Fear in My Eyes
Like most of you, I’ve never been very happy about entering a hospital. In fact, unless someone close to me is dying, injured, or giving birth, I will not be found near one of these fear factories. My fear may be a little more serious because of my case of nosocomephobia. And yes, you guessed it, the word means “fear of hospitals." Perhaps I don’t have the worst case, but my case seems to progress as I age. Anytime I need medical attention my family seems to come to the rescue by dragging me to the E.R. For instance, I had a chest infection a few years back. The infection brought a horrible temperature of 104 degrees. After taking some Ibuprofen with the hope to drop my temperature, my esophagus began to swell. Suffocation was enough to cause some concern with my mother. She forced me to see a physician in the emergency room at Aultman Hospital. If I hadn’t, the infection may have led to the end of my existence.
The only time I insisted upon going to the hospital is when I cut part of my hand off. I was involved in an accident at work at the age of 25. While fixing machines as a mechanic, I got my hand snagged in a large chain. The situation I put myself in was an example of pure stupidity. And I must to say, I’m not very proud of it. This is not a story I would bring up at parties, mostly due to embarrassment. The physical pain created from the chain was the greatest I have ever felt. ‘Hospital’ is the only word that pops in your head when you realize you only have eight fingers to count with. About five minutes into the ambulance ride my feeling of shock was wearing thin. That’s when I received a dose of morphine that sent me into another world. The drug kept me calm and distorted my thoughts for the rest of the ride Akron General Hospital. The last thing I remember before getting my surgery was meeting the anesthesiologist. Reality came to haunt me with my new injury the next day. My anxiety related to medical care really didn’t start until my follow up visits. After I completed the necessary therapy for rehabilitation, I distanced myself from medicine, hospitals and the like. I’m not totally sure, but I think most of my phobia resulted because of my 6 hours stay at Akron General Hospital. I felt as though I was no longer young and invincible.
I was reminded of my mild nosocomephobia after reading part of a book by Atul Gawande. Gawande is a writer, surgeon, and public-health researcher. The research that Gawande in involved in focuses on systems innovations to transform safety and performance in the care of the terminally ill, surgery, and childbirth. He also has three best-selling books. In Gawande’s book “Complications”, he gives an inside view of what a resident surgeon faces on the job. One topic that he covers, that I found interesting, is how mistakes can happen in the work place as a surgeon. After the read, the memory of my accident 6 years ago came alive. Gawande almost lost a patient, due to lack of better decision making. Gawande claimed that, “all doctors make terrible mistakes”. (55) He goes on to say every surgeon has a story to tell about making mistakes. This claim was stated without leaving out the fact that brilliant, well-educated, physicians screw up also. Everyone is human and has a story about screwing up at work. In my situation, with lack of better choices, I put myself in a bad position. I was lucky to make it out with a few minor surgeries. I could have lost a hand, my arm or even my life. I’m glad that luck was with me on the day of my accident. The worst result of the whole ordeal was rehabilitation of my hand. Now that I think about it, the Worker’s Compensation paper work was kind of a pain in the neck as well.
Gawande helped me to realize that lack of trust for doctors is a variable related to my phobia. At first, with all the talk about how doctors screw up, I felt as though he was fueling my anxiety in a way. My feelings were that trusting a stranger with my health and privacy could be dangerous. Gawande says that, “Even good doctors can go bad, and when they do, colleagues tend to be almost entirely unequipped to do anything about them”. (88) This comment is in no way reassuring to me that hospitals have great ethical conduct. Gawande uses a former colleague, Hank Goodman, as an example. Hanks story in located in a chapter called “When Good Doctors Go Bad”. Hank, who was a well-respected, well-educated surgeon, was letting depression get the best of him. He would come to work and go through as many patients as he could in one day. It appears that Hank used working hard as a crutch for his disorder. I can imagine Hank as a numb doctor. Hank was probably the kind of doctor that tells you to save your “other” medical questions for the next visit. I see him as a doctor that won’t look you in that face and avoids any prolonged contact, as if you are just another addition to the paycheck. Hanks apathy caused him to violate his oath of “do not harm” repeatedly. He had more lawsuits than any other surgeon in his hospital. The question that comes to my mind is how do we trust hospitals when they are staffed with doctors who are a danger to society? It appears that doctors are indispensable. Eventually, most of Goodman’s co-workers became uncomfortable with his bad judgments. When Goodman failed to meet for mandatory weekly meetings with his colleagues, his life took a drastic change; He was barred from performing surgeries. It’s astounding that death from medical malpractice is so high. Recently, National Vital Statistics reported 2,580 deaths related to medical and surgical care. While browsing statistics from the 1990’s, I wondered how many of them could have been from Hanks errors.
After my accident, I was fired for not following proper safety regulations. There is a zero-tolerance rule on lockout/tagout procedures. These procedures exist to protect mechanics and machine operators if a machine is being serviced. The procedure involves locking the main power source to a piece of equipment so that it can’t be turned on. After the power source is locked, the mechanic tags the equipment, and then tests it to make sure it will not power up. I took a shortcut because the pressure of my job led me to believe that I needed to keep as many machines running as possible.
I can relate to Hank Goodman in his book. We were both trying to get through as many jobs as possible except, when I made one mistake, I ended up causing physical harm to myself. Seven days later, I was fired for it. Hank was ruining lives consistently. It took years of mistakes for him to be disciplined. “Marilynn Rosenthal, a sociologist at the University of Michigan,” (94) explains a “conspiracy of silence.” “It was a matter of months, even years, before colleagues took effective action against a bad doctor”. (95) When should the colleagues of surgeons begin to blow the whistle?
I will soon must come face to face with my fear of the medical facilities. This is a fear that only protects one’s mind and completely neglects the rest of the body. Recently, I have self-diagnosed myself with celiac disease. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing house calls celiac disease, “a digestive disease that damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food”. With my self-diagnosis, I have been able to find a suitable diet of mostly fruit, vegetables and unprocessed meats. With research, you can find out anything that is wrong with you. I must face my fear because the symptoms that I have could be symptoms for some other medical condition. Hopefully, all will go well. My hope is, after the proper testing, the doctor will tell me that I have been doing everything that I am supposed to be doing. The bright side of all this is that eliminating gluten and dairy (dairy as a precaution) from my diet has helped me to become more health conscious.
"Courage is strength in the face of knowledge of what is to be feared or hoped. Wisdom is prudent strength."
I have learned a lot from Gawande's writing. He taught me that doctors are only human. Even though I feel a little uneasy about the mistakes of surgeons, he makes a good case in this statement, “No matter what measures are taken, doctors will sometimes falter, and it isn’t reasonable to ask that we achieve perfection”. (74) You can’t expect perfection from all doctors. If we stripped the license from every doctor that made an error, we would have an extremely high demand for doctors with an overqualified unemployed population. We must have faith that doctors didn’t spend so much time and money in medical school with the intent to hurt their patients.
I suggest that you read that book “Complications”. Even if you don’t show interest in the medical profession this book may help you learn more about yourself as it did for me. Gawande has influenced me more than I thought. Now I want to do preventative maintenance on my body to decrease my chances of surgery. Overall, Gawande's book “Complications” has given me the motivation to find a regular doctor. An appointment is long overdue.
Gawande,A. (2002). Complications: A Surgeons Notes on an Imperfect Science
NY Picador-Pan Books Limited
National Institute of Health. (September 2008). Celiac Disease. In National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Retrieved July 31, 2013, from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/celiac/#top.
Hoyert,D, Xu,J.(October 2012). National Vital Statistics Report (Volume 61, Nol 6). Retrieved July 31, 2013, from
Unknown. Gawande.com: About Atul Gawande. Retrieved July 31, 2013, from
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Joshua Crowder