I always dread going to a hospital. It brings upon me a nightmarish spell of fear and gloom. The sight of sick people, the multitudes of anxious loved ones, the all pervading but silent spectre of death and despair, the peculiar smell of sanitation and sickness – all this is enough to make me want to run away! But then there are times when one has to endure all these and put on a mask of unaffectedness and meet a suffering friend or relative. Last week I had the opportunity to put on this mask and go all smiles and encouragement to meet a friend of mine. She had been operated for a tumor in her uterus and the doctors had removed the tumor as well as the uterus.
The moment I stepped inside the hospital my fight or flight reflex began operating, so I had to consciously shut off my mind and focus on meeting my friend. Suddenly the word hypochondriac made sense to me. I was certain that if I stayed on longer in the hospital than was necessary, I myself would start exhibiting some symptoms of it!
I greeted my friend who was lying prostate on the bed. The operation had gone off well and fortunately everything was fine. She looked pale and weak but in good spirits. We chatted for some time where I tried my best to keep my eyes off the paraphernalia surrounding her, like the bag collecting urine, the injections and syringes, the bottle of saline hanging beside her bedside, the multicolored medicines. Our conversation revolved predominantly around the operation. She spoke at length about the discomfort she felt after the operation and how she was fully awake during the surgery since she had been anesthetized below the waist and not given general anesthesia. For once I wished that my super active imagination was dead, for whatever she was speaking my mind was quickly visualizing.
I wished her a speedy recovery and offered her words of hope and strength, though secretly I was thankful that I was not in her place. Everything about the hospital felt unnatural and stressful. On the way back home I was glad to be out of the hospital. I could not help but notice the fear that a visit to the hospital espouses in all and sundry. I was amazed at the huge lacuna in the current medical system which does not focus on the role the mind plays in getting well or not getting well. Too often I have heard from cancer patients that it is not the cancer which kills, but rather the treatment.
What makes us well? What makes us unwell? How do we get well? How does will power affect our healing? I had so many questions in my mind that day. These days a lot of alternative healing modalities have come into practice. And then there is the age old wonderful tradition of Ayurveda. These systems focus a lot more on holistic health and empowering the patient. They believe that it is ultimately the intelligent life force of each person which causes healing. Fear is considered a big impediment in healing. Wouldn’t it be great if the current care giving system took into account the intimate connection between body, mind and soul? Perhaps instead of making distinctions such as alternative healing, allopathy, homeopathy, accupuncture, energy healing etc, wouldn’t it be more useful if there was an integrated approach which combined the best of each practice?Or maybe a deeper understanding of the how and why of healing.
After last week’s visit the fear of visiting a hospital is still intact but I was wiser on several fronts. I realized that no matter whether an operation is successful or not going under the surgeon’s knife is traumatic and it takes tremendous courage and grit. But more than grit, each patient is exhibiting a deep sense of faith. Faith in not just the doctor, but in himself, in his ability to recover and get well. And then more than faith or courage or healing, hospitals are witness to one of the most beautiful feelings of human life – unconditional love. The deep love and care of our families and loved ones are no more so starkly evident than in the sanitized environs of a hospital. Hospitals embody the perfect dichotomy of life – one can witness enormous suffering and celebration of life at the same place.