For many hours every day for more than two of the last three weeks, I was in a hospital setting, supporting my beloved sister’s recovery from a major surgery. I have a lot of very personal experiences – of sorrow, helplessness, and moments of grace – that are now part of who I will forever be. This piece is about what I learned from all of this about why so many of us hate being in hospitals and what it would take to create hospitals that are truly designed to support healing.
Despite everything that I am about to say, I am confident that all of us who were with my sister during this time would rate the care we received as excellent. We were in a hospital ranked in the top 5% in the US. Nonetheless, my overall conclusion is that hospitals, as currently conceived and designed, are not conducive to healing. I have no research to cite for any of what I am saying, only my own deep intuitive humanity that speaks to me, my soul’s mourning about what I saw. This mourning is made especially poignant given that I have absolutely no doubt about the dedication, care, and commitment to the well-being of patients on the part of everyone we encountered while at the hospitals. I am not talking here about the rare individual whose spirit has been so damaged that they end up taking their suffering out on other people (commonly known as sadistic). I am talking about a system and a setup in which people whose hearts shine are unable to create a healing environment.
To clear up any confusion there may be, in talking about healing I am making a distinction between healing and curing. A quote from the book Choices in Healing, by Michael Lerner from Commonweal, an organization dedicated to individual and global health, might help make this distinction clearer: “A cure is a medical procedure that reliably helps you recover from an illness. Healing is an inner process through which the human organism seeks its own recovery–physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.” There is no question whatsoever that hospitals are places where people’s lives are routinely saved, where multiple diseases and conditions are treated with stunning success, and where everyone is committed to supporting such processes in happening.
This remarkable success, however, is not relying on our innate, organismic capacity to heal. While everyone is aware of this almost miraculous biological and spiritual process, it is assumed and taken for granted, not nourished, not actively mobilized, and it is often interfered with in order to allow for the efficiency, reliability, and technical accuracy of the procedures that take place at the hospital. To whatever extent healing happens, it’s because life is so glorious and powerful, that healing happens despite the hospital environment, not because of it.