Thursday, 31 July 2008

Friends in Unlikely Places

There’s something about being in hospital that causes almost instant friendships to happen, often with people that you might not normally give a second glance to.
It’s also quite irrelevant to your state of health (provided you are not completely comatose). As long as you can make a few noises in response, even whilst laid flat on your back with a view of nothing but glaring strip lights on the ceiling, you can make friends. In fact you WILL make friends.

Of course, this must have something to do with personality. It must appear to me that this happens, because I can’t even buy a bottle of milk from the corner shop, without getting involved in a lengthy conversation with at least 2 other people. This usually starts with the state of the weather, trails around a few common family traits, before reverting back to the weather as we take our leave of each other. If I sit on a bench in town for a few minutes, the person next to me finds themselves regaled with a story of why I have sat down and where I am going next – whether they want to know or not. I have to say, though, that whilst many may hurry in the opposite direction as I approach (I haven’t seen anyone do that…) no one has ever ignored me and most people are quite chatty back. In fact, there are some people who prevent me from talking with their chattiness.With this sort of talk, we are “passing the time of day”, commenting on something around us, and that’s about the limit of the conversation.

But in hospital, it’s a different matter altogether – especially if you are admitted. I can guarantee that within minutes of you getting a plastic band with your details fastened around your wrist and before the nurse has collected the equipment needed to stick a needle into your vein, you will already at least know the names of the people in the beds next to you. By the time you have had a blood sample taken and are in your fetching open backed gown, you will know the reasons why your fellow bed mates are there and have had a potted history of their medical conditions to date. While you lie and wait for your “procedure” (we don’t have operations anymore) or lie recovering from it, you will continue to get to know your new friends and will find it difficult to believe that you only came across them a few hours ago. You will know more about these people, and them about you, than your neighbour who you have lived next door to for 30 years. When visiting time comes, the person in the bed with the best view of the corridor will be able to tell the whole ward who is arriving …and name them even though they have never seen them before.
“Oh, here’s your Bill coming now and I think he’s brought your Ethel’s granddaughter with him !” “Doesn’t look as though Dave’s brought the pink nightie…I think he’s brought that blue one you were going to put in the charity bag last week.”
The visitors don’t get a look in at telling you about what they’ve been doing or asking you how you feel – you are too busy telling them about how June in that bed there collapsed on the kitchen floor and Mary in this bed here was supposed to be at the caravan yesterday, and now look what’s happened !

It’s a great phenomenon. It’s a wonderful “human” thing. When vulnerable people are in a similar situation together, they become as close as family and long term friends, in a very short time. They become involved with and support each other automatically. No matter how ill someone feels, they still seem to support someone who is less ill than themselves.
We don’t choose to go into hospital for a pleasurable experience – we go because we are hoping to be made better in some way. Sometimes, I think, we support the work of a hospital by our own instinctive reactions to others. If only we did this all the time in our every day lives.