I reported to our local hospital yesterday for an x ray. I handed in the letter the department had sent me. The receptionist took it from me without greeting or comment, involved in discussion with two colleagues. I said ‘good morning’; she nodded. ‘Sit down on the left’, she said. I joined a group of about eight people waiting as I was, and noticed a group of elderly women wearing hospital gowns, sitting in a row to our right. Names were called and very soon mine was amongst them. A young man took me into one of the X ray rooms. I wondered if he was fairly new in the job – there were one or two miss-tries – but again I felt like an anonymous person: he a functionary, gentle in the way he told me what to do, but with little human connection or social skills.
I’ve written about this before: a hospital culture which seems to exist for the sake of the system, not the patient. Is it unreasonable to expect more? Is this how all organisations that have knowledge and authority behave? Is this the corruption that goes with power? Habit without thought.
In this case people who visit out-patients departments put themselves into the hands of the experts and sometimes they are afraid of the process and what the result might reveal. My x ray was routine but I wondered about those elderly women in their borrowed clothes and what they might be waiting to find out about themselves. I’m probably expecting too much of busy people, but I just wonder if hospital culture can actually militate against healing.
I was listening to an elderly woman a few days ago who couldn’t decide whether to have an examination under anaesthetic. The prospect made her fearful. She was even more afraid that a suspected faulty heart valve would be confirmed, in which case she doubted she could cope with an operation. At night when she went to bed she made a decision to go ahead, but then in the morning the dread took over again, and she changed her mind.
Being old is no fun; living alone and being afraid of what’s happening to your body is worse. And in such a state many people look for connection and kindness when they present themselves to hospital care.
Is this what happens to all cultures – a closed world, living off its own fat? It may be true of the culture I once belonged to – ‘the Church that knows best’. It’s certainly true of the banking industry, now under the glare of public scrutiny after the most recent scandals. True also of the parliamentary system. I have been watching the House of Commons debate on how the scandal should be examined – by a committee of members of Parliament or by a Judicial Inquiry. The appalling behaviour of members in the debate suggests that they are the least likely to examine the banking system fairly, but that’s the option that has been voted in, as the government wished.
The ability to see the culture we belong to as others see it – a problem, but what a golden opportunity if only we could.