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On Christmas, the lonely seek refuge in hospitals
December 16th, 2010
12:00 PM ET

On Christmas, the lonely seek refuge in hospitals

Two days before Christmas, Ishani Kar-Purkayastha a junior doctor at an English hospital, prepares to dig through a stack of patient papers. She remembers the night:

The pre-Christmas emptying of the hospital is well underway. People want to be at home.

Instead, the young doctor is interrupted by a woman. “Doris,” who complains of aching in her shoulder.  Doris has been at the hospital for three weeks.

Truth is, Doris is an incredibly healthy 82-year-old and we can’t find anything. I have no doubt it will be the same today.

Doris tells Kar-Purkayastha about her deceased husband and her two children who live abroad.  They talk for a while before Kar-Purkayastha has to answer a page.  She returns later that day with Doris' test results from her shoulder.  Doris is fine.

When the young doctor tells her patient that she can return home, Doris shuffles.

“Doctor, she says, “there’s two days to Christmas.” I nod. She sighs, and from nowhere a tear trickles down her face.

Suddenly, she gathers up her rail thin arms and legs and looks at me with intent. “It’s just that I’m all alone and there are so many hours in the day.”

She lets out a forlorn noise that is neither laugh nor cry. “Doctor,” she asks, “can you give me a cure for loneliness?” Her courage takes my breath away.

Kar-Purkayastha’s memory became  a winning essay chosen by the editors of  The Lancet, in the medical journal's annual competition.

About Doris, Kar-Purkavastha writes: There are probably thousands like her. Men and women who have lived a lot and loved a lot. Men and women who are not yet done with being ferocious and bright but for whom time now stands empty as they wait in homes full of silence; their only misunderstanding to have lived to an age when they are no longer coveted by a society addicted to youth.

Sheepishly, I insist that Doris spends her Christmas this year on the ward, and I see her mood lift. But as I steel myself for the inevitable influx of unwanted grandparents who I know will arrive, I cannot help but wonder how it is that things could have gone so badly wrong.

There are many more Dorises, Kar-Purkavastha knows - aging and alone.  That loneliness can feel more painful during holidays, leading some to seek refuge inside a hospital surrounded by people who are tasked with taking care of them.

A hospital can oddly seem like a warm place during the holidays for "patients who really don't have family or a spouse, it may be a nice place to be, if you can call it that," one doctor told CNN for a story about holiday surgery.

The Lancet editors wrote in an accompanying editorial that “a visit to an older neighbour who lives alone might be just what they need to make their holiday a merry one.”

Kar-Purkayastha's essay is worth a read.


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soundoff (71 Responses)
  1. m

    Well that could never happen in the US. Medicare/Medicaid would never pay for a hospital stay cause someone is lonely. Plus, hospitals like to empty beds before holidays so as not to stretch their staff which is reduced during holidays. So pretty much if you are breathing before a holiday they will send you home.

    December 16, 2010 at 12:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Our Healthcare System BITES

      Sad but true. We are last place in everything, especially healthcare.

      December 16, 2010 at 15:22 | Report abuse |
    • skungatz

      Actually, more people are opting for surgery that they postponed, because now they've met their deductible.

      December 17, 2010 at 12:55 | Report abuse |
    • Mei

      "M" is right on that. American hospitals will kick you out due to lack of funds or insurance. When a new mom goes through a c-section, for example, which is major abdominal surgery, they try to get her up and out as soon as possible. No "ifs, ands or buts"....as long as she can eat and go pee...out she goes. I've been in the hospital many times for serious medical issues and I can tell you, the LAST place I would want to be is in the hospital. The first day/night might be fine, as you get served three meals and get some rest (though they do wake you up almost every other hour to check vitals which can really get on your nerves). But after that first night, the staff usually abandon you to the bottom of the list and your lucky to get a nurse when you ring for help. Not to mention the beds are not that comfortable on the second or third or fourth night.

      December 17, 2010 at 16:34 | Report abuse |
    • RLM

      Almost a year after my final parent passed, I understand. Many people are too busy being busy and they forget to spend the time with those who helped nurture them into their current being. Many weekends I spent my time and traveled many hours to be with my Mom, did I mention that I had a sister who lived just 3 miles away from her. A sister who was just too busy. My Mom eventually learned who to ask for help, she knew who she could depend on for quality time. She knew who would be there for her and not yell at her. We all need to stop and take time to be with those who made us who we are before they are gone.

      December 19, 2010 at 22:58 | Report abuse |
  2. Lv1900

    What a moving article, thank you. We have neglected our elders and this is a society addicted to youth, as this doctor mentions. How very sad indeed. Our elders have the most amazing stories to tell and their commentary on our every day lives is comical and their presence is comforting. I will seek out a senior home or center this holiday and spend some time there.

    December 16, 2010 at 12:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. The_Mick

    Aren't there Senior Centers, religious or civic organizations, etc. through which she can interact with people and perhaps build a network of friends? It seems like her problem is psychological.

    December 16, 2010 at 14:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • g

      Yes there are, but I've learned you can't drag them if they refuse to go out.

      December 16, 2010 at 15:10 | Report abuse |
    • You cant see pain stupid

      BUTwhat if her pain is real? Guess what, you cannot see pain. She may have fibromyalgia or some other issue that is not in the joints or bones but the muscle fibers themselves. Please stop assuming that you must have blood shooting out of your eyes in order to be sick. Geez.

      December 16, 2010 at 15:24 | Report abuse |
    • Sarah K

      How can you be so cold hearted? People are told by society that they need to be with their families, and if they have no one becuase they are older, most of their friends have died or moved away, what do you do? Would you rather be in a hospital with people who are happy and going to their families/friends, then in an old age home with depressed people because they are ignored or lost or have no one, have illnesses both physical and mental, and really feel alone (not lonely, but alone)? It really isn't that simple.

      December 16, 2010 at 18:03 | Report abuse |
  4. Michelle

    Two problems with this scenario:

    1. The doctors should be looking for other resources to help these folks. There are senior centers and "elderly daycare" facilities that provide community and activities for these people. Letting them mope about in a hospital will only make things worse.

    2. Hospitals are FULL. I know, I work at one. We're constantly at capacity. People with REAL illness are scrapping to get admitted. Medical services are stretched thin. Why the heck are they wasting medical resources, testing equipment, and BEDS on people who are HEALTHY? I don't care how old and lonely this woman is, or the sob-stories of others like her. Hospitals are for those who are actually ill. Are you going to tell the person with respiratory distress, surgical complications, or cardiac arrhythmia that they can't have a bed because some old lady is LONELY?

    Good god, people... grow a backbone. Dammit man, you're a doctor, not a babysitter.

    December 16, 2010 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Wow

      Go to Hell you heartless troll.

      December 16, 2010 at 15:25 | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      I do agree with yoir fist point however I find it sad/ammusing that you work at a hospital with that level of compassion.

      Dear god, I hope I never end up in your hospital.

      December 16, 2010 at 15:26 | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      I mean "first" point....however, by your standards fist may also apply.

      December 16, 2010 at 15:32 | Report abuse |
    • Heidi

      Michelle,

      If you truly work at a hospital then you should know that older adults mobility can be impaired making it difficult for them to get to these centers. Perhaps the physicians should consider that this older patient may suffer from depression, which can cause body aches.

      I find your comment disturbing and I agree with Jim...Dear God, please don't EVER let me end up in Michelle's hospital.

      December 16, 2010 at 15:41 | Report abuse |
    • Yikes

      Michelle,

      I couldn't agree more with 'Wow.' You are a heartless troll. You had better pray when you end up old, lonely, and aching (if you are even lucky enough to make it old age with such a hideous personality guiding your life), that a nurse/doctor with your same feelings doesn't care for you.

      Go volunteer at an old folks home and see if you can get a little compassion and perspective.

      December 16, 2010 at 19:15 | Report abuse |
    • jen

      on a lighter note, she's right. but come on, can we rephrase a bit to sound a little nicer? i deal with pts too and i'm busy too, but this woman is so desperate. yes, get her out of the hospital. hospitals are for the sick not lonely. there are churches, caregivers, and volunteers of all sorts for lonely elderly ppl. i think the dr should have referred her to one of those places. i know a few ppl personally who have cancer need medical help. when a cancer pt wakes up in the middle of the night screaming and vomiting and excreting blood, they need that bed. i know that one personally.

      December 17, 2010 at 03:25 | Report abuse |
    • Kris

      Dear Michelle,

      As a fellow nurse in a very busy ER and hospital, PLEASE RETIRE! You have no business being in nursing with the total lack of compassion and empathy you show. You are hardened and have lost track of what a nurse is. Please go in to a telephone customer service position that suits your lack of feelings.

      December 17, 2010 at 12:55 | Report abuse |
    • Lori

      Wow; what a b*&^h. You know, I understand your "logic" in what you are trying to say and you are speaking from a sanitized and logical perspective..however..the rare kindness that the doctor paid to that poor woman speaks volumes as to her ability as a doctor to treat not only the physical but the psychological problems of her patients. Not everything in life should be black and white. The doctor made a decision from her heart..something that is lacking with most of the medical profession. Yes, you can be both. Someone's heart is two sizes too small...

      December 17, 2010 at 13:53 | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      Kris, can you read? I have said MULTIPLE TIMES on this post... I am NOT a nurse, and I do NOT work with patients. Where the heck do you people get the impression that I'm a nurse? Because I'm a FEMALE and work in a hospital? Seriously, reality check here.

      I am NOT your "fellow nurse." I am a biologist. I don't clean bedpans; I work in research.

      And as a nurse... would YOU be the person to turn away someone who is actually SICK, and instead give that hospital bed to a person who is merely lonely? What sort of cruel, hateful person are you? If you think a hospital bed should be used for a healthy person instead of someone who actually needs it, maybe YOU need to retire. There are SICK people turned away from hospitals every day because the beds are FULL. And I know that you nurses already have more patients than you can handle half the time.

      So... which patient would you give a bed to? The one with leukemia, kidney failure, acute respiratory distress, pneumonia, pericarditis, arrhythmia, or loneliness?

      December 17, 2010 at 14:51 | Report abuse |
    • Jules

      And Bah Humbug to you Michelle. Hope you never find yourself alone and incredibly lonely. 'Loneliness' is a real problem and I believe that the article is trying to concentrate on that, not someone taking up a hospital bed. You need to grow a backbone and get out there and make the world a better place, not agressively attacking an 82 year old woman. God bless the dear lady in question and I hope some people who actually have the empathy-gene step up and befriend her. Cold-hearted people like yourself should maybe spend xmas doing some introspection or even watch Scrooge for a few hundred times then you might become more humane.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:14 | Report abuse |
  5. mama panda

    Senior centers tend to do as much as they can to decorate for the holidays and provide special holiday events and foods. None of that, however, can make up for the fact that on Christmas Day itself, the day that seniors like Doris most dread spending alone, the centers are usually closed.

    December 16, 2010 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jen

      wow really? well, time to start a club of my own. any takers?

      December 17, 2010 at 03:27 | Report abuse |
  6. Ingrid

    A note to Heidi, Jim and Wow

    All hospitals in the United States ARE "Michelle's hospital". Compassion is in very low supply and they are very likely to dump the poor, elderly and downtrodden on skid row while still in their hospital gowns. Happens in California all the time...

    December 16, 2010 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jim

      I disagree with your generic blanket comment that all hospitals are this way. You should come up to Washington and get a new veiwpoint on what it means to have quality service and comapassion in a hospital. We are not over-run with illegals who clog the system...like California, so I understand why you may have this opinion.

      December 16, 2010 at 16:19 | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      Actually, sugar, my hospital is one of the best in the nation for quality of patient care.

      And no, we don't dump people out on the street... but you know who suffers? The sick. People who are ACTUALLY sick, but can't get admitted, but all of the hospital beds are FULL. Do you people understand that? Do you know how bad it is when a person in acute respiratory distress or tachycardia or liver failure can't get admitted to a hospital because all the beds are full, and some of those beds are being used for people who are "lonely"?

      And you call me heartless.

      December 16, 2010 at 21:39 | Report abuse |
  7. gateway

    OK, I'll go visit my 90 some year old neighbor this Christmas. I'll even bring cookies.

    December 16, 2010 at 16:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • mama panda

      Way to go, gateway! Merry Christmas!

      December 16, 2010 at 17:10 | Report abuse |
    • Jules

      Thanks goodness for people like you! I hope you have a terrific xmas and inspire others to go visit their elderly neighbours or anyone who may be alone.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:17 | Report abuse |
  8. pb001

    This story is absolutely sad–the fact that anyone would be happier in a hospital is quite telling of what daily life is really like for them. However, one needs to keep in mind (no matter what country you live in) the PURPOSE of medical hospitals–to treat those with a medical condition too acute to be treated outside of the hospital. In psychiatric care this is expanded to include someone who is a danger to themselves or others or is not able to care for themselves appropriately due to a mental illness.

    Unfortunately medical care costs money, and unnecessary admissions just make the entire system already more strained than it is.

    December 16, 2010 at 20:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michelle

      That's what I tried to say, but people called me a heartless troll. Alas.

      December 16, 2010 at 21:35 | Report abuse |
  9. Medicalsocialworker

    As medical social worker in an acute care hospital in the United States, we are faced with the scenario about patient Doris on a daily basis as Dr. Ishani Kar-Purkayastha lays out her award winning essay. The sad truth is all the comments mentioned previously have threads of truth from utilizing other resources – adult day care, senior centers to hospitals are for medically acute patients. During the Holidays and now more common on non-Holidays we often get the "social work referral" to address patients that are labeled as frequent flyers or malingers. Most times the truth is our seniors are actually lonely and have an affinity towards the since of safety of a hospital. (1 out of 4 over the age 65 are dx with Major Depressive Disorder) Heck, three meals a day, a warm bed, and great nursing care I would take that on most days when I have to come home to take care of the spouse and three demanding children. But enough. As a medical social worker and more importantly a human being our world has no easy answer to the millions of patients like Dr. Kar-Purkayastha's patient Doris. I can only pray and hope that our world would and could be a better place.

    December 16, 2010 at 21:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Susan

    Well Michelle...you are the type of nurse that should not be in NURSING..maybe try another field, possibly in Mortuary Science! How about all the illegals that are at the hospital ER in line BEFORE PEOPLE WHO HAVE INSURANCE getting better care than those of us who do have insurance!??? WAIT, forget the morgue...you should respect the dead!

    December 16, 2010 at 22:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jen

      michelle is mean, but she's got to get the sick pts in. that's what her job is. she's not a babysitter. again, i understand her cold wording makes it hard to agree with her, but she has no time for depression when someone is having a heart attack or is not getting enough oxygen. obviously that will result in an automatic death. i'm assuming she got into her field of practice to save lives. she's not a psychologist. doris had gone to the wrong facility. hospitals are for saving lives. again, the church is a very warm and welcoming place. there is so much to do there and be involved with. they also have christmas celebrations on christmas day. you know, mass and all. CHRIST mas. hell i feel more at home at church than i do at home

      December 17, 2010 at 03:40 | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      Where the heck did you get the fallacious notion that I'm a nurse? Because I'm female? Get over your gender-based bigotry. Not all females working in health care are nurses; not all men are doctors. Not all nurses are female, and not all doctors are male. Jerk.

      Additionally, there are many other positions involved in running a medical center. I'm a biologist (not a medical doctor), and I work in research. I don't work with patients.

      Now, for that matter, I do actually care about the sick. I think the beds in a hospital should be used for people with real medical problems, not people who just need a hug. I work in outreach with my church – that's a good way to take care of people who are lonely or needy. We have family groups, we run food drives, and we collect gifts for the poor around the holidays. But hospitals are for people with medical conditions, not a case of the blues. Is it compassionate to give a hospital bed to a lonely-but-healthy person, when someone with kidney failure can't get admitted to the hospital because all the beds are full? You can't admit someone without a bed to give them. Our hospital is FULL. I mean MAX CAPACITY. Do you get that? If we give a bed to someone who is "just lonely," then that's a person in acute respiratory distress who can't get admitted. I'm sorry, but it's HEARTLESS and also stupid to give hospital beds to healthy people.

      It's also stupid of the doctor involved in this "patient's" care to keep running tests that she doesn't need. It goes against standards of patient care. Instead, if this doctor is truly concerned about this woman, she'd call social services and get help for her.

      December 17, 2010 at 09:11 | Report abuse |
    • clutzycook

      Michelle may just be burnt out. I'm an RN who couldn't take the crap of the floor anymore and I switched to a specialty that doesn't require any direct patient care. It's been a year now, and I couldn't be happier.

      December 17, 2010 at 11:20 | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      Clutzycook... I'm not involved in patient care, so I'm not burnt out from that. However, I AM acutely aware of how overfilled our hospital is, and the fact that we barely have enough beds to take care of the sickest patients. I know people with chronic conditions who need inpatient treatments, but who get rescheduled and deferred and are left suffering for weeks or months before they can get scheduled for treatments... all because there aren't enough beds. I know one of the nurses over in our campus heart hospital who just two weeks ago was struggling to get a patient admitted... someone in severe condition... because the beds were all full. My own sister had surgery just a few years ago, and her procedure required an overnight stay, but they did it as an outpatient procedure because there weren't enough beds. She ended up with complications and nerve damage because it didn't heal right.

      What I see is a failure of people to understand the purpose of a hospital bed. Our health care system is overburdened. We can't afford to give beds to healthy people.

      December 17, 2010 at 13:14 | Report abuse |
  11. Rich

    It is not the job of the hospital to provide baby sitting services for old folks. The bed she stays in costs money, being paid by Medicare ie taxpayers, and that bed would be better utilized being used by someone who is really sick or injured. Send this lady home along with any others who are abusing the overworked medical system.

    December 17, 2010 at 00:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jules

      Actually it wasn't medicare paying for it since it was an English hospital. It's the National Health Service. Also, I believe a lot of people are missing the point – the point is that there are some very lonely old people out there and now as a society we no longer treat old people with respect or take care of them the way people used to. In the past there weren't old people's homes or not as many, and family were made to care for the elderly whether they liked it or not. Now families have no time for their older parents or other relatives and many are left alone like Doris or stuck in old-peoples' homes which are full of people with various dementias and psychological problems such as depression – not exactly a welcome alternative. It's a shame people no longer care for their parents, aunts, uncles etc when they get old. I hope when it's my turn to step up to the plate that I have the strength and kindness to look after my parents (having them live with me if necessary). There are too many people out there who can't wait to shove the old folks into homes.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:29 | Report abuse |
  12. mel

    It's not a hospital's job or purpose to provide people with social and psychological support. Personally, I think that's really our job, what you and I ought to be trying to do, for the people in our spheres of life. These elderly individuals seeking out someone to be around for a holiday....that welcoming someone could be one of us. And one day, that lonely elderly individual could be one of us, too. It's easy to live like we're all islands, but we're not, and it can take just a small amount of extra effort to lift someone else up in a major way.

    December 17, 2010 at 00:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Louise

    I think it's a waste of money to keep elderly people in hospitals because they are lonely. Just because someone is elderly and doesn't have relatives nearby doesn't mean that they are going to be lonely over the holidays. Elderly people who take the time to get involved in their churches, civic organizations like senior centers, or to even volunteer (note that the story said that the woman was a healthy octogenerian) are with people over the holidays. I suspect that the healthy elderly who aren't with others over the holidays are selfish or manipulative people who have driven away or avoided relationships with others. Hospitals shouldn't be expected to fill their void. As a young adult, on my own in a new city where I had found employment, I was alone on some holidays. I didn't expect a hospital to take me in.

    December 17, 2010 at 00:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jen

      well when you're an old adult and your kids move away and you're too slow and boring for them to care about anymore when their careers take them many miles away from you, you'll think back on how selfish and manipulative you were to them. and when you really can't think of anything you did other than give them everything you had and try to provide the best life you could you'll realize that the reason you're alone is because they just don't really care that much about you anymore. they have "better" things to do. their own kids to raise. money to make. don't worry, you can come to the facility i'll establish one day and talk to me about it over christmas dinner.

      December 17, 2010 at 03:46 | Report abuse |
    • Lori

      I am trying really hard to not be nasty...not everyone is in a position to go and "get involved." Lonliness and hopelessness is rampant among the elderly in the U.S. where age is considered a curse. Once again, your ticker ain't ticking properly. Every now and then, there is nothing wrong with being compassionate.

      December 17, 2010 at 14:09 | Report abuse |
  14. Hospital doc

    For those posting about compassion that Michelle lacks, a touch of reality. As mentioned several times in the previous postings, hospitals are for patients with acute illnesses that CANNOT be treated on an outpt basis. ALL American hospitals will discharge a healthy patient if that patient is medically ready and needs no further hospitalization. As a hospital physician, I see the scenario described in the Lancet essay more times than I care to count. It is often the elderly and lonely (or sometimes young and lonely!) patient who is otherwise healthy who is most reluctant to leave. People need to understand that there are very real costs associated with housing people who don't need the acute medical care of a hospital IN the hospital. A typical inpatient bed on a non-monitored (no continuous EKG) unit is about $1000/night. On an ICU with intensive care nurses and continuous monitoring, about $1500/night. This is before the costs of the doctor who sees you, the nurse who does almost everything else, the tech who changes bed linens, bathes if needed and checks vital signs and then the medications that are prescribed. I am not heartless, but should this be the cost of lonliness? There has to be a better way...

    December 17, 2010 at 01:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michelle

      Thanks, doc. I'm glad I'm not the only person who sees it this way.

      I work at the largest medical center in the region, and we're at max capacity almost nonstop. Every bed we give to someone who doesn't need it is a bed being taken away from a person with a serious illness. People just don't get it.

      December 17, 2010 at 09:14 | Report abuse |
    • Jules

      Again the hospital is English. Not sure the over-the-top costs are the same in Britain – weren't when I lived there for 32 years. American hospital costs are outrageous – but that's a different story. Anyway, again HospitalDoc – not sure this article is really about taking up bed space but actually pointing to the fact that loneliness is so rampant in our society (especially amongst the elderly) and that maybe we could all help by actually looking out for our neighbours and acting like a "healthy" society does. Unfortunately, societies like in Britain and America have become very "me-centred" – more often than not, we have no idea who are neighbours are and we are so busy we don't have time to care about anyone but our immediate families. This is a grea article to make us stop and think – and maybe do something for our fellow-men and make the world better.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:36 | Report abuse |
  15. Fiona

    That's some expensive compassion being doled out. And yet women who give birth are practically booted out the door the minute the baby is cleaned up and stabilized. I go the doctor and get maybe two minutes of face time. This piece didn't make me sad, it made me angry. If someone is lonely during the holidays, go and VOLUNTEER to help others.

    December 17, 2010 at 02:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. jen

    although pain is subjective, she later admitted to being lonely. remember the rest of the article?

    December 17, 2010 at 03:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Louise

    Instead of feeling sorry for herself and unnecessarily taking up an expensive hospital bed, this healthy octogenarian could be spending the holidays volunteering at a homeless shelter, a veterans' home, a senior citizens' home or bringing cheer to some ill people who are hospitalized. I don't have pity for her. If she were spending her time helping and befriending others instead of having a pity party at others' expense, she wouldn't be having unhappy holidays.

    Her doctor needs to do her job: release people like this who are health, and direct them to outpatient mental health services.

    December 17, 2010 at 08:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Tee

    Wow, great banter. Everybody makes very valid points. I, too, hope that the healthy Dorises of the world will start volunteering at nursing homes, shelters, etc. so they can build the relationships that they so desperately need. Someone posted that older people have so much wisdom and stories to share. There are people out there who can benefit from Doris. I once advised an elderly woman that I know to do that–visit the local nursing home. She absolutely loves it. She gets to talk all day long (which she loves) to a captive audience that is lonely for company–a perfect fit!

    December 17, 2010 at 09:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Michelle

    I find it so amazing that people think I'm being heartless for saying that healthy people should not be kept as hospital inpatients. In contrast, I think people who give hospital beds to healthy folks are positively vile. Consider these things carefully...

    1. Bed space in a hospital is a very VERY limited resource. There are times when even seriously ill people can't get admitted because the hospital is FULL. Beds don't just appear out of thin air. Hospital rooms don't magically appear because more patients arrive. There are only so many beds to go around. Inpatient beds can ONLY be used for people who need serious, round-the-clock care. Every time you admit a patient, that means someone else is NOT getting admitted. If you keep a healthy person as an inpatient, that means someone with a serious illness isn't getting the care they need to SURVIVE. Do you understand how cruel and EVIL that is?

    2. I'm not a nurse. (Seriously, not all women working in hospitals are nurses. Half of the doctors I know are women.) I'm not a medical doctor. I don't work in patient care. I'm a research biologist. So stop railing and ranting about how I shouldn't be near patients. I'm not, nor do I want to be. I'd rather work on finding the cures behind the scenes. We're a research medical center. Our hospital also has some of the highest patient satisfaction ratings and care ratings in the country.

    3. I've been an inpatient. Fairly recently, in fact. I had major surgery in September. And you know what happened? I got discharged too soon, despite the fact that I was having post-surgical complications. I ended up in the ER less than 24 hours later. Why did they push me out the door? For the same reason that new mothers, cancer patients, people with organ failure, and other patients with real illnesses get pushed out the door so fast: NOT ENOUGH BEDS.

    4. The article here did NOT say that the woman in the hospital had mobility problems, senility, or ANY health problems whatsoever. She's a HEALTHY 80-year old. And to the doctor, it was OBVIOUS that she was fabricating aches and pains so that she wouldn't get sent home. This is a case of a doctor who doesn't know how to deal with emotional decisions. If the doctor (and the nurses) on staff actually cared about their sick patients AND this woman, they'd help her find other ways to meet her social needs. And yes, she's healthy! So maybe she'd enjoy visiting people in nursing homes! Or attending senior activities at a local community center. There are other options.

    5. If you still think I'm heartless, then say that to the young woman who just started living in my guest room because her family kicked her out right before the holidays and she has nothing. You want to do right by people? Give compassion where compassion is needed, and give medical care where medical care is needed.

    6. The next time you or a family member is extremely ill, let's hope your local hospital isn't full. Who needs that hospital bed more? The acute leukemia patient, or the lonely old lady?

    December 17, 2010 at 10:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jules

      Wow Michelle – I don't know if you made that bit up about giving up your guestroom to someone without a home, but if you did there is hope for you yet! Still, you could tone down your comments. You really do come across as VILE (to quote you) and as a very heartless, angry person. Please get past the taking up of bed space and actually focus on what the article is really about and that is 'loneliness' and also 'old age'.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:45 | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      Jules, you would be angry, too, if you'd watched people who are seriously ill and in need of real intensive medical care being kicked out of the hospital too soon because of the lack of beds. I've seen it happen many times. I have friends in the UK who have had inpatient procedures delayed because beds were full. I live in the USA, and I know that hospital crowding varies by region, but I know it's a problem in many places. People get very upset when they hear about people getting pushed out of hospitals before it's medically safe to do so, but part of the problem is the inappropriate use of resources. So which are we going to get angry about? Pick one – people getting kicked out of hospitals while they still need serious medical care, or doctors not being "compassionate" enough to lonely people? Imagine you have one hospital bed, and two patients you could potentially admit. Do you take the one with the blood clot, or the one who needs a hug? So... yes, I'm angry. I'm angry that people can't recognize the appropriate use of hospital space, and that people who need medical care for life or death illnesses get pushed out of the hospital before it's safe.

      Yes, loneliness is a real problem... but it's NOT a medical problem that requires an inpatient bed. That's NOT what inpatient facilities are FOR.

      And yes, I took in the young lady whose family kicked her out. She arrived yesterday, and she's sitting next to me right now. Why? Because instead of whining about compassion and how people aren't nice enough to folks in need, I prefer to DO something about it. My friends who lack health insurance also come to me quite often because I have training as an EMT and I'm very good at diagnostics, and can patch up and treat a lot of basic problems without bankrupting them. Like I said... I try to DO things to help instead of just whining that people aren't nice enough.

      And no, I don't blame the 82-year-old woman. I blame society for not treating our elderly with respect. In my culture and faith tradition, the elderly are revered as the wise ones, and the core of the community. Even if they have no blood family, they're an essential part of the community. I live 1000 miles away from my mother, and yet I call every day, and make sure she has what she needs. I visit her as often as my schedule allows, and if she doesn't re-marry, she'll either live with my sister or me when she gets older. Family is family, and community is family. I wish more people would remember that, instead of leaving these people so desperate that they would seek companionship in hospitals because it's the only place they can get it.

      So maybe I come off as a bit bristly and angry here. For good reason – I am. However, people are being reactionary towards my comments, instead of trying to understand what I'm saying.

      December 19, 2010 at 01:04 | Report abuse |
  20. sweetums

    "Doris" is like me. She's old and lonely. But there is another problem not brought up.

    What about people who are old but shy. I have trouble making friends because I also am shy. I can't go to a senior center or a nursing home to make friends. It scares me and I would rather be alone than try that.

    December 17, 2010 at 10:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Leo

      Ma'am, then I hate to say it, but that's a choice you've got to make. You can choose to continue to be alone, or choose to go out and find friends. We all make that choice regardless of our age. Young people are shy. Old people are shy. My wife's mother is seriously agoraphobic.

      But still, while being shy can be considered a psychological condition, it's not a medical condition that requires the use of a hospital bed. That's not what hospital beds are for.

      If you wish for companionship, then I hope you find a way to get the companionship you need. I sympathize with your shyness, but that's something that many people struggle with, and it's up to you to learn to cope. If you wish to get past your shyness, perhaps you can seek the help of a counselor. There are many resources available. Catholic Charities, for example, offers inexpensive counseling services regardless of your religion (they don't use the counselors to preach, either), and they could perhaps help you learn coping techniques.

      But the big question... would you take away a hospital bed from a sick person because you're shy and lonely?

      December 17, 2010 at 10:49 | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      I've always been shy, too. I'm 39 now.
      I keep thinking I've gotten over it, and gotten better at social situations, but yet, they pop up, and I fail, as usual!
      I always say that if I could go back and do high school over again, I'd have friends, and do it right this time.
      But I know, that's not the case. I'd still be shy, and awkward, and too self conscious, and unable to approach anyone, or keep a conversation going.

      And in 20 years, I will probably be in your shoes. Old, shy, and doing nothing.
      I feel for you. I really do.
      I'd say just go try it, and see what happens, but that's easier said than done, I know!
      I don't know what to tell you, except I hear you!!
      Shyness is the WORST, isn't it?

      December 17, 2010 at 14:29 | Report abuse |
  21. themoi

    This story was from ENGLAND where they have SOCIALIZED MEDICINE. That's why they won't and don't do it here–the taxpayers aren't paying for medical care (yet). And when they do they'll take every lonely old person in and still nobody who really needs care can't get in because the beds are full.

    December 17, 2010 at 10:41 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nurse Nancy

      I'm a nurse in the US and actually, we take people in all the time, even those without ANY insurance, which of course is paid for by the taxpayer as the government subsidizes my hospital for taking in so many uninsured patients. Over Thanksgiving we had a patient the whole weekend because he was homeless and had nowhere to go. And what everyone in America needs to realize is that we push people out too quickly here EVERY SINGLE DAY and, while sometimes it's because we need the beds, most times it's because our FOR PROFIT insurance companies won't pay for another day. That's why hospitals employ case managers, to get the patients out the door because the insurance company only pays for x number of days for that particular diagnosis. It's in the countries that have socialized medicine, you know those ones where that terrible concept of government run healthcare actually exists, where people actually get appropriate and compassionate care. It certainly isn't in this country where the nurse's job is to hurry up and get the patient out because we may not get paid if we don't. I'd rather be a patient in England than in the US any day.

      December 17, 2010 at 15:01 | Report abuse |
  22. Louise

    Sweetums: Shyness is one of the easiest mental health problems to cure. I used to be a very shy person, so shy that I didn't even want to enter a store that I hadn't been in before. I'm now very outgoing.

    I read every book that I could find that was about overcoming shyness, and I put their suggestions into practice. I also volunteered. I found that when helping others, my attention was on their needs, not mine, so I was not self conscious. I also made many friends that way.

    Same thing happened with my younger son, who used to be very shy. Through volunteering - all kinds of volunteering - he became more outgoing and made many friends. Even if you're shy, you probably can do things like stuff envelops for a nonprofit, tutor a child, bring food to te elderly, help clean up a park, etc. Because you'll be involved in a structured activity, you'll have things to do and to say to others. You won't be sitting their tongue tied. You can do some of these things even if you are disabled.

    Also consider taking classes at your senior center or elsewhere in things that interest you. Being around people with things in common with you is another way to meet people and make friends, and you'll have something to talk about with them.

    Joining a church or some kind of religious/spiritual activity is another way. Such places tend to be very welcoming.

    Also check out the resources at shyness.com, an Internet site created by a psychologist -Phillip Zimbardo, who's one of the world's experts on shyness.

    December 17, 2010 at 10:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Lynne

    It's not just the elderly who are lonely at Christmas. There are college students who live too far away to go home, or they can't afford a plane ticket. What about single parents who will be alone because the non-custodial parent has the kids for Christmas? For the newly-divorced or widowed person, the first Christmas without their spouse is a living death. Even being with your family or friends at Christmas is no guarantee that you won't be lonely. I'd much rather be alone than with people who don't really care about me.

    December 17, 2010 at 12:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Louise

    An elderly woman of modest means in my area made a practice of collecting food for the poor and then cooking and serving them a holiday meal. I don't think she had lonely holidays because she focused on other people, not on herself.

    I don't think that healthy elderly are alone at the holidays unless they haven't taken the time to make friends or to get involved in things in their community. People tend to reap what they sow. People who have reached out to others, and continued to make friends and to be involved as they age, are likely to have company during the holidays even if they're elderly or disabled.

    December 17, 2010 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. W.H.

    I am thankful to see all of these comments, many of them of true compassion and understanding. There are folks who remain on the fringes of society that do not seek help, live daily with their problems, and have no insurance that would give them the opportunity to take up a hospital bed or even a doctor's appointment time. These are the folks living in the backwoods of the mountains and hollers in Appalachia and elsewhere; folks in the broken down houses in towns, the neighbor up the stairs in your apartment/condo building that nobody likes. There are so many lonely people since the times have changed and we don't care for each other like we could – we'd rather separate from those we don't feel comfortable with than help them.
    I agree that hospitals are for the truly sick and injured. I've never myself been in a hospital where healing or very much caring was going on – it's all business and duties done by way-overworked personnel following a timeline to get folks out as soon as they can. Though the personnel are usually very caring, they have way too much to do. Time is of the essence (money) and compassion is what comes through a touch or a word from a special attendant, whether doctor, nurse, or aide. Health care is really sick care here. The people who aren't sick or injured need to be served by others. If you can, be a friend to someone who needs help. If you can't do that, please donate to those who do. It could be you needing help. May we find the love in our hearts and compassion for all beings, all life on this planet. Love one another, take care of each other and all life. That's the message from all the masters of knowledge. May we all know the love and peace where that comes from. There are no simple answers for anyone who is suffering because we are so individual. What works is compassion. It carries everyone through the darkness to the light. Kindness works!

    December 17, 2010 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Tammy

    If, in fact, your hospital is chronically full, then perhaps more beds are in order? Given that we pay some of the highest healthcare costs in the world, and the fact that insurance complanies/pharmacueticals make record profits every year, maybe it's time they spread the wealth and make some donations to hospitals in need of more beds. Does Doris belong in the hospital? No, she probably does not. But there is a huge hole in services for seniors. Before you condemn this doctor, before you condemn Doris, remember that you, too, will someday be her. IF you are lucky and live that long.

    December 17, 2010 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michelle

      A lovely thought, Tammy. Just get more beds! It's SOOOOO simple.

      But try this on for size... our hospital has been in a constant state of expansion for the past ten years. We're currently building a new multi-million dollar addition. They added a new cancer center down the road, a new heart hospital, and have more than tripled inpatient capacity. We're in the middle of building yet ANOTHER expansion! You can't just "add more beds." You need to add more rooms first. And to do that, you need to construct more buildings. And YES, we're DOING THAT. We've also added another Urgent Care Clinic. Our hospital runs a free clinic just down the road, too (no proof of income needed... just walk in, absolutely free). But the number of patients keeps increasing.

      Trust me, we're expanding as fast as we can. And we're the largest hospital in the region. People come from as much as five hours away for the care here.

      And guess what? We still have to turn away sick patients because there are too many sick people. I'm not condemning anyone. But I am calling out the doctor for bad decisions. Yes, there are massive gaps in senior care, but the inappropriate use of an inpatient bed is not the answer.

      December 17, 2010 at 16:23 | Report abuse |
    • ravenne

      You know, Michelle, the hospital in the article is in the UK where there's a very different health care system. How do you know that their hospitals are as crowded as yours? Even within the U.S., not every place has a shortage of hospital beds. I don't know where you live, but it's obviously not New York State, because our entire hospital system was just revamped to close several hospitals, combine others, and close wings in still others because we had *way* more hospitals beds than we needed. Google "Berger Commission Report" and "New York hospitals" if you don't believe such a thing is possible. (Having enough nurses to staff those beds, on the other hand, is a whole other issue... but my main point remains that our health care issues here in the US aren't necessarily relevant at all to the story, because the story isn't from the US.)

      December 18, 2010 at 18:17 | Report abuse |
  27. Louise

    If we live long enough, all of us will become old and disabled, and we will have lost loved ones. However, being old, disabled, and grieving doesn't mean that one is destined to be alone. I believe that the elderly who have taken the time to help others and to establish relationships with nonrelatives as well as relatives who are much younger than they are are the ones least likely to be left alone when they are old and frail.

    December 17, 2010 at 16:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Jules

    I had C-sections and was allowed 3 nights in the hospital. To be honest, I was glad to get out. I suppose it depends on the surgery you've had but sometimes going home is actually better than sitting in the hospital bored stiff. I was happy to get home both times. But this is all irrelevant since this article is really about the desperate need of an old lady for company because she is very lonely – not really about taking up a hospital bed – that's secondary. So instead of ranting about taking up hospital beds, perhaps we could all address the real issue this article is about and that is chronic loneliness amongst the elderly and how our society no longer seems to have compassion for them. Reading some of these comments, I would say that this article has hit the nail on the head.

    December 18, 2010 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Emily

    How about a donation to the National Transplant Assistant Fund for one of the Arizona 98 – patients who will become disabled or die due to the fact that our governor cut transplant funding off on October 1st of 2010? The first transplant patient, Mark Price, has already died. Please consider a donation to my stem cell transplant fund: http://media.causes.com/ribbon/958245.

    December 20, 2010 at 01:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Odalice Yolanda Feliz

    sad to be alone,

    December 20, 2010 at 07:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. C.W.

    Michelle sounds like a very lonely person herself, and it's nice that she's gotten some time and attention in this discussion. As for her claims?

    On the 17th, the young woman has just moved in with her. On the 19th, the woman moved in "yesterday." Then Michelle claims the woman sits passively next to her in front of a computer while Michelle is typing furiously, bragging about having taken her in. All so unrealistic that it calls into question how much actual time Michelle spends with real people.

    First, Michelle works "in a hospital." Then she's suddenly a generic "biologist" doing medical research, not in a research center but right in the hospital. And then her hospital becomes an enormous medical center that stretches all up and down a road, where money is so plentiful in this recession that multiple huge building projects are going on. Then the hospital runs a separate "free clinic" on the same road as the rest of the system instead of doing what other systems do: building a free clinic in a slum area somewhere at a distance from other available medical care.

    And at a time when hospitals all over the country are seeing empty beds and reductions in patients because of people delaying non-critical medical care in the bad economy, Michelle's hospital supposedly turns away patients who suffer terribly (because in some mythical fashion, they are unable to get admitted to any other hospital either), and the hospital tosses out people early – not because of insurance issues, which is a national problem – but because the demand to get in is so great the hospital won't take time to take proper care of the people who are already in.

    I too live in a region with an excellent hospital system where people come from five hours drive or more to get the best possible treatment. And it's nothing like Michelle's invented world. And neither is any other hospital in the U.S. Michelle constructs a really elaborate fantasy, so she has a marvelous imagination. Some lonely people try to stay in a hospital for company. Some construct anonymous online fantasies.

    December 20, 2010 at 10:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michelle

      Elaborate fantasy? Wow, sugar, you're really reaching. My friend was sitting on the sofa and I was on the armchair in my living room. She was on her computer, and I was on mine. She didn't know what I was writing about. Do you have some sort of delusion that I'm fuming on the edge of my seat and turning red in the face while I type? Of course she could passively ignore me while I type. I was just typing.

      I work at a university hospital and medical center. We have several research buildings in addition to the hospital and other clinic buildings on our main campus. The cancer center is down the road because the main campus didn't have space for them to build it – it's quite new. But even then, it already has as many patients as the facility can handle. I know this because I know the people working down there. I know some of the nurses working on the inpatient wards who are stretched to the limit because every bed is full. Amazingly, our facility is turning quite a profit, despite the economy. I personally don't agree with for-profit medicine on principle, but the fact is that our hospital and med center are doing extraordinarily well. Which means they're PACKED.

      Yes, we're expanding. New buildings. Come on, genius... if you put in a tiny bit of effort, just from what I said, you'd be able to identify... oh, wait... I just did a Google search. Apparently, a LOT of university hospitals and med centers are expanding right now. For example, look up the $400 million expansion of the University of Colorado Hospital (NOT where I work). Their story sounds a lot like what's happening at our campus. There are a lot more places doing the exact same thing. Your insinuation that hospitals are seeing empty beds and reductions in business is a delusion.

      There are as LOT of people here who work right on the main campus who don't work with patients. From undergraduate interns to PhD's, this is a university research campus for those folks, and a hospital campus for the public, with a lot of overlapping work. I work in a hospital. I work FOR the university. I'm a biologist, not a nurse, not a doctor, not a secretary. I'm sorry if that's too complicated for you to understand.

      This campus has a medical school, a nursing school, the school of allied health, and a physical therapist training program. We have multiple research buildings, and are renovating and expanding the ones we've got. It didn't "become an enormous medical center that stretches all up and down the road." It IS a large medical center. The only relevant part of this was the hospital at the start of the discussion. The hospital is part of the campus. I'm sorry, does that make you feel tiny?

      How elitist for you to call it a slum. Our hospital is on the edge of a low-income neighborhood/area. The free clinic is about a mile away from the main campus. I have friends who go there because they have no health insurance. The clinic is staffed by volunteers (my spouse is a medical technologist and volunteers there a couple of times per month to run lab tests). They affiliate with the med school and have med students in their final year of school doing basic patient intakes and training under the doctors who supervise.

      You clearly don't work for the hospital in the region that you're talking about, so how do you know there are so many empty beds?

      I spent yesterday at church, then a pot-luck, and then a writers' group. Believe me, I get plenty of company – sometimes too much. But considering the field my spouse and I work in, I take quite an interest in medical news, and how medical services are administered. So I pay attention to stuff like this.

      And now, I have to get back to the lab.

      December 20, 2010 at 15:43 | Report abuse |

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.