Ella, Downton Abbey, and Hospitals

This afternoon, Cecelia and I watched well over seven hours of Downton Abbey, as she finished up viewing the second series, and among the many things that occurred to me as I lay curled on her guest room bed was just how awful it is to be trapped in a hospital when you’re sick.

Now, I’ve never been to war, been shot at (with something more lethal than an airsoft gun), or even been a situation where I’ve had to truly fear being attacked, but I do know what it’s like to spend extended time in hospitals.

I was reminded of February 2010 and being strapped to a gurney and racing to the hospital in an ambulance. It was snowing and the highways hadn’t even been plowed. The part of me that had always wondered what the inside of an ambulance looked like was massively disappointed, and being physically restrained by the straps and blankets was terrifying. I was entirely imprisoned, incapable of doing so much as shifting my weight. Before they loaded the gurney, I couldn’t even shield my eyes from the rapidly falling snowflakes and finally had to close them because the dissolving water stung.

I kept insisting that I could sit up, that I wouldn’t move, and that I would feel so much better if they even loosened the straps a tiny bit. But procedure is procedure, and I spent the next thirty minutes staring at the white metal ceiling while I had my vitals checked for what felt like the fiftieth time. There’s the feeling of being constantly lied to by the doctors and nurses and having information withheld and given to parents or other caregivers because “it would be too much for you to handle.” And the utter helplessness of not being allowed to make any of your own decisions.

I was one of those difficult and also easy patients. It took six nurses and my father to hold me down when they wanted blood and I wouldn’t let anyone touch me without being told exactly what they were going to do and massive amounts of persuasion, but I chatted and was pleasant otherwise. I was skilled at being charming around adults and authority figures before, and it certainly came in handy then. Being liked by the nurses and doctors means extra yogurt for breakfast and longer showers, which when you’re spending days without seeing the outdoors, feel like extravagances.

And in some ways, it gets worse once the initial emergencies are over and most of the healing is done, when you’re stuck in a bed knowing that you’ll be trapped there for ages as you get dragged through a dull and depressing schedule for days on end. Sure, they’ll be people to talk to and ping-pong tables (Who knew that those existed and were popular during WWI?), but you can’t do anything that matters. You’re in a holding cell, watching the endlessly revolving door of nurses and doctors switching shifts and other patients leaving and arriving. You find yourself more than ever wishing that you were one of the number of the people rushing about and looking tired and over-worked.

Later, you sometimes wake up in a panic, thinking that you’re still there, trapped in a tiny bed, with nurses watching your every move. But it was just a dream–there’s no one hovering over you with a blood-pressure cuff or thermometer. You don’t have to rate your pain on a scale of one to ten whenever someone so much as pokes their head in the door. There aren’t kitchy murals painted everywhere and the awful knowledge that someone might have died in the very bed you’re sleeping in right now. You can get up and move without worrying about setting off a million alarms and decide to eat collard greens for breakfast while sitting on the kitchen floor.

No matter how you’re hurt, being in a hospital is nasty business, and when I look at the men staring into space or begging for a sheet of paper and a pen, I feel a very weird sort of kinship. Perhaps that’s odd and perhaps I’m just a little too tired after two days of very little sleep and listening to lots of screaming in the house, but I feel it just the same.

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