There is no “simple” procedure or “minor” hospitalization…. The
hospital bed reduces all to the lowest common denominator. We have
the privilege of connecting with people when they are most exposed
and most defenseless. … With that privilege of intimacy comes the
responsibility to make that connection a healing one.
—Sharon Adkins, MSN, RN (1997, p. 4)
Much has been written about the emotional impact of illness, the vulnerability and powerlessness of patients, and their fears regarding pain, mutilation, and death. But how often do we really stop to consider what an invasion of privacy it is when we ask those “routine” questions on admission to our facility? It is certainly not routine to the person we are questioning to reveal his bowel habits, spiritual beliefs, substance use, and sexual problems (even abuse) to a perfect stranger with a clipboard. He is already being asked to bare his body and donate its blood and urine, and we are trying to probe his psyche and soul as well. Every blank on the assessment form must be Idled. Nothing is sacred now. And it’s not long until somebody else shows up and asks most of those same questions again. Tubes, needles, and other devices of torture are soon to come.
Despite the voluminous literature about hospitalization, my colleagues and I noticed that there were very few first-person accounts. We undertook several phenomenological studies at the University of Tennessee, ultimately compiling a number of them in our book, Listening to Patients (Thomas & Pollio, 2002). Here I mention only a few of the findings of these studies. Shattell (2002) interviewed medicalsurgical patients with diverse diagnoses, including cancer, atrial fibrilla