What’s the equivalent of “Stockholm Syndrome” for Hospital Patients?

by Jonathan Sterne on March 1, 2010

Yesterday was one hell of a lesson for me. By the end of my hospital stay, I had an unrealistically positive view of my physical state: I hardly did anything except sleep, sit and stroll up and down the halls (and stairs). Compared to the other patients, I was in great shape, and I needed less and less help from the nursing staff and orderlies. There’s no question I was ready to go home. The doctors signed off and said to go to the ER if there was anything serious.

And yet, getting home was another matter. Yesterday I tried to do way too much. “Taking care of myself” in the hospital involves ordering my own food, bathing myself, administering most of my own meds (except for controlled substances), and asserting some control over my schedule. That is not the same thing as living a normal life at home, which I thought I could do. Over two days I cooked, did laundry, talked on the phone (an especially bad idea right now), talked some more and zipped around the apartment. I even talked Carrie into making a couple stops on the way home from the hospital yesterday. Predictably, by the evening I was totally exhausted, dizzy, weak and even a little disoriented. I went to bed early and woke up around 2:30am wondering if there was something really wrong. And if there was something really wrong, should I go to the ER and wait hours to be seen? (Don’t get smug, Americans–it’s happened to me in the US.) Had I made a mistake and come home too early from the hospital? After sitting up contemplating that riddle and changing my bandages, I listened to music until I fell back asleep. Of course, there wasn’t anything acutely wrong. My body has been rearranged and rendered strange to me and I’m in recovery from it all, so everything is a little wrong.

My surgeon was kind enough to see me this morning and he reassured me that I’m fine (“you look great,” he said, after admiring his handiwork on my scar–“great” clearly being a relative term), but that I need to slow way down and talk even less. He explained to me what signs of real distress might be. And so today it’s been sitting at the computer, playing video games, eating prepared food (last night I cooked dinner–seemed like a good idea at the time) and napping with the cat. I’m spoken almost not at all. I still feel weird but much better. Tonight, Carrie and I will continue catching up on TV.

He also mentioned a couple other things: people start to go crazy after awhile in the hospital (he’s not the first to mention that) and people often get depressed after radioactive iodine treatment so I should watch out for that as well. It’s “the body’s way of dealing with it, he said.” And apparently, the mind’s. I’ve spent most of my adult life fairly confident in my self-knowledge. The challenge before me now is to retain a certain openness toward my experiences of self, as so much is different all at once.

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