some time, for five days. And she was in a bad way. She quickly found in me a compliant victim for her protracted medical history. I was a good listener after all.
“I had the gall bladder out. After the operation I got a bladder infection and had to take antibiotics. That then caused another fungus (not mushrooms). In February I had Corona. And I have a dicky heart too. What’ve you got?”
“My nose is blocked. So I’ve got something up it that doesn’t belong there.”
I could tell she wasn’t feeling too good at all. I felt sorry for her. But I also thought: “Great, this is going to be fun. And it’s hot, too. Don’t they have air conditioning here?”
After my surgery, I managed to avoid listening, indicating anaesthetic afterpains: “I need to sleep a bit more now.” She left me alone.
I heard a doctor enter the room, followed by two residents. His two companions wore sneakers with baggy jeans. Only their scrubs were white. Herr Professor wore black custom-made leather shoes with a pair of beige designer jeans. Also swathed in white scrubs. Herr Professor Whatsisname (Doctors’ name badges do not serve the original purpose of name badges, namely to present the wearer’s name legibly to the person opposite. They are inscribed with such small letters that you have to stretch forward, i.e. make an effort, to make out what it says. Delberate? Shame on you to even consider the possibility!) asked how she was doing. She did not hesitate to tell her story: “I had my gall bladder out. Then came the cystitis and I got a fungal infection on top of that. And I had Corona in February. My heart isn’t doing so well any more either. I’m in a bad way, doctor. I think I have some kind of deficiency, vitamins or something.”
Herr Professor turned his head to the intern: “Do we have anything like that (you know, vitamins)?” The intern answered: “Sure, tomorrow.”
She was then to be given a fast, no, a very fast-acting remedy for her nausea. Unfortunately, the cannula that had already been inserted days ago was blocked. So she had to wait again for another doctor to put in a new one. When the door opened and that doctor came in, he brought his apprentice with him. The apprentice smiled blissfully at being allowed to practise on a living object again, and expertly bent over the neighbour’s other hand. He started the action with the warm-hearted words, “This might hurt a bit.” And he stabbed, several times. Meanwhile she skilfully used the time to also enlighten this doctor about her various diagnoses: “You know, I’ve had my gall bladder out. Ow! Bladder – fungus – Corona – ow ow ow – heart – phew, done.” And the doctor listened dutifully. Tirelessly she embellished her story more and more. My inner harlequin was having fun.
For, in the meantime, I had thought about how to deal with this situation. If I continue to be irritated, I won’t really get any rest in the 2 days I have to spend here.
Can one rest at all in a place that addresses the problem situation (Krankenhaus = “infirm”ary) and not the desired end state (recovery)? In other countries, this place is called a hospital, which derives from the word hospitalis, meaning “belonging to the guest” or “hospitable”. But I digress.
Meanwhile, I felt sorry for her, my neighbour. This helped me deal with my irritation at her constant repetition. At some point in the afternoon, I was sufficiently restored to the point where I could have a conversation with her. I asked her about her life, her family, her children and so on. She had experienced a lot in her 73 years, was the support for everyone in the immediate and extended family and could not cope at all with the fact that this year she experienced her body weak and vulnerable. She was afraid. For example, that she might now be dependent on others. She expressed her fear by constantly repeating the same story, which, by the way, many people do to deal with fear: talk, talk, talk.
Siegmund Freud already spoke of the so-called “repetition compulsion”, the human impulse to repeat unpleasant or even painful thoughts, actions, dreams, scenes, situations. With this behaviour, we provide ourselves with relief from our inner (anxiety) pressure. However, the relief is only short-lived if the cause for the repetitions cannot be found and eliminated, i.e. the fears cannot be resolved. Perhaps you know such examples yourself.
From Robin Williams comes the sentence: “Everyone you know is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”
As a coach, I have learned to express feelings. She felt seen and understood by me. And I had a good opportunity to get to know a person with their story. I am interested in people and I often ask myself, what must a person be experiencing or have experienced that they are behaving this way or that way right now? Compassion and patience can sometimes be real saviours for situations. I took care of myself and took care of her at the same time. That did her good, but it also did me good.
In the evening she continued to feel better, which really pleased me. And she told me much more about her life. About her many struggles in life, which she had to experience and endure as a child. We had a really good conversation, a human encounter.
And then she decided to call her friend. And you guessed it, “Gall bladder – bladder – fungus – Corona – heart – cannula.” I escaped by spending the warm summer evening with a good book and nice music on the roof terrace of the hospital. After all, I had to spend another day with her in that room. And for my own mental well-being, I wanted to still be able to find her likeable tomorrow.
Since I had written down this story on the roof terrace, I decided to start a research project by making a tally sheet: she told her story a total of 12 times on the 2nd day of my stay: to various doctors, nurses, her two sons, one daughter-in-law and her husband (oh, he hadn’t heard it yet???). And me, of course.
I wonder if I could have spent a third day in the room with her. Would my interest and humour have deserted me? Could I have continued to treat her with respect and dignity? I don’t know, because it’s good the way it was.
Original text: HFI
English translation: BCO